Five safety tips for a happy visit to Banff

More than four million people visit Banff National Park every year. The sheer vastness of the terrain means people need to be prepared to have a fun adventure.  

Visitors sometimes underestimate the size of the mountains and the physical demands required for an area they are visiting, which can lead to situations where they need emergency care and rescue, says Kevin Palmer, a Paramedic at the Banff Mineral Springs Hospital.

And just as the number of visitors increases during the warmer months, so does the number of people needing help, he says. “We get more ambulance calls during the spring and summer months.”

Kevin says even people who go on popular walking routes can find themselves needing assistance, particularly if they’re unprepared. “If you fall over and dislocate your shoulder and you’re not wearing proper footwear and clothing, you can really get yourself into medical trouble.”

Kevin offers practical safety tips to park visitors.

Be prepared for weather changes

It might be sunny and 25 C when you leave the hotel, but the weather can quickly change and temperatures can swing from warm to freezing. Make sure you bring a jacket, gloves and toque when you head out for a walk, even on popular trails, says Kevin.

“We get snow in Banff even during the summer months. You have to be prepared for this sudden change in weather because life-threatening hypothermia can easily happen to the body.”

Have a plan and a first-aid kit

You need to be prepared to provide first aid if you or someone else you’re travelling with runs into trouble. It can take hours to organize an emergency response, especially if you're far away from the town of Banff.

When exploring the mountains and the backcountry, have an emergency plan and bring a first-aid kit with you.

“You might need to send someone down to look for help or you might need to light a fire so you can be located,” says Kevin. “You also have to know how to make a temporary shelter. And make sure you have the necessary kit and gear needed to survive while waiting for help.”

Kevin also advises people with pre-existing medical conditions to ensure they have their medications with them.

Kevin Palmer (left), Paramedic at Banff Mineral Springs Hospital, rides with colleagues. Kevin says being prepared for a sudden change in weather and wearing safety gear help ensure a fun adventure at Banff National Park.

Let someone know where you're going

If you're heading out alone, let someone at the hotel or wherever you're staying know your planned destination and the time you expect to return. “If you are not back at a certain time, then at least someone can call for help to try to find you,” says Kevin.

Bring a paper map or know how to use a compass

Many people may be surprised to know it’s common not to have cellphone service in many parts of the park. That means your phone’s Google Maps or GPS won’t work and you may need to rely on the power of good old-fashioned paper maps. Bring a map with you or perhaps learn how to use a compass to point you in the right direction. 

A helmet can save your life

More than a third of injuries that happen at the park are trauma-related and many are head injuries. Kevin says wearing a helmet while biking, for example, goes a long way in providing head protection.

Other safety tips

Banff National Park staff offer additional safety tips, such as bringing food and water (at least a litre or two if you plan to be out all day) when hiking or exploring the park. Surface water may be contaminated and unsafe for drinking. Also, keep a safe distance from wild animals and never approach, feed or entice wildlife of any kind. Finally, check the weather forecast in advance and know when to turn back, such as if there's a turn in the weather or if you can’t complete the journey in daylight.

Whether you are hiking, camping, boating or mountain biking, Kevin says it is important to “research where you are going and then have the appropriate safety gear for what you are going to be doing.”

Banff Mineral Springs Hospital’s emergency medical teams deal with high levels of patient trauma, long distances and back-country rescue

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