Park Safety and Respect

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Bright sun and the top of Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park
Chimney Rock State Park. Photo by K. Bonifacio.

Extreme heat often results in the highest number of annual deaths among all weather-related hazards. In extreme heat, evaporation is slowed and the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature. This can lead to death by overworking the human body.


  • Extreme heat can occur quickly.
  • Older adults, children, and those with medical conditions are at greater risk from extreme heat.
  • Humidity increases the feeling of heat as measured by a heat index.


Visiting State Parks

If you are under an extreme heat warning and plan to visit a state park:

  • Watch for heat illness.
  • Wear light clothing.
  • Check on the other people in your group.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Watch for heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
  • Never leave people or pets in a car.
  • Take extra breaks.


Know the Signs of Heat-Related Illness and How to Respond

Graphic for the signs and symptoms of heat cramps

Heat Cramps


  • Muscle pains or spasms in the stomach, arms or legs


  • Go to a cooler location.
  • Remove excess clothing.
  • Take sips of cool sports drinks with salt and sugar.
  • Get medical help if the cramps last more than 1 hour.
Graphic with the symptoms and actions for heat exhaustion

Heat Exhaustion


  • Heavy sweating
  • Paleness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nause or vomiting
  • Fainting


  • Go to an air-conditioned place and lie down.
  • Loosen or remove clothing.
  • Take a cool bath.
  • Take sips of cool sports drinks with salt and sugar.
  • Get medical help if symptoms worsen or last more than 1 hour.
Graphic for symptoms and actions for a heat stroke

Heat Stroke


  • Extremely high body temperature (above 103 F taken orally(
  • Red and hot skin
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness


  • Call 911 or get the person to a hospital immediately.
  • Cool down with whatever methods are available until medical help arrives.

Many state parks across North Carolina offer great opportunities for swimming, and safety is essential for all ages when enjoying this activity. If the park you are thinking about visiting has lifeguards, make sure you swim when and where the lifeguard is present. If you are at a park without lifeguards, be sure you are completely qualified to be swimming there and use the buddy system.

  • Know your ability.
  • Swim only in designated areas.
  • Use the buddy system. Always swim with a buddy, and have adult supervision for children.
  • Pay close attention to children.
  • Enter the water feet first.
  • Dress appropriately for the activity you are taking part in.
  • When available, swim at beaches patrolled by lifeguards.
  • Know the various types of ocean currents and weather conditions:
  • Use U.S. Coast Guard-approved flotation vests if you are a weak swimmer.
  • Avoid swimming where danger is present: in rough seas, in inlets, around piers, at night, or during thunderstorms or other extreme weather conditions.


Rip Currents

Before heading out to the beach, make sure you check the weather conditions for any hazards. At the beach, pay attention to warning flags and do not swim when the risk of rip currents is high.

Download information about rip currents as a printable PDF from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

English  Spanish

How To Spot Rip Currents

Rip currents are powerful currents of water flowing away from the shore, and they can be found at any beach where there are breaking waves. They are the deadliest and most common beach hazard in North Carolina. Rip currents do not pull people underwater, but someone caught in a rip current may panic or try to swim against the current. Rip currents can occur even when the weather is nice and sunny.

They are often very subtle, but before you head out into the water, stand at an elevated position overlooking the beach. Watch the water and look for any differences in water color, motion, wave shape, or breaking point. You may see foam or debris moving steadily away from the shore, or you may see a break in the incoming wave pattern. The National Weather Service website has some photos of what you may see:


Or watch this video:

 Knowing how to look for a rip current is an important first step, but sometimes, rip currents show no signs at all. 

What To Do When You Are Caught in a Rip

  • Try not to panic. The rip current is not pulling you under, just pulling you away from shore.
  • Do not swim against the current.
  • You may be able to escape by swimming out of the current in a direction parallel to the shoreline and then toward the beach.
  • If you are not a good swimmer, try to float or tread water. Focus your energy on trying to draw attention to yourself by yelling or waving for assistance. 

A collage of photos from the National Safe Boating Campaign of people doing various water activities and wearing a life jacket.
Graphic courtesy of the National Safe Boating Campaign website

Every year, thousands of boating enthusiasts take to the waterways of North Carolina to fish, sail, water ski, and pursue other vessel-based recreation.

  • Wear a lifejacket. In North Carolina, it is required for children younger than 13 years of age.
  • Inexperienced paddlers should not stray far from shore.
  • Paddlers should avoid motorboats and high-use areas.
  • Stay out of designated swimming areas.
  • Return to shore immediately during lightning or thunderstorms.
  • Take advantage of free boating safety courses.
  • Pay attention to changes in the weather.

If you are paddling, be aware of what conditions are expected in the park. In areas of open ocean, paddling can be a high-risk activity that should not be undertaken alone or by any novice, first-time, or inexperienced ocean paddler. Check the safety rules for any state park site you plan to visit and experience through paddling. Make sure to choose a form of paddling that is appropriate for your experience level — open ocean versus sheltered bays or wetlands, guided versus unguided, and so on — so that you can have the best possible experience exploring your state parks.


Graphic for the Boating Safety Seven
"Boating Safety Seven" graphic courtesy of the National Safe Boating Campaign website

Boating Safety Seven

  1. Wear your life jacket.
  2. Take a boating safety class.
  3. Carry all required safety gear.
  4. Use your engine cut-off switch.
  5. File a float plan.
  6. Be aware of weather and water conditions:
  7. Boat sober, and be considerate of others.


