Safety

Waterfalls and hiking out in the mountains has its dangers. If you’re not used to it, I’ve provided a few tips to help you out.

Trail Etiquette

You’re likely going to meet a lot of people on the trails, especially the ones listed on this website because they’re the easiest and most heavily trafficked. When that happens, say hi or whatever customary greeting you’re used to because they will most likely say hello to you. Don’t be an antisocial weirdo. The remote wilderness is the last place you want to act like an antisocial weirdo.

When you’re on the trails, stay to the right, just like you do on the highway. Don’t take up the middle, and don’t play “trail chicken” and make someone else move out of your way. If it’s a narrow trail, stop and let them pass before you continue on.

Conversely, if someone gets in your way, it’s perfectly acceptable to lower your shoulder and knock them off the side of the mountain. Just kidding…don’t do that.

What to Wear

Clothes, preferably. Whatever kind of shirts and pants make you comfortable is what you go with. If you’re hiking in early spring or late fall, you probably want to take a light jacket. Wear shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty, but make sure they still have plenty of grip. If you’re going to do this often, invest in a pair of hiking boots. They don’t have to be fancy or super expensive. I got a pair for $30 and they take care of the job.

If you have girthier thighs, I also recommend a pair of compression shorts to wear either as your underwear or over your underwear. This is especially important if you plan on a full day of hiking in warmer weather. The compression material prevents your inner thighs from chaffing and rubbing themselves raw, which is definitely not the feeling you want to have after a day of hiking.

How to View Waterfalls

With your eyes, obviously. But more specifically, the best view is always at the base. If the trail you’re on doesn’t let you get to the base, don’t force it. There’s a good reason the people who blazed the trail to begin with didn’t continue to the base, so you probably shouldn’t either.

Don’t try to get to the top, either. This includes trying to climb or scramble up to the top. Unless you’re at a waterfall that’s a long, gentle slide, you can’t actually see the waterfall from the top. You can also fall off if you’re dumb or slightly inebriated.

Additionally, watch your step, especially around the falls. Oftentimes the spray from the falls allows moss and other slippery gunk to form on the rocks, which makes rock hopping and general mobility more difficult than it should be.

Stay on the Trails

You might think you’re cool and can mountain goat your way through a shortcut, but you probably won’t and you’ll likely roll off the mountain to your death. Also, if you come to a point in the trail that looks too difficult to follow (or you can’t figure out where you’re supposed to go), don’t risk it. Just cut your losses and go back to your car. You can very easily get disoriented and end up lost in the woods. And since these places rarely have cell coverage, no one is going to know you’re lost until it’s too late.

Also, the “real” reason to stay on the trails is to prevent any damage to the plant life and watersheds. But I think getting lost and eaten by a bear is worse than stepping on a flower.

The Return Trip Effect

Aside from becoming easily disoriented out in the forest, your mind also goes through what’s known as The Return Trip Effect. Have you ever gone somewhere for the first time and it seemed to take forever, but then the return trip home seemed to fly by? That’s a real psychological phenomenon.

It has to do with how much your brain is processing at any given moment. If you’re going somewhere for the first time, your brain is taking in as many details as possible and loading them into your memory. Every tree, every rock, every weed, every sound, every color, and everything else is being processed. On the way back, your brain doesn’t have to do all of that, which allows you to function at a more efficient level, which makes time seem to go by much faster.

Additionally, the effect is a product of the fact that we’re all generally terrible at keeping track of time, especially when we try to estimate how long something will take to complete. We always think that the initial trip takes less time than it actually does, and so when the clock inside our brain passes our initial estimate, things start to feel like they’re lagging.

Picnicking

If you want to eat at the waterfall, go for it. Find yourself a nice big rock and enjoy the scenery. But don’t be a prick and leave your trash everywhere, even if it’s compostable.

Also, don’t drink the water. Common sense might suggest that the water in the mountains is as clear and fresh as it could possibly be, especially the higher up you go. And that’s true. But the earth is still a dirty place and there are all kinds of minerals and bacteria in the water that can make the hike back to your car a very, very miserable experience. For example, Ruby Falls in Chattanooga, Tennessee, contains 14 times the recommended daily dose of magnesium. One swig of that water would turn your bowls into a liquid fountain in a matter of minutes. There’s a joke about a bear in the woods here, but I’ll just move on.

Wildlife

With regards to the trails on this website, you’re going to be fine. If you become a more rugged outdoorsman and go on extended hikes and camping trips, you may need to worry about things like bears, bobcats, and coyotes. Instead, you’ll likely only encounter birds, bees, and squirrels. If you go out hiking very early in the morning, you might come across a deer, but it will run away as soon as it sees you. You could also encounter a fair share of snakes, but if you don’t poke them with sticks, they’re not going to bother you.

Other Dangers

Poison

As long as you stay on the trails, you shouldn’t have any issues with poison ivy, oak, sumac, or whatever else. However, if you’re the kind of person that breaks out when you come in contact with it, make sure you know how to identify it and watch out for it because it’s definitely out there. I couldn’t tell you where it is because it doesn’t affect me so I never bothered to learn how to identify it even though I probably should have.

Falling Trees

Yes, that’s a real danger in the woods that no one really talks about. Granted, unless you’re out hiking in a windstorm, you probably have nothing to worry about. However, in the last couple of decades, the hemlock woolly adelgid, a tiny little bug, has single-handedly destroyed almost all of the hemlock trees in the Appalachians. Now, there are countless dead hemlocks dotting the landscape. These hollow trees, when the wind blows, topple over pretty easily. So if you’re out hiking on a blustery day, just be sure to stay away from any dead trees.