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California State Parks Safety Tips

Boating Safety | Life Jackets | Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Safety | Summer Heat Resources | Campfire Safety | Wildlife 


Summer Safety Tips

  • Don’t enter the water if it’s too cold. The average body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The average pool temperature is 84 to 86 degrees. Some of California’s rivers are currently running at temperatures between 30 to 40 degrees. Such cold temperatures can literally take your breath away.
  • Cold-water immersion is dangerous. Not wearing a life jacket while recreating in cold water makes it even more perilous.
  • Jumping into cold water can cause many life-threatening effects, including: • An involuntary gasp for air when you’re under water which can lead to panic and start the drowning process. It can even trigger cardiac arrest, temporary paralysis and hypothermia.
  • Cold water entering the ear canal can cause vertigo and disorientation. This may confuse swimmers, causing them to venture deeper into the water.
  • Reduces body heat 25 to 30 times faster than air does at the same temperature, and causes impairment that can lead to fatalities. 

Below are some other do’s and don’ts for cold water immersion:

  • Do control breathing, don’t gasp. A sudden unexpected fall into cold water causes an involuntary gasp (or torso) reflex. It takes less than ½ cup of water in a person’s lungs to drown. When someone remains calm, they have a greater chance of self-rescue.
  • Don’t panic if you fall into the water. Stay afloat with the help of a life jacket, regain control of breathing, and keep head above water in view of rescuers. If possible, look for ways to increase buoyancy. If in the water with others, huddle together with everyone facing inwards to help everyone stay afloat and keep warm.
  • Don’t apply heat to extremities like arms and legs of a rescued victims. This sudden change in temperature could cause cardiac arrest.
  • Do make sure everyone is wearing a properly-fitted life jacket. Life jackets that are too big will ride up around your face. It it’s too small, it will not be able to keep your body afloat. Life jackets designed for adults will not work for children. 
  • Conditions change quickly in open water and even the best swimmers can misjudge the water and their skills when boating or swimming. Wearing a properly fitted Coast Guard-approved life jacket can increase survival time.
  • A life jacket can also provide some thermal protection against the onset of cold water shock and keep you afloat until someone else can rescue you.
  • Correct life jacket use:
    • Coast Guard-Approved: All life jackets approved for use by the Coast Guard will have an approval number located on the inside label. Only approved life jackets should be used on the water, and boaters may be cited for lacking proper equipment.
    • Proper Fit: Life jacket sizes come with weight or chest measurements, and should fit snug rather than purchased to allow a wearer to “grow into.” A small life jacket may not provide enough flotation to keep a person afloat. One that is too large can slip off upon entry into the water or could ride up around the face and obstruct breathing.
    • Intended Boating Activity: Always check the life jacket label to ensure it is approved for the intended boating activity.
    • Good Condition: Check the life jacket before using to ensure it is in good condition. Jackets with rips, tears, mildew, loose or missing straps, frayed webbing, broken zippers or buckles, hardened stuffing or faded label instructions lose their strength and buoyancy and must be replaced.
    • Need a life jacket? Many locations across the state allow you to borrow a lifejacket for the day or weekend. View Loaner Stations.
  • Please observe all rules and only swim/jump/dive into designated areas.
  • Rocks, cliffs, piers, etc. are not approved for jumping and diving from. Rangers and lifeguards have seen an increased number of severe injuries and fatalities related to jumping in unauthorized areas.
  • Hazzards can be hidden undernath the water's surface, even in familair waters. Please exercise extreme caution when in and around the water.
  • Be sure to swim in areas with a staffed lifeguard tower.
  • Use the buddy system when swimming or diving.
  • Know your swimming and diving limits and abilities.
  • For diving, know your entry and exit points.
  • Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards.
  • For more information CLICK HERE
  • Most California rivers are fed by the mountain snowpack, so they are cold year around. Even on warm, sunny days, rafters and paddlers must be prepared to deal with the water temperatures. The dangers increase as water temperatures decrease below normal body temperature.
  • Using pool toys in open water, lakes and rivers is dangerous. They may be made to resemble canoes or whitewater rafts, but they are often made of thin plastic, are easily punctured and usually have only one air inlet. Pool toys are not made for navigation and are difficult to maneuver and steer.
  • DBW offers whitewater enthusiasts informative safety videos online. The dangers of high, fast and cold water safety.
  • Swimming in open water is more difficult than in a swimming pool – people tire more quickly and can get into trouble.
  • Many unseen obstacles can be lurking below the water’s surface - this is especially the case with high runoff following years of drought. Drought-stricken forests and storm-driven landslides have filled rivers with submerged trees and rocks. Swift water can make these obstacles even more treacherous. DBW recommends guided trips for inexperienced paddlers. 
  • Actively supervise children in and around open bodies of water, giving them your undivided attention. Do not assume that someone is watching them. Appoint a designated “water watcher,” taking turns with other adults. Let the children know who is the designated “water watcher”.
  • Teach children that swimming in open water is not the same as swimming in a pool: they need to be aware of uneven surfaces, river currents, ocean undertow and changing weather.
  • File a float plan with someone trusted that includes details about the trip, including:
    • launch area
    • marina
    • boat/vessel information
    • names of passengers
    • towing or trailer vehicle information
    • communication equipment
    • emergency contacts
  • Visitors may experience some limited closures to facilities, trails, roads, campgrounds, etc. as department staff work to repair damage from the winter storms.
  • Visitors are advised to call their destinations ahead of time or visit California State Park’s webpage for availability. Road conditions and driving tips can be viewed online on Caltran’s website.
  • Check both your destination's and your route's weather conditions before you leave.
  • Make sure your equipment is appropriate for the weather expected. Remember spring is known for cool mornings, warm afternoons and cool evenings – wear layers.
  • If heading to the snow, take tire chains.
  • Wildlife at our parks are integral parts of the ecosystem and natural community. As such, they are protected by federal, state and park laws.

