Winter Activities

While summer presents amazing opportunities to appreciate the park, winter is filled with incredible auroral displays, spectacular snow-capped scenery and interesting wildlife viewing--all with fewer bugs! The best time for winter activities in Wood Buffalo National Park is late winter and early spring as late March and April bring longer days and slightly warmer temperatures.

Get to know more about weather in the park here.

Recreational snowmobiling is prohibited in the park.

Watch the Aurora borealis
Aurora
Aurora borealis… OR AMAZING NIGHT TIME WIZARDRY? You decide.

 

Grab your camera and let the aurora light your way as you capture astounding displays in the largest dark sky preserve on the planet.

  • Pine Lake and Salt River Day Use Area are two of our most accessible aurora-viewing spots.
  • The winter road through the park offers many viewing spots as your travel. The Peace River crossing, the open delta grasslands and the ice crossing into Fort Chipewyan. It’s even more incredible in the silence with the lights.
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Wildlife viewing
winter bison
Hey you. It’s called wildlife viewing, not staring. #RUDE

 

Wildlife such as bison, wolves, lynx, snowshoe hares, owls and ptarmigans are sometimes seen along the winter road. Bears will be hibernating, but there is plenty of wildlife roaming the park during winter. We wish you the best of luck in seeing wildlife – although we can’t guarantee sightings, those who drive slowly often tend to be the luckiest!

  • Drive along Pine Lake Road or around the Nyarling River Pull-Off for your best chance to see a bison herd.
  • Look for fox, lynx, wood bison, and moose as you travel around the park.
  • Try and figure out the patterns of movement as you spot fresh animal tracks in the snow. Read more here.

 

Brave the Ice Road
ice road
On the road again… just can’t wait to get on the road again! #IceRoadTruckers

 

Bundle up in your warmest gear, fill up your thermos with some piping hot chocolate and drive the 228 km stretch through Wood Buffalo National Park. Travel from Fort Smith to Fort Chipewyan on the winter road.

  • Cross the Peace River on a bridge-- made completely of ice!
  • For up-to-date road conditions and safety information, call the Winter Road Hotline at 867-872-7962

 

Snowshoe
raquette
Despite what it may seem, that precariously-positioned, head-sized clump of snow did not fall on our snowshoer. But hey, you might not be as lucky.

 

Grab your snowshoes and a friend or two and indulge in untouched trails.

  • Hike the 9 km south loop and admire Grosbeak Lake’s barren charm.
  • Warm up in the Salt River Day Use Area cabin when you start feeling chilly. Be sure to bring an axe, matches, some fire starter, and a teapot filled with something steamy. A snack and drinking water would also be smart to pack. Firewood is provided!
  • Venture on the 11 km road to the majestic Salt Plains from Highway 5.
  • Park at the Parsons Lake Road access along Pine Lake Road and venture through the boreal forest. Watch for animal tracks pressed into the snow.

 

Cross-country ski
cross-country skis
“A pair of skis is the ultimate transportation to freedom.” –Warren Miller and also this dude

 

Revel in the raw beauty of the park during winter. Clip-on your skis and head on the trails. This is a wilderness experience at its finest: trails are neither groomed nor track-set.

  • Remember to bring an axe, matches, some fire starter and a teapot with your hot beverage of choice so you can heat up the day use cabin at Salt River Day Use Area.
  • Make your way to Pine Lake and return along the scenic Kettle Point Road.
  • Follow Parsons Lake Road for a few kilometres from Pine Lake Road and ski the unplowed road amidst a backdrop of boreal forest.
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Pond skating
help shovel
You know what’s more fun than pond skating with friends? Pond skating with friends who help shovel.

 

What’s more fun than pond skating with friends? (The correct answer is nothing.) Invite a group with shovels to uncover Pine Lake’s clear ice, then lace up your skates and play a game of shinny! Or you could even skate around or play freeze tag on this amazing outdoor rink which happens to be a sinkhole lake.

 

outdoor shinny game
So folks, in an outdoor shinny game everyone basically gangs up against the people who didn’t help shovel earlier. Let’s reiterate that take-home message: shovel or be shovelled.
Safety
Ice skating

Outdoor ice skating is a popular activity in the park. Parks Canada does NOT monitor natural ice surfaces for safety or mark potential hazards.

Many environmental factors affect the thickness of the ice. If you choose to skate on natural ice, you do so at your own risk. The recommended ice thickness is 15 cm for walking or skating alone and 20 cm for skating parties or games.

From The Canadian Red Cross Ice Safety Many factors affect ice thickness, including type of water, location, the time of year and other environmental factors such as:
  • Water depth and size of body of water.
  • Currents and other moving water.
  • Chemicals including salt.
  • Fluctuations in water levels.
  • Logs, rocks and docks absorbing heat from the sun.
  • Changing air temperature.
The colour of ice may be an indication of its strength:
  • Clear blue ice is strongest.
  • White opaque or snow ice is half as strong as blue ice. Opaque ice is formed by wet snow freezing on the ice.
  • Grey ice is unsafe. The grayness indicates the presence of water.
Ice thickness should be:
  • 15 cm for walking or skating alone.
  • 20 cm for skating parties or games.
If you get into trouble on ice and you're by yourself:
  • Call for help.
  • Resist the immediate urge to climb back out where you fell in. The ice is weak in this area.
  • Use the air trapped in your clothing to get into a floating position on your stomach.
  • Reach forward onto the broken ice without pushing down. Kick your legs to push your torso on the ice.
  • When you are back on the ice, crawl on your stomach or roll away from the open area with your arms and legs spread out as far as possible to evenly distribute your body weight. Do not stand up! Look for shore and make sure you are going in the right direction.
Rescuing another person from ice can be dangerous. The safest way to perform a rescue is from shore.
  • Call for help. Consider whether you can quickly get help from trained professionals (police, fire fighters or ambulance) or bystanders.
  • Check if you can reach the person using a long pole or branch from shore – if so, lie down and extend the pole to the person.
  • If you go onto ice, wear a PFD and carry a long pole or branch to test the ice in front of you. Bring something to reach or throw to the person (e.g. pole, weighted rope, line or tree branch).
  • When near the break, lie down to distribute your weight and slowly crawl toward the hole.
  • Remaining low, extend or throw your emergency rescue device (pole, rope, line or branch) to the person.
  • Have the person kick while you pull them out.
  • Move the person to a safe position on shore or where you are sure the ice is thick. Signal for help.
Parks Canada recommends:
  • Contacting a Parks Canada visitor centre for more information on ice skating.
  • Checking the cracks in the ice or drill a hole to help determine the depth of the ice: minimum of 15 cm thick.
  • Wearing PFD's while skating if you are uncertain about ice thickness.
  • Carrying some rope to help reach someone, and ice picks to help pull yourself out.

If you are going to a remote area, tell someone you trust exactly where your group is going and when you plan to return, and any other pertinent information that will assist search and rescue personnel if you do not return as planned.

 

Warm drinks
hot chocolate
Excuse me waiter, where are all the marshmallows I ordered in this cup?!

 

Get your extra layers and go for a picnic and warm drinks! Remember to bring your matches and hot chocolate as the site is not staffed.

  • Warm up around a wood stove in the cabin at the Salt River Day Use Area.
  • Roast some marshmallows and sip some hot chocolate, tea or coffee!