When visiting Waterton Lakes National Park during winter, be prepared for winter’s special hazards: cold temperatures, storms, challenging travel conditions, uncertain ice conditions and short days. Be sure to check and prepare for the weather before you depart, file a trip plan and bring the right gear and clothing.
Backcountry travel always comes with inherent risks and areas affected by the Kenow Wildfire may have increased hazards. Backcountry travellers are responsible for their own decisions and safety.
In winter, visitors should consider the Akamina and Red Rock Parkways as backcountry terrain.
Parks Canada will issue Avalanche Bulletins for Waterton twice a week throughout the winter. Almost any moderately steep slope, under the right conditions, may avalanche. Even small avalanches can be deadly.
Visitors travelling in avalanche terrain need essential training and equipment - such as a transceiver, probe, and shovel - and know how to use it. They also need the skills to recognize avalanche terrain and unstable conditions, and to conduct companion rescue.
Plan your trip
Before heading into the backcountry, research your trip to be sure you have the skills and experience it will demand of you.
- Study the trail description and park map.
- Choose an objective suitable for the least experienced member in your party.
- With changing snow and weather conditions, avalanche hazard may exist on much of the terrain in Waterton including most of the backcounty trails. See Avalanches for more information.
- If the terrain you plan on visiting involves avalanche hazard you will need additional training and equipment.
- All backcountry travellers are responsible for their own decisions and safety, and should be well informed about the type of terrain they will encounter.
- Be aware that there are specific travel restrictions that apply to custodial groups (those which include minors without their legal guardians) between November 15 and April 30.
- Consult the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES) and Avalanche Terrain Ratings for Waterton Lakes National Park to help determine if your planned objective is suitable for you.
- Check the current weather forecast, road report, current trail conditions, and avalanche bulletin.
- Gather emergency contact information.
- Travel with a friend or group.
- Tell someone where you are going and your expected return time.
- Be prepared for changes in weather and for emergencies.
What to bring
Here is list of items that you should consider bringing on any winter outing in Waterton Lakes National Park:
- Extra clothes, including extra hat and gloves. (Use the layering system. Peel off or add layers as needed to stay dry and warm.)
- Water bottle or thermos.
- High-energy food, carry extra.
- Sunscreen and sunglasses.
- First-aid kit.
- General repair kit for skis, snowshoes or crampons; pocket knife.
- Lightweight emergency blanket, candle, and lighter or waterproof matches.
- Head lamp or flashlight with good batteries.
- Navigation tools/route information (map, compass, GPS, guidebook).
- Means of calling for help (cell phone, personal locator device, VHF radio or satellite phone. Note: cell phones do not work in many backcountry areas of the park).
Waterton has highly variable mountain weather and it can change quickly. Winters are mild and snowy, with frequent warm spells caused by chinook winds. Wind is the most important climate factor in the park. In fact, Waterton is the second-windiest place in Alberta. Highest winds blow in January and November, with gusts of over 150 km/hr recorded in the main valley. In winter, visitors must be especially careful of wind chill.
In case of emergency: Dial 911
- State that you are calling from Waterton Lakes National Park.
- Remember, cell phones are not always reliable in the backcountry