    • View wildlife from a distance. Never feed or touch them.
    • Do not approach or attempt to move sick or injured animals. Report encounters with aggressive, sick, injured, or apparently “abandoned” animals to a park ranger or park volunteer.
    • Dangerously beautiful and wild, one creature that strikes fear into most park visitors is the rattlesnake. Assume that any snake is dangerous, and leave it alone to slither away.
    • Below you will find specific tips for snakes, bears and other creatures.


    • Here are some tips on how to avoid snakes, what to do if you encounter one or are bitten. And please remember that killing snakes in parks in prohibited. Report all sightings to a park staff member.

Avoid Snakes

      • Wear sturdy, high boots if possible and loose-fitting pants.
      • Hike with a buddy in snake country.
      • Stay on designated trails and roads. Avoid walking through tall grass that can obscure snakes.
      • Always know where you are stepping. If you have to cross over a log or rock that has fallen across the trail, first step up onto the obstacle then step down once you see the coast is clear, rather than just stepping over the obstacle.
      • Be cautious when climbing rocks or picking up firewood. Avoid moving rocks, branches or timbers where snakes often hide.
      • If you see a snake, maintain a distance of at least 6 feet. Most bites occur when people get too close or try to touch them. 

If Bitten by a Snake

      • Call 9-1-1. If cell reception is poor or non-existent, find the nearest ranger station or visitor center.
      • Be ready to describe the snake, such as the color and shape to emergency staff. Do not attempt to take pictures of the snake.
      • When waiting for medical help, have the person position themselves so that the snakebite is at or below the level of their heart.
      • Clean the wound, but do not flush with water. Cover it with a clean, dry dressing from your first aid kit.
      • Keep calm and at rest, remaining as still as possible to keep venom from spreading.
      • Before the bitten area starts to swell, remove jewelry and tight clothing. Remove shoes if leg or foot was bitten.
      • Do not:
        • Cut a bite wound.
        • Attempt to suck out the venom.
        • Apply tourniquet, ice or water.
        • Drink caffeine or alcohol. Doing so could speed your body’s absorption of venom.


