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Grasslands National Park of Canada

Visitor Safety

We rarely head out for an outdoor adventure with the expectation that something will go wrong, and most times everything will go right. However, sometimes the unexpected happens and when it does, it’s important that you are well informed and well prepared to minimize the negative impact of unfortunate circumstances.

For general information on how to stay safe when enjoying the outdoors visit www.adventuresmart.ca

Grasslands National Park is a prairie wilderness environment with few services. Be prepared! Your safety depends on awareness of wild animals, such as bison and rattlesnakes, prairie wildfires and storms, and being able to find your way!

For important information about staying safe while enjoying Grasslands National Park, please explore the topics below:

Lightning Lightning frequently ignites grass fires
© Robert Postma

Wildlife

Give wildlife their space and respect. Do not approach or feed. 

Rattlesnake Coiled and ready to strike, a prairie rattlesnake gives it warning to back off by furiously shaking its tail.
© Bob Gurr

Prairie Rattlesnakes

  • Wear over-the-ankle footwear and long pants to protect against snake bites
  • Watch where you walk and keep children close – you may not hear the rattle
  • Stay calm and slowly move away if you see or hear a rattlesnake
  • Know that snakes will only strike when threatened or cornered
  • Consider borrowing snake gaiters for your personal comfort
  • Contact the Visitor Centre regarding snake hibernaculum restrictions

Brochure

First aid for snake bites:

  • Call for help
  • Keep the casualty calm, place at rest in a semi sitting position, avoid exertion or any activity that will accelerate blood flow and increase the spread of venom,
  • Identify the bite site
  • Immobilize affected limb and keep it below heart level, and flush bite site with soapy water if available.
  • Do not apply tourniquet, cold compresses or ice.
  • Do not cut the puncture marks or suction the bite site.
  • Medical facilities in the vicinity of the park stock antivenom. Transport patient to one of these facilities immediately.

Bison

Remember that Bison are wild animals – and, as the herd grows, visitor encounters will increase. Your best protection is to maintain a safe distance of 100 metres or more. Getting too close is wildlife harassment at the least, and life threatening at the most.

Bison This beautiful oasis is home to a herd of free roaming plains bison.
© Wes Olson
  • If encountering Bison during your drive, stay in your vehicle, drive slow and do not honk
  • Use caution when cycling, horseback riding or hiking (especially with pets) – maintain that 100 metre distance (length of a football field)
  • Remember that Bison are more aggressive during calving (May) and rutting (mid-July – August)

Watch for These Signs of Bison Aggression:

  • Shaking their head
  • Pawing
  • Short charges or running toward you
  • Loud snorting
  • Raising the tail

Brochure

Prairie Dog Visits

  • Know that fleas from wild rodents such as Prairie Dogs may transmit diseases
  • Keep pets away from Prairie Dog towns – for their safety and yours
  • Tuck pants into socks and use insect repellent with DEET
  • Beware of black widow spiders and fleas, especially in prairie dog burrows
  • Don’t handle deceased wildlife! If possible, report to park staff (photos and location appreciated)

Insect Bites

Tick Mosquito and tick bites can lead to a range of diseases including West Nile virus and Lyme disease.
© Parks Canada
  • Mosquitoes: in this area may spread the West Nile Virus.
  • Ticks: have the potential to spread Lyme disease
  • Fleas: found on prairie dog colonies have the potential to spread sylvatic plague.
  • Black widow spiders: are poisonous spiders found in burrows.

To prevent insect bites:

  • Parks Canada does not recommend foot travel through prairie dog colonies
  • Wear insect repellent with DEET around feet, ankles, legs, arms and upper body.
  • Avoid placing hands into burrows.
  • Tuck in pant cuffs to lessen the chance of contact.

Wildfire

Prairie wildfire Report sightings of smoke or flames to the park office or call 911.
© Parks Canada
  • Be prepared for sudden weather changes such as strong winds and electrical storms.
  • Lightning frequently ignites grass fires – avoid high ground and barbed wire fences
  • Report sightings of smoke or flames to the park office or call 911
  • Grass fires travel quickly! Be prepared to evacuate!

If fire traps you, head for low vegetation areas (e.g. gravel roads, Prairie Dog colonies) or burned areas (e.g. the ‘black zone’)

Weather

Summers see very high daytime temperatures averaging mid-high 20s °C and often in the 30s °C. Wear a heat and sunscreen. Bring 2-3 litres of water/person/day, drinking water is available at the Frenchman Valley Campground. Rapidly changing weather conditions are common, especially late afternoon thunder and lightning in summer. Severe winds are dangerous, and finding shelter can be difficult. Evenings cool down into the high teens-low 20s °C. Little rain falls in the area of the park - usually in the form of short-lived showers. But when it does arrive in any quantity, park roads become impassable when wet. 

Water

All surface water in the area, including ponds, sloughs, dugouts, dams, creeks and rivers are generally saline and unfit for human consumption. Treating water by boiling, filtering or adding iodine may remove some bacteria, but will not help with the salinity.

Always carry an adequate amount of drinking water with you.

Sink Holes/Quicksand

Sink holes are not a common occurrence in the park, but they do exist. They are deceptive because the thin crust of mud is only concealing a deep, watery mud hole. Carry a walking stick to check out these areas.

Beware of quicksand in the East Block – typically, they are identified with signs. Contact McGowan Visitor Centre before venturing out.

Ground Hazards

Cactus Travel with sturdy footwear.
© Wendy Michael

Some ground cover in the park is heavily covered with cactus. Watch for these areas in the Frenchman Valley bottom and south facing slopes of coulees. The badlands consist of steep slopes covered with cobble, boulders and exposed roots, along with washouts and gullies.

Wear solid, sturdy footwear that completely covers your foot for protection. Also, many grasses and thorny shrubs grow tall enough to cause discomfort to exposed skin. Wearing long pants instead of shorts, when hiking in the park, is strongly recommended.

Built Hazards

As a part of the cultural landscape, many old farm and ranch sites exist at Grasslands. Old buildings provide habitat for wildlife, and structures may be weak and susceptible to collapse. Some (not so old) buildings are being removed over the next years and their removal may provide hazards. Hazards such as barbed wire, old machinery and holes may not be visible in the grass at these sites.

Use caution when exploring these sites, and stay out of buildings.

Finding your way

  • The Visitor Centre has up-to-date weather forecasts, road conditions and park maps.
  • Cell phone coverage is not reliable in the park.
  • Get oriented at the Visitor Centre and use navigation tools (maps, compass, GPS)
EMERGENCY SERVICES
911-Police, Fire, Ambulance
(Limited cell coverage)
Park Dispatch: (306) 298-2166 “press 2”
1-877-852-3100
Park Warden: (306) 741-4148
RCMP – West Block (306) 625-6400 Ponteix 24 hrs.
RCMP – East Block (306) 642-7110 Assiniboia 24 hrs.

Safety is everyone’s responsibility

At Parks Canada, we do our part to make sure you can have a safe visit by assessing the risks, managing hazards, and making sure that safety information is freely available to everyone. You can do your part as visitors by making sure you seek out the information you need to stay safe and make well informed decisions while enjoying these special places. Visit our websites and stop at a visitor center to speak with our employees for the most up to date information. Make sure you are fully prepared for whatever activities you choose to participate in so you can have a safe, enjoyable and memorable visit.

Planning a safe visit to a national park