Winter Safety

Wood Buffalo National Park

Thin ice may exist anywhere on water bodies, at any time, in the winter season. Assess ice thickness and never go onto ice alone. The Canadian Red Cross recommends an ice thickness of at least 15 cm for walking and skating safely; the thicker the ice, the better.

Exploring Wood Buffalo National Park is an adventure no matter what the time of year!

When visiting Wood Buffalo National Park during the winter, be prepared for winter’s special hazards: cold temperatures, storms, challenging travel conditions in deep snow, uncertain ice conditions, and short days. Be sure to check and prepare for the weather before you depart, file a trip plan, bring the right gear and clothing, and be sure to bring the essential items you should have when meeting winter on its own terms.

To learn more about staying safe while exploring Wood Buffalo National Park during the winter visit AdventureSmart.

Ice Safety

  • Continually assess condition as appropriate to season and local conditions
  • Avoid areas of overflow, rapidly flowing water, open leads, pressure ridges, flow edge
  • Carry extra clothing and an emergency kit (even on day trip)
  • Check out the Canadian Red Cross for more helpful tips on Ice Safety and or recommendations on safe ice thickness and information on how to assess ice condition

Note: The Peace Athabasca Delta and moving rivers are subject to seasonally and yearly changes in water flow and volume which are not always regular or predictable from year to year. Except for the Fort Chipewyan to Fort Smith winter road, Parks Canada does not record or monitor ice conditions in Wood Buffalo National Park. Therefore, using ice surfaces for transport and recreation is at the user’s own risk. Come prepared, learn the skills and consider taking an ice rescue course prior to venturing out.

Winter Adventures on Trails

Winter is a wonderful time to explore Wood Buffalo National Park, and discover the tracks of the wild animals that live there. Check the park trail condition report before your departure or call the park’s visitor centre for current conditions. For cross-country skiers: remember that there are no groomed trails within Wood Buffalo National Park, but there are in the vicinity of Fort Smith, NWT. The best way of exploring official trails in Wood Buffalo is to go snowshoeing or winter walking with good snowboots or ice cleats. Consider visiting Grosbeak Lake, Benchmark Creek, Salt Pan Lake or Karstland Trails as good options for an afternoon or full-day out in the park during winter. Exercise caution and watch for ice, deep snow, or fallen trees.

For tips on preparing for a winter adventure visit AdventureSmart.

Be prepared for winter

In Wood Buffalo National Park, your safety is your personal responsibility. While many hazards exist, the risk of personal injury you face can be minimized by taking reasonable precautions. Caution and self-reliance are essential, along with a knowledge of natural hazards, experience in avoiding them and successfully dealing with them when they happen. Pick trips that reflect your level of ability.

A few tips:

  • Travel with caution – You may encounter overflow (water under the snow layer), thin ice or open water on any of the lakes, rivers or creeks in the area.
  • Never travel alone – groups of two or more have much greater success dealing with emergencies.
  • File a trip plan – let someone at home know your plans, even for a day trip.
  • Do not overexert yourself – the possibility of hypothermia is greatest when the body is tired and cold.
  • Prevent snow-blindness – wear sunglasses.
  • Carry emergency equipment – fire starter, spare clothing, a repair kit, a survival kit, and a first aid kit.
  • Carry a satellite phone or satellite GPS messenger device – most cell phones are out of range in the park.
  • Dress for the conditions you expect and be prepared for weather changes. Wear layers of clothing, adding or shedding layers as needed.
  • Check weather forecasts

Dealing With Cold Weather


Hypothermia is the lowering of the interior body temperature, and is caused by exposure to the cold, aggravated by wetness, wind and personal exhaustion. Hypothermia can be fatal.


Hypothermia symptoms can be recognized in an individual by:

  • Uncontrollable fits of shivering
  • Slurred speech
  • Stumbling
  • Loss of coordination
  • Difficulty performing simple tasks
  • Behaviour may also change: a good-natured person may begin to grumble and complain

Prevention is the best cure:

  • Layer clothing appropriate for the weather – remove and add as necessary
  • Protect your head from heat loss - wear a hat
  • Don't eat snow - Your body has to melt and warm the snow resulting in a drop in body temperature
  • If needed start a fire, drink warm beverages (not alcoholic), eat chocolate or other high calorie food, put on dry clothes and get into a sleeping bag/tent if required

Emergency treatment

  • If possible move the patient to medical assistance quickly
  • If this isn't possible, move the victim to a shelter, remove the victim's clothes, place a naked person on each side of the patient and keep all three well covered
  • If the patient is conscious, give them warm liquids (not alcoholic)


Frostbite is the freezing of the body tissues. There is a sensation of numbness, the skin turns white, yellow-white and mottled blue-white and the area becomes cold and insensitive to touch. The nose, ears, cheeks and chin are usually parts of the body to be affected, but more severe cases of frostbite involve the hands and feet.


Minor frostbite:

  • Add more clothing to the affected area and shelter from the cold
  • Rewarm the area with body heat, but do not massage

Serious frostbite:

  • Prevent further freezing
  • Don't thaw the frozen area if there is a danger of refreezing
  • If freezing can be prevented, rewarm the area by immersing it in water, starting at a comfortable hand temperature and increasing the temperature gradually
  • Get medical aid as quickly as possible
  • Keep the area clean at all times, as risk of infection is great


In the event of an emergency, you should be prepared for lengthy delays in search and rescue response times due to weather conditions and/or the availability of both aircraft and rescue personnel.

Parks Canada 24 hour emergency dispatch
1-780-852-3100 or 1-867-872-0404

Cellular telephone coverage is not available or reliable in most areas of the park. Be sure to take a satellite communication device with you into the backcountry, such as an InReach or SPOT device, and know how to use it.

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