Q+A: Ticks, Trail Etiquette and Planning for a Busy Summer in Alberta's Parks

The seasons are changing. We have answers to your questions about this spring and summer outside (also some exciting news!)

One happy doggo during a May hike at Wasootch Ridge.

It’s hard to believe we’re already nearly halfway through April. It’s that weird time of year, known as shoulder season, where you don’t know if you should be snowshoeing or hiking. On walks in the city, some people are wearing shorts. Others, toques and mittens. This week, we’re answering questions about spring and the looming summer outside in Alberta (which is expected to be extremely busy.) If you have a question that we don’t answer, please add a comment and we’ll get you an answer.

But first, an exciting announcement. Go Outside has a tiny new member!

Cailynn gave birth to a beautiful boy in early April. Here he is already practicing his ski pole grip. Cailynn and her partner are looking forward to bringing baby home once his lungs are stronger and introducing him to the great outdoors. (He seemed to enjoy skiing earlier this winter before he was born!)

I saw that ticks are already out in Southern Alberta. Is this true? What do I need to know about ticks?

That’s right, tick season has already started in Alberta. Ticks are small spider-like creatures that attach themselves to the skin and feed off blood. They can be active when the temperature is above 4 degrees Celsius, and we’ve had friends who’ve already picked some off themselves and pets this year, so yes, they’re out there.

Alberta is home to several species of ticks. While the majority don’t carry the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever, research shows the ticks capable of carrying this bacteria are expanding their range in Canada. This doesn’t mean you should be scared to venture outside. Annalise’s partner grew up in Manitoba, where ticks are (or at least, were) more common and picking ticks off himself and his dog after time in the woods was a common childhood experience. He’s always surprised at Annalise’s disgust with these tiny critters. (In Annalise’s defence, she’s gone down a few Lyme disease reading rabbit holes and Alberta ticks are different than Manitoba ticks.)

While you can read lots more official tick information here, our big tips are to wear long sleeves and pants when adventuring in grassy or woody areas and to make sure you check your body and your pets for ticks after outdoor adventures. There are strict instructions about how to remove a tick from your body, if you do find one, with the gist being to use tweezers and slowly pull the tick straight up off the skin. If you don’t already carry a pair of tweezers in your hiking backpack or vehicle, this is a good idea. And, start getting into the routine of checking yourself/kids/pets for ticks after time outside in Alberta.

A shoulder season hike in Jasper

I’m looking forward to hiking more this spring and summer but nervous about how busy the trails may be. Is there a way we can all get along on busy trails? What trail etiquette should I be aware of?

Great question. With hiking seemingly more popular than ever before, it’s important to know trail etiquette. Ask any avid hiker and they’ll give you a list of things that drive them nuts on busy trails. Annalise, who loves the sounds of nature, says groups who wear bear bells and groups who hike with super loud radios/speakers really grind her gears, while one of Cailynn’s big pet peeves is dog owners who disobey rules including having their dog off leash when trails are clearly marked on-leash.

A big part of everyone getting along outside is for everyone to be respectful, both of the land and fellow outdoor enthusiasts. Pack out your garbage (including your dog poop bags, please!), stay on designated trails and abide by the rules in the area where you’re hiking (a good way to do this is to read signage). If you’re stopping on the trail for a snack or to add or remove layers, make sure you leave room for fellow hikers to pass.

We’d also suggest it’s good etiquette to say hi or chat with fellow hikers you cross (unless it’s an insanely busy trail and you’re going to lose your voice from saying “hi” 300 times.) Talking to fellow hikers is especially important on remote hikes or long hikes, where you can often gain great insight from others.

Speaking of trail etiquette, who has the right of way?

The straight forward answer to this important question is the person going uphill has the right of way. This is because hikers heading up an incline tend to have a smaller field of vision.

Camping in April. The best.

I’m already hearing it’s going to be really crowded outside this summer as the pandemic stretches on. Any tips?

We saw a record number of Albertans heading outside to hike, bike and camp last year, and yes, the same is expected this year. It’s so wonderful to see so many new people embracing the outdoors but the influx of people/vehicles certainly comes with challenges. A big tip here is to avoid popular areas/hikes (Ha Ling Trail and Yamnuska come to mind) if you don’t like crowds. There are literally hundreds of hikes in Alberta, and dozens of guidebooks that list dozens of hikes. Don’t be afraid to do some research and go somewhere other than that one single hike that keeps popping up in your Instagram feed. We’re so lucky to have so many trails and routes here in Alberta.

If you are itching to do popular hikes, try visiting on a weekday instead of a weekend. Another thing to note that we both experienced last year was trails often appeared busier than they actually were because no carpooling (due to COVID) resulted in many more vehicles at trailheads than typical years. Certainly something to keep in mind.

Be prepared for all sorts of weather when hiking in shoulder season.

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A few final notes: If you’re interested in nature writing, our friend Omar’s very successful fake university is hosting free science and nature writing classes next month, in partnership with Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. You can register for free here for five different classes with authors and journalists, including one on May 11, taught by us! It’s called Writing on Nature with Authority, Authenticity and Personality and we’re quite excited about it.

Speaking of nature writing, Cailynn has a book review in the latest issue of Alberta Views all about Stories of Ice, by Canmore-based author Lynn Martel. You can read it here.

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