  • Hike with a buddy.
  • Attached a “bear bell” to your gear.
  • Stay alert and make noise while on trails so that bears are aware of your presence.
  • Never approach bears or cubs. Keep a safe distance.
  • Store food in bear-resistant food storage containers and away from your camp when not in use while recreating in the backcountry.
  • Never feed bears. Intentional or unintentional feeding of bears can result in a bear being killed, fines or jail time for violators.
  • Keep dogs on leashes.
  • You can find more information about bear safety online.

Other Creatures

  • Steer clear of skunks, raccoons, bats and foxes which can carry rabies. It is rare for these animals to be aggressive and bite, but it can happen.
  • Give skunks a wide berth. Keep pets away. A skunk with tail up, on hind legs and stomping is ready to spray.
  • Maintain a crumb free campsite. This will help keep assertive rodents and birds from bothering you.

Hiking Safety

  • Use the “buddy system” – hike with a friend or family member.
  • Drink and carry plenty of water (a minimum of 1 quart every 2 hours).
  • Wear sturdy comfortable shoes to help prevent injury.
  • Tell a responsible person back at camp or at home where you are going and when you plan on returning.
  • Stay on established trails. Do not walk off-trail or enter closed areas.
  • Our state parks are home to a variety of wildlife. Help us keep these animals wild by viewing them from a safe distance. Never feed or touch wildlife. Do not approach or attempt to move sick or injured wildlife. Please report any encounters with aggressive, sick or injured animals to a park ranger.
  • Snakes – always know where you are stepping.  If you have to traverse a log that has fallen across the trail, first step up onto the log then step down once you know the coast is clear, rather than just stepping over the log. Be cautious when climbing rocks or picking up firewood.  If you see a snake, maintain a distance of 6 feet. Most bites occur when people get too close or try to touch them.  Some gear you could consider using are
  • Tick populations are expected to rise this season. Take the following precautions to avoid them:
    • Walk in the middle of trails
    • Use insect repellent
    • Tuck your pants into your socks
    • After taking off gear always check for hitch-hiking ticks
    • Always do a “tick-check” with the help of a friend

For more information 

Backpacking Safety

  • Be prepared – backpacking requires careful planning before heading into the wilderness.
  • Speak to a Ranger or Park Staff at the visitor center for current trail conditions, weather forecast, and reliability of water sources.
  • Drink and carry plenty of water (a minimum of 1 quart every 2 hours).
  • Let someone back at camp or at home know where you are going and when you plan on returning.
  • Do not walk off-trail or enter closed areas.
  • Wildlife lives in all of our state parks, even near urban areas.
  • Hike with a friend or family member.

Off-Highway Vehicle Safety

  • Always wear a helmet and goggles when riding off-highway vehicles.
  • Never ride under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Ride only on designated trails and at a safe speed.
  • Supervise riders younger than 16; dirt bikes are not toys.
  • Never permit youngsters to ride dirt bikes that are too tall or too powerful for their capabilities.

For more information

Boating Safety

  • Wear a lifejacket for any aquatic activity such as boating.
  • Avoid alcohol when driving or riding on a boat.
  • Don’t swim near or under the back deck or swim platform while the boat motor is running. You can inhale Carbon Monoxide.
  • Keep your trash on board. Never throw cigarette butts, fishing line, or any other garbage into the ocean.
  • Use a phosphate-free soap to minimize the impacts of greywater on the marine environment. Also minimize discharge by doing dishes and showers on shore whenever possible.

For more information

Sun Safety

  • Always wear sunscreen to protect from the sun (even on overcast days.)
  • Seek the shade, especially during the sun's peak hours (10:00am-4:00pm).
  • Cover up with clothing, especially a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.  Use long sleeve rash guards with a high SPF rating if you are on the beach or in the water.
  • Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that includes vitamin supplements.
  • Examine your skin from head to toe once every month.

For more information