Posted in Helpful hints

Hazards of the Ohio Outdoors: Part 1

The Ohio outdoors is relatively tame compared to other parts of the country. We have no mountains, no swamps with large carnivorous reptiles, no blistering hot deserts, and no oceans. Still there are dangers facing the unwary and people do get killed and injured in the Ohio outdoors. The purpose of this article is to discuss some of those dangers as well as ways to mitigate them.

Staying on the trail

Dangerous Cliffs

Ohio does not have mountains, but we do have sandstone and dolomite cliffs. A fall from a hundred foot cliff can be just as lethal as falling from a mountain. Every couple of years, someone dies from a fall in the Hocking Hills. The Hocking Hills is known for steep cliffs and stunning vistas. Ohio cliffs can be crumbly, mud or leaf litter can make the areas near cliff edges slippery. The best way to avoid danger in areas with high cliffs is to stay on the trail. When you see signs “Danger hazardous cliffs, stay on the trails” – heed those warnings.

For winter hiking, traction aids (Yak-Trax and a walking stick) are advisable. Some cliff edge trails that are fine for summer hikes, are best avoided when ice covered in winter time.

In a video (no longer available online), Charma Brown describes how she strayed from the Rim Trail of Conkle’s Hollow by going over a fence to get a better look at the falls. She ended up slipping over the edge. Due to the quick arrival of help, she managed to survive her mishap, but she is now paralyzed from the chest down. Park officials explain that there have been other people who fell off the rim who sustained lesser injuries, but who died because they didn’t get help in time. The video originally appeared in an article of the Columbus Dispatch which further describes her experiences: Woman, paralyzed in Hocking Hills fall, warns park visitors to stay safe.


Dressing properly for winter / early spring hiking is very important. Its not just a matter of staying warm. You’ll generate considerable body heat hiking, particularly hill climbing. If over-dressed, you can sweat quite a bit hiking in the winter. Then when you stop and you’re wearing cold, wet, sweaty clothing, you can get quite cold. The trick is to wear multiple layers of outerwear. Remove a layer when exerting yourself, and add it back when you stop. That way you can maintain a constant comfortable temperature.

Wet clothing loses some or all of its ability to insulate. For cold weather hiking, avoid wearing clothes made from cotton. Cotton does not provide any insulation when wet, hence the phrase “Cotton Kills”. Wool is an excellent insulator, and retains some ability to insulate, even when wet.

Thin winter ice on lakes and rivers can be a serious hazard to the unwary. A plunge through the ice will expose you to near freezing cold water and the risks of hypothermia and drowning. If you fall through thin ice, swim to an edge and pull yourself onto the ice. Do not stand up as the ice may be thin at the edge, crawl or roll onto thicker ice. Once on shore, getting warm and staying warm is vital. Get into a heated space indoors or into a heated car if possible. If not possible, shed wet garments and wring out excess water before putting them back on. Get a fire going to get warm and dry out.

Rivers can be dangerous in spring time. The water is high, currents are fast, and water temperatures can be near freezing. A fall from a river edge, or from a canoe or kayak can expose you to the twin dangers of hypothermia and drowning. Furthermore, your body will reduce circulation to extremities to try to preserve your core temperature. This will reduce your coordination and make rescuing yourself more difficult. Avoid canoeing and kayaking when water temperatures are low.


Hyperthermia occurs when the body is unable to adequately dissipate heat. Mild hyperthermia can result in heat exhaustion which can include fatigue, dizziness, and nausea. Untreated heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke which can result in unconsciousness and even death. Hyperthermia can be avoided by proper hydration and maintaining a balance of electrolytes. I wrote an article entitled Water that discusses symptoms of hyperthermia and how to stay properly hydrated while hiking.

Low-head Dams

Low-head dams are a potentially lethal danger to canoeists. A low-head dam is a small dam with a little drop placed across a river or stream. It may look harmless, but the fast water flowing over the dam sets up a churning circular hydraulic at the base of the dam. Once a person enters this hydraulic they are forced underwater and the water flow traps them and drowns them. This is another hazard that’s best dealt with through avoidance. Know where low-head dams are located (see map in link below). When canoeing get out of the river well before the dam and portage around it.

Hunting Accidents

It’s almost Spring Turkey Hunting Season. Last year two hunters have suffered minor injuries from gunshots. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) offers classes around the state for new hunters and trappers (see link below). Also, the NRA offers classes on gun safety for hunters and other firearms users (see link below). If you are new to hunting, take a class and / or hunt with a group of experienced hunters to learn proper hunting safety procedures.

If you’re not a hunter, know when hunting season takes place, and avoid hiking in hunting areas, especially during deer season. It will be both safer for you and a courtesy to the hunters. TrekOhio posts starting / ending dates for deer and turkey hunting season in out calendar of events. Public hunting primarily takes place at state wildlife areas and selected portions of some state parks.

This article is continued in Hazards of the Ohio Outdoors: Part 2.

Additional information
© Deborah Platt, Robert Platt and 2012 to 2021

7 thoughts on “Hazards of the Ohio Outdoors: Part 1

  1. Very good reminders. We do have it pretty good here. Mostly safe but some of the hiking trails I have been on in South East Ohio are narrow and have some pretty steep drop offs (Zaleski) and that is something I wasn’t that aware of. Luckily I had a walking stick and good traction on my shoes. We took our time getting through the gnarliest parts. The pay off are the fantastic overlooks. As for the dams, I hear those tragedies far too often also. One happened this summer as we were preparing to help out at a race in Mohican SP, very devastating news. Everyone be prepared and be safe!

  2. Thank you for the short attention to the low-head dams. We love Ohio rivers in our family and the outdoors. This is too common on the news… We lost 2 loved ones on fathers day to a low-head dam in Wyandot County. They were experienced Kayakers. We have started a petition to make it a law to mark these dams. Sign it here
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  3. Amazing post! There were many things which are valid in Finland also, but to see them explained so clearly is fantastic. Thank You. 10 points for this post.

    1. Thanks. Don’t want to give the wrong impression – its more dangerous driving on the highway to a park than hiking / camping. Just important to be aware and prepared for hazards.

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