Grasslands National Park of Canada

Visitor Safety

Lightning Lightning frequently ignites grass fires
© Robert Postma

Wildlife

Please use common sense and respect the wildlife.

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

Prairie Rattlesnakes

  • Prairie rattlesnakes are the only venomous snake in the park.
  • Their venom is particularly dangerous for small adults and children.
  • Always look where you are about to step or sit, and carry a stick to sweep in front of you in tall grass or bush.
  • Snakes will rattle to warn you if they feel threatened - heed their warning and slowly back away.

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

While bison are not usually aggressive, they are unpredictable and can become dangerous. Please use caution and observe the following safety tips while viewing this great animal in the park!

Bison This beautiful oasis is home to a herd of free roaming plains bison.
© Wes Olson
  • In Your Car: If you encounter bison along the roadway, drive slowly and they will eventually move. Do not honk, become impatient or proceed too quickly. Bison attacks on vehicles are rare, but can happen. Bison may spook if you get out of your vehicle. Therefore, remain inside or stay very close.
  • On Foot or Horseback: Never startle bison. Always let them know you are there. Never try to chase or scare bison away. It is best to just cautiously walk away. Always try to stay a minimum of 100 meters (approximately the size of a football field) from the bison.

Please take extra caution as bison may be more aggressive:

  • During the rutting season (mid July-mid August) as bulls can become more aggressive during this time.
  • After bison cows have calved. Moms may be a little over-protective during this time.
  • When cycling near bison, as cyclists often startle unknowing herds.
  • When hiking with pets. Dogs may provoke a bison attack and should be kept on a leash.
  • On hot spring days when bison have heavy winter coats.

If they display any of the following signs:

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

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

Dry conditions, strong winds and low humidity create potential for grass fires, regardless of the season. Lightning strikes, heat from the exhaust systems of vehicles, sparks from cigarettes or heat from camp stoves can ignite grass very quickly.

Open fires and off-road vehicle traffic is prohibited.

During periods of extreme fire hazards some areas of the park may be restricted and only cold camping may be allowed.

Weather

  • Roads become quickly impassable when wet
  • Avoid high ground and barbed wire fences during lightning
  • Be prepared for sudden weather changes and electrical storms.
  • Lightning frequently ignites grass fires.

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

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.

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)

Planning a safe visit to a national park