Enjoy public lands and rivers safely this summer

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Two rafters shoot difficult rapids in a rocky river.SACRAMENTO, Calif. – This Memorial Day weekend, public land visitors will be heading outdoors for recreational opportunities like fishing, swimming, camping, rockhounding, backpacking, hiking, boating and off-highway vehicle use.

In California, the Bureau of Land Management oversees 15 million acres of public lands that support the agency’s multiple-use mission, which includes 1,735 miles of nationally designated trails and 356 miles of rivers.

Visiting these public lands and rivers are a great way to get outside to explore natural wonders with family and friends, but exploring nature can come with its own set of risks, especially if someone ventures outdoors unprepared. With that said, the public is encouraged to keep a few things in mind:

Trails and Rivers

When out on a trail, consider the trail’s level of difficulty and the hiker’s physical condition. Hydrate often, take breaks and dress appropriately for local weather and temperature. The public can help the BLM keep public lands beautiful and clean for everyone’s enjoyment by following “Leave No Trace” principles to minimize impacts to public lands and wildlife. 

During summer months, water-related rescues become common occurrences. Whether near or on a river, it is best to be mindful and stay alert of fast-moving currents, water temperature fluctuations and other potential hazards. Please keep in mind that although the air temperature may be hot, the water temperature below a river’s surface can be much colder and can cause hypothermia quickly. Identifying the signs of hypothermia can save someone’s life. Look around for signage posted on public lands warning the public of dangerous river conditions or fast-moving water currents.

When boating, swimming, whitewater rafting or kayaking it is advised to wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device and to follow California State boating laws and regulations. Additional protective items can include wearing a helmet to avoid impact injuries and wearing water shoes to protect feet from floating debris, sharp rocks or slipping hazards.

Camping and Backpacking

When camping on BLM-managed public lands, never leave a campfire unattended; carry a shovel and water at all times; and check weather forecasts and possible fire danger restrictions before leaving home. Nearly 90 percent of wildfires that occur in the United States are human caused. To obtain training on campfire safety or to obtain a California campfire permit, visit preventwildfireca.org/campfire-Permit.

While exploring the California desert or any other hot region, be mindful of extreme temperature changes; it is not uncommon to see more injuries and fatalities in the summer months due to heat stroke or dehydration, since temperatures often soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to bring extra water – and remember to sip often. To find out information about any known safety hazards or public lands closures, contact the local BLM field office, or stop by a visitor center before departure. And, no matter what, never leave children or pets alone in a hot car for any amount of time.  

Always dress appropriately for the weather, wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water to stay hydrated. Check with local weather reports on the day of a hike and continue to check weather reports regularly when backpacking, especially in a slot canyon. And finally, keep in mind that campsites or backpacking with food can attract wildlife. As such, secure food and other odorous items such as garbage in a “bear box,” or in an approved bear-resistant food canister.

Hunting and Recreational Shooting

Before heading out to hunt on BLM-managed public lands, take a hunter safety training course and follow required safety measures for hunting and recreational target shooting. Also, check weather conditions and red flag warnings; avoid shooting in hot, dry and windy weather; and follow local guidance relating to shooting and fire restrictions. Hunting and fishing are regulated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

The BLM California website offers information on current fire restrictions at blm.gov/programs/public-safety-and-fire/fire-and-aviation/regional-info/california/fire-restrictions.

Upon arrival, be aware of dry vegetation, dead trees and avoid driving or parking vehicles in tall grass. Park and camp away from dead trees and branches that can blow down and fall, and use appropriate trailer pins and hitches to keep the chains from dragging and creating sparks. Remember, one less spark means one less wildfire. Finally, be mindful to avoid shooting on or across roads, waterways or trails.

Off-Highway Vehicle

Off-highway vehicle routes provide great opportunities for all-terrain and utility-task vehicles throughout California, including dirt bikes, side-by-sides and four-wheelers.

Vehicle safety should always be a top priority. As such, pre-planning should include leaving a trip itinerary behind with a friend or family member, including the trip location and time expected to be back.

Also, be sure off-highway vehicles are registered and in good operating condition. Make sure tires are in good shape and suitable for the terrain being encountered. If riding a motorcycle, ATV or UTV, wear a helmet and protective clothing, stay on designated routes and trails and make sure the spark arrester (if required for the type of vehicle) is in good working order.

Use a map or GPS unit when possible as they can be a helpful tool to avoid getting lost.

Before trekking on BLM-managed trails, do some pre-planning and check online resources, such as blm.gov/visit and Recreational.gov, which can help plan a trip, camping and day use, tours and tickets, permits and trail information including closures and hazards.

For information on how to obtain an “America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass” for access to federal lands and waters across the country, visit blm.gov/programs/recreation/passes.


The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land located primarily in 12 western states, including Alaska, on behalf of the American people. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. Our mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.