Safety on land
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 impacts of unfortunate circumstances.
For important information about staying safe while enjoying Waterton Lakes National Park, please explore the topics below.
- Set up a check-in
- Steep terrain
- Rock fall and debris
- Hiking and walking
- Horseback riding
- Rock climbing
- Insects and ticks
- Sun and heat
- Drinking water
Remember - YOU are responsible for your own safety.
Set up a check-in
If you are planning an activity that may be hazardous (e.g. mountain or rock climbing, or hiking alone), set up a check-in with a reliable friend or family member. Provide them with a detailed trip plan and the time you plan to return. Ensure they know who to contact in the event you don't check in at the designated time. In the case of an emergency call 911 (state that you are calling from Waterton Lakes National Park).
Steep mountainous terrain
Most accidents involving natural hazards in Waterton Lakes National Park occur when people encounter terrain with steep slopes and cliffs. Minimize risk around these areas by staying on designated trails, keeping well back from edges and supervising children closely. Wet or moss-covered surfaces can be slippery. Loose rock on scree slopes and near steep drops is especially dangerous.
Rock fall and debris
Take care when travelling over steep slopes and rocky areas and reduce your overhead hazard to steep slopes and cliffs where fallen trees or loose rocks may roll downhill. Increased rock or debris fall hazard can be expected during rainy or windy weather.
Your behaviour affects the survival of wildlife and your own safety. Visit our wildlife safety page to learn how to safely enjoy and help protect wildlife.
Hiking and walking
Hikers need to take individual responsibility for planning their trips and hiking safely. There are always hazards involved with outdoor recreational activities. Minimize your risk by planning ahead.
Plan ahead and prepare
- Study trail descriptions and maps before starting. Select a trail which best suits your group’s abilities.
- Check the weather forecast, current trail conditions and warnings or closures online or visit a Parks Canada Visitor Centre.
- Be prepared for emergencies and changes in weather. Mountain weather changes quickly and it can snow any month of the year.
- Bring extra food, water and clothing. Surface water may be contaminated and unsafe for drinking.
- Tell somebody where you are going, when you will be back, and who to call if you do not return.
- Carry a first aid kit and bear spray (bells are ineffective).
- Ticks carrying Lyme disease may be present in the park. It is important to check yourself and your pet following any hikes.
- During any month of the year, hikers should expect that steep slopes covered in snow can avalanche, with serious consequences. For more information on the avalanche hazard, visit Parks Mountain Safety or a Parks Canada Visitor Centre.
- In case of EMERGENCY, call 911 (state that you are calling from Waterton Lakes National Park). Cell phones are not always reliable.
You are responsible for your own safety. Be prepared for a breakdown or accident. Know how to repair your bike and carry the tools and parts to do so.
- Choose rides that match your abilities.
- Wear a helmet and appropriate safety gear.
- Bring extra food, water and clothing. Mountain weather changes quickly and it can snow any month of the year.
- Always tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return.
- Travel with others and keep your group together.
- Wearing earbuds restricts your ability to hear wildlife and could lead to an encounter.
- Ask for advice at a Parks Canada Visitor Centre about trail conditions, descriptions and weather.
- Cycling in Waterton Lakes National Park.
Some wilderness campsites are accessible by mountain bike and anyone planning to overnight in the backcountry must obtain a wilderness use permit. Please refer to wilderness camping.
Horseback riding is a traditional activity in Waterton Lakes National Park. Normally, most trails are open to horses although there are some restrictions.
Horseback riding opportunities are currently limited due to the effects of the Kenow Wildfire. In 2018, to protect Waterton Lakes National Park from non-native plants, Parks Canada is limiting horse use by the general public to unburned areas of the park.
Visitor our horseback riding page for more information.
Scramblers, like anyone travelling in mountainous terrain, should do their homework carefully and carry emergency equipment and supplies. Mistakes in route selection, or an unexpected change in the weather, can turn a pleasant outing into a life-threatening situation. For further information about routes and conditions, contact Parks Canada visitor safety.
There is limited developed rock climbing in Waterton Lakes National Park. While those with experience will find some worthwhile routes, climbers should be prepared for loose rock and poor protection on many of the routes. For further information about routes and conditions, contact Parks Canada visitor safety.
For information about Alberta highway conditions, visit 511 Alberta, call 1-855-391-9743 (toll-free), or dial 511 (inside Alberta only).
- Obey posted speed limits
- Make allowances for other drivers who may be in a hurry, lost, or distracted by the scenery
- Be prepared for a variety of conditions; it may snow in summer at higher elevations.
- Slow down in bad weather or stop somewhere safe and wait it out
- Watch out for cyclists. They may be difficult to see, especially from an RV. Do not drive on the road shoulder
- Watch out for animals near the road
- Watch out for black ice, especially on bridges and near water
- It is a good idea to equip your car with a shovel, flashlight, blanket, food and extra warm clothing
- Cell phone reception outside of the townsite is unreliable
Insects and ticks
Biting or stinging insects may occur along trails and at backcountry campsites. Bring insect repellent. Avoid wearing scented lotions and perfumes. Rocky Mountain Wood Ticks are common during the spring and early summer. After hiking, check for ticks on your body and clothing. Tick bites can cause serious illness.
For more information on Lyme disease and how to protect yourself from tick bites while enjoying the outdoors, please visit the following websites:
Snow and cold temperatures can occur any month of the year. Very strong winds are common in Waterton Lakes National Park and will quickly cause hypothermia. Sunburn can be a major problem, particularly at higher elevations. Because mountain weather can change very rapidly and unpredictably, you should carry sun screen, appropriate clothing and proper equipment at all times. Before heading out on a day trip, a hike or an overnight camping trip, check the local weather forecast.
Sun and heat
You should be aware that strong sunlight and extremely hot temperatures can be dangerous to your health. Be aware of the temperature and be prepared. Due to the 2017 Kenow Wildfire, there is reduced shade on many of the trails in Waterton Lakes National Park, making hiking and walking on hot and sunny days more strenuous. Bring plenty of water, dress for the weather, wear a hat, use sunscreen, wear sunglasses and be careful of heat exhaustion (limit your time in the sun).
Though park waters are generally clean, there is always a chance that harmful bacteria or parasites may exist in untreated surface water. Boil and filter untreated water before using, or carry water from a treated water source.