Fall is my favorite hiking season. Mild, sunny days, lack of mosquitoes, and mountainsides full of delicious blueberries are just a few reasons. However, there is a menace that is plentiful during this season: Yellow jackets or wasps. 

Yellow jacket is the common name for a predatory wasp that has become widespread in Washington State. Since these wasps most often build concealed nests, usually underground or in dead wood, hikers unknowingly step on their nests. Often the first hiker stirs the nest and others following get stung. These nests are often small, but can become very large and dangerous creating clouds of bees. If lucky, you will see a flash of yellow before the attack and can flee. Most often, the first indication is a powerful sting.

If you feel a sting, don’t stop to investigate. You are probably about to be swarmed upon. Run as fast as you can for at least 100 feet. Then grab a loose piece of clothing, or use your hands, and vigorously rub down your entire body, especially your hair and the cuffs of your pants, to discourage any yellow jackets left on you from the attack. Unlike a honey bee, yellow jackets can sting multiple times.


Although you may see a few yellow jackets in early summer, it is not until late August through September before they are active in the Cascade and Olympic mountains. They become aggressive in gathering food and protecting their nest. They will attack you surprisingly late in the fall if provoked, but their sting loses its potency as the days grow shorter.

Although the severity of a yellow jacket sting will vary from person to person, there are three types of reactions: normal, localized, and allergic. If you experience a normal reaction, you will quickly heal from a yellow jacket sting. The swelling will diminish in 24 hours, leaving a red welt for a few days. With a local reaction, swelling from the sting is immediate and will to continue grow into the wider area around the sting for a few days, causing itching and discomfort. After this period, swelling will slowly diminish over seven to ten days. The most dangerous reaction is allergic. Here are the most common allergic symptoms.

  • Swelling of the face, throat, or mouth tissue
  • Trouble breathing
  • Hives that appear as a red, itchy rash to areas outside of the sting
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Stomach cramping, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Rapid pulse, dizziness, or drop in blood pressure

I carry an antihistaminic like Benadryl and Johnny’s Seasoned Tenderizer in my First Aid kit to treat bee stings for normal and local reactions. Mix the meat tenderizer with water in a small plastic bag into a paste. Soak a cotton suave in the paste, and tape it over the bee sting for 30 minutes. Remove the tape then wash the sting and wider area with soap and water. This will help draw the venom from the sting. If there is any indication you will have an allergic reaction, carry an EpiPen® (epinephrine auto-injector). Life-threatening conditions can occur in minutes. EpiPens are not sold over-the-counter. Talk with your doctor.

Tips to avoid Yellow Jackets (wasps)

  • Avoid wearing perfumes, hair sprays, or other strong scents
  • Wear gators. Most stings are below the belt
  • Avoid brightly colored clothing, particularly yellow, orange and red
  • Tread lightly, especially around fallen trees and dead wood
  • If you discover a nest on a trail, leave a note warning future hiker if possible

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