Tips for Hiking in Chaparral

Pinnacles National Park CaliforniaThe diverse shrub land community called chaparral primarily occupies the coastal and interior ranges of central and southern California and northern Baja California, (although it may be encountered in other regions, like the Siskiyou-Klamath uplift on the Oregon and California border). Foothills swathed in this elfin forest of scrub oak, manzanita and other species constitute one of the iconic landscapes of the Golden State--and beckon hikers from some of the country's biggest metropolitan areas.

Getting Around

Take advantage of the numerous hiking trails offering access to chaparral ranges. Cross-country travel may be allowed in some places, but it is not easy, given not only the tangled nature of chaparral vegetation but also the general ruggedness of the terrain the shrub lands blanket.


Always tote plenty of water when hiking in chaparral, and be cognizant of early signs of dehydration and sunstroke. Chaparral usually enjoys a Mediterranean climate, characterized by mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers. Take advantage of the shade proffered by oaks and other larger trees.

Three Leaves

Learn to recognize poison oak, which is as well-distributed in chaparral as elsewhere on the Pacific Coast. Poison oak is typically a small- to mid-sized deciduous shrub or a trailing vine, characterized by compound leaves of three lobed or toothed leaflets--superficially resembling those of an oak tree. In the fall, the leaflets often turn red. For most people, brushing against the twigs or leaves results in contact dermatitis.


A number of rattlesnake species can be found in chaparral shrub and woodlands, including the western and red diamond forms. While generally unaggressive and retiring, rattlesnakes--like any wild creature--will take measures to defend themselves if disturbed, and are certainly venomous. If scrambling in chaparral areas, take care where you place your hands. Wear shoes rather than sandals in rattlesnake country. Snakes are most active at night, when they are liable to be cruising the scrub for rodents and birds. During the day, they often hole up in cool, dark places. Seek medical help immediately if bitten.

Article Written By Ethan Schowalter-Hay

Ethan Schowalter-Hay is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written for the "Observer," the Bureau of Land Management and various online publishers. He holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.

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