 "The Best Life Jacket" video made by National Safe Boating Campaign


Life Jackets

To choose the proper life jacket, make sure:

  • It is a proper fit. A snug fit is a proper fit. For children, the sizes correspond to weight ranges. Do not use an adult life jacket for children.
  • It is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Check the label.
  • It is right for the activity you are choosing and the water conditions.
  • You get one for your pet as well!
  • It is in a good, serviceable condition and properly stowed away when not in use.
  • Straps, buckles and zippers are secure and fastened.
  • You are always wearing it. Accidents happen quickly, and there is no time to grab a jacket that has been stowed.

Check out this infographic from the National Safe Boating Council to determine if you have the right life jacket:


North Carolina law requires children younger than 13 years of age to wear life vest when aboard an operating recreational vessel.

Did you know in 2022... 75% of all fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of these victims, 85% were not wearing a life jacket. Two out of three drowning victims were good swimmers. 

Real boaters always wear a life jacket. Life jackets are for everyone, regardless of your age or swimming ability.


Graphic from the USACE that read "Life Jackets Worn... Nobody Mourns"
Spanish graphic for Life Jackets Worn Nobody Mourns

"Life Jackets Worn... Nobody Mourns" graphics courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers


Boater Safety Education Courses

To make certain that the public is safe, responsible, and free to enjoy boating activities through the state, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission enforces laws and regulations that all should observe.

North Carolina law requires: Any person born on or after January 1, 1988 must successfully complete a boating education course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) before operating any vessel propelled by a motor of 10 horsepower or greater.

In addition, most individual park sites offer more locally specific information on boating safety. To learn more about boating safety at North Carolina state park, visit that park's website or contact park staff for more information.


 "Someone at Home Is Waiting for You" video made by the USACE's National Water Safety Program 


A sign with a life jacket that reads: "Wear It." Below: "A program of the National Safe Boating Council"

The North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation is a partner of the National Safe Boating Council. Visit the NSBC website:

Safe Boating Campaign

Stay on designated trails
Stay on developed trails and don't stray from observation decks and platforms.


Follow park rules and pay attention to warning signs
Pay attention to the warning signs and rules you see posted near waterfalls.


Stay off rocks
Never climb on or around waterfalls. Rocks are more slippery than they look.


  • Never jump off waterfalls or dive into plunge pools. Rocks and logs are often beneath the surface of the water but difficult to see. Currents caused by a waterfall can drag and keep you underwater.
  • Watch children carefully. Children should always be under the immediate supervision of adults when visiting any waterfalls. Pets should also be supervised. They can easily underestimate the slickness of rocks and the flow of water.


Skip the unsafe selfies
Never play in the stream or river above a waterfall. You can easily be swept over the falls by currents. Do not try to take photos or selfies at the top of a waterfall! People lose their footing while paying attention to their photo setup and fall over.


  • Slippery rocks and mud are common along trails as you near waterfalls. Use extra caution on the trail as you approach waterfalls.
  • Since many waterfalls are in remote areas, a medical rescue could take hours.
  • Wear hiking shoes with a good grip. Flip flops and sandals make you particularly vulnerable to slipping or injuring yourself.
  • Bring a picnic and plenty of water. Reaching some waterfalls in your state parks require a challenging hike!
  • Plan ahead to ensure you will be back to your campsite or parking area before sunset.
  • Winter is an exceptional time to visit waterfalls in North Carolina state parks, as trees drop their leaves and reveal sweeping views. Watch for icy patches along the trail and overlook areas from the mist of the waterfalls.


Make wonderful waterfall memories and be responsible
Make wonderful waterfall memories and be responsible!

Get a great view but keep yourself and other visitors safe!

  • People are below you! Please consider not only your own safety, but the safety of others.
  • Stay one body length away from the cliff edge.
  • Stay on designated trails and observation decks and platforms.
  • Watch your step! Be aware of steep drop-offs. Do not climb or walk over rocks at the edge of the cliff, as they may be unstable.
  • Be aware of ice and slippery areas after wet or snowy weather.

North Carolina State Parks welcomes your pets, but please follow these rules to create a safe and enjoyable environment for you, your pet, and other park visitors.

  • Pets must be on an attended leash at all times. The leash must be no longer than 6 feet.
    • Pet owners who do not have their pets on a leash will receive a fine.
  • You must pick up after your pet. Pet waste is not fertilizer and should not be left on the ground. It is toxic and harmful to plants and other animals in the park.
    • Pet waste can also transmit disease and puts other park visitors at risk.
  • Properly dispose of pet waste in garbage bins. Do not throw waste bags in the woods or leave them on the ground.
  • You must keep constant control of pets. Unruly or aggressive pets may be asked to leave the state park.
  • Stay on pedestrian trails. Some areas of the park are off-limits to pets, such as bathhouses and swimming areas.
  • Pets are prohibited from entering any building.
  • Some campgrounds allow pets. Please contact the park office prior to your visit to ensure that your pet is allowed to go camping with you. Pets must be confined to the owner's tent or vehicle overnight during quiet hours.

Aviso: Para ver esta página en español, utilice "Seleccionar idioma" en la esquina superior derecha de la barra azul oscuro.


Additional Resources

Waterfall Safety

Don't be the next victim. Watch this video before you visit waterfalls.

This message is brought to you by Transylvania County Tourism, Transylvania County Emergency Management Services, the U.S. Forest Service, the North Carolina Forest Service, and the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation.