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First Things First: Safety for humans

The Westside Trail is on the steep slope of the wall of the Tuolumne Canyon and presents a number of hazards. Please keep them in mind as you walk to ensure your continued enjoyment of the trail.

Washouts, retaining walls, rock walls, steep slopes There are very steep drop-offs very near the trail. Washouts can leave an unsupported lip that may fall if you stand on or near it. Stay on the signed trail! Watch for the detour signs at washouts. All the photographs and species mentioned in this blog were seen from the trail.

Trail has washed out.

Rock falls, tree falls

Rock falls happen most often during the winter, when it rains and there is freezing and thawing. They and landslides can happen when the soil is very saturated after heavy rain. You can see signs of past rock slides where there are rocks in the trail or at the foot of the cut bank. Some of the rocks are very large, and most have sharp angles.

Trees fall most often on windy days. They can also fall when there is a heavy, wet snow or ice formed on the branches. Trees may uproot and fall when the soil is very wet. They may also fall on perfectly still days in the summer. Trees or parts of trees that may fall without much warning sound are particularly dangerous. This includes beetle killed trees, trees that started to fall and are leaning on another tree, and branches that are caught up or have not fully detached (often called “widow makers.”

Avoid walking this trail on very windy days and when the soils are very saturated. Watch for motion on the slopes above you in areas with fallen rocks or dead trees. Avoid stopping near Nelle’s Gulch, where there are numerous dead trees. There is also a point between Nelle’s Gulch and Torment Gulch that has many dead oaks above the trail, and downed trees near it .There is another cluster of dead and down trees near the top of the switchbacks that lead down to the Hacienda Trailhead.

Poison oak

There is a lot of poison oak near the trail, starting at the beginning. At the beginning, it is on the banks on both sides of the trail. Poison oak often grows in slightly moist areas such as a near a stream or other water concentration. It is also on the shadier slopes.

You can be exposed to poison oak at any season. There are less oils on the stems than on the leaves, but it is still possible to be affected by touching the stems. Poison oak drops its leaves earlier than many plants. It has white berries. In the winter, look for those berries and get to know the color and form of the stems that they are on. Poison oak can grow as a shrub with groups of fairly erect branches and can also grow as a vine climbing up trees. When it has leaves, they are divided into three leaflets and are often somewhat shiny. Get to know what poison oak looks like in whatever season you walk the trail and avoid it.

Animals- ticks, rattlesnakes, fire ants, wasps, hornets, coyotes, foxes, mountain lion, etc.

Ticks often drop off of shrubs. They can also climb up when you sit down. They are most active in the spring. Some people wear light color clothing so they can see the ticks more easily or use chemical repellents. Check for ticks on you and your dogs when you arrive home.

Rattlesnakes do not always make a sound. Watch as well as listen for them. Be careful when stepping over things and look before putting your hands anywhere.

Wasps, hornets, and bees can have hives in trees. Yellow jackets nest in the ground. Look around if you hear them and note where they are coming from. If you move slowly, you will attract less attention.

Coyotes and foxes use this trail also. Mountain lions may be less likely because these steep slopes do not have a lot of deer. Keep small children and dogs near you while on the trail.

Uneven and slippery footing

It is easy to get caught up in looking at plants, the views, what your dog is doing, etc. and not notice areas with uneven footing. Rocks resting on the trail or in the surface of the trail can stick up enough to twist an ankle. Moist areas become slick when muddy. There is an additional danger of hitting your head on the rails if you slip on the trail and fall. The rerouted trail around washouts is often steeper and rougher than the rest of the trail. There can be grape vines to trip you. Moist areas also get rutted by bicycles and other use and then may be uneven when they dry. Look ahead and down, not around, when you are walking on uneven ground.If there is something you want to see, stop and then look.


The steep slopes can carry fire upwards very quickly Fires may get started by the road or in the campground below the trail Avoid the trail when there is a red flag warning, high winds on a dry day,or any other indications of particularly high fire risk.

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