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Trail Safety

Wherever you hike, no matter what season or whether it’s a short hike or multi-day trek, be safe and be prepared.

Hiking along the Bruce Trail is, for the most part, neither dangerous nor difficult. A few sections of the Trail, particularly towards its northern end, are wild, rocky and remote, and additional preparations are required. But most of the Trail can be enjoyed by any moderately active, healthy person.

In order to minimize the risk, Bruce Trail volunteers work to ensure Trail blazes and other signs are visible, that the treadway is clear and that bridges and boardwalks are in a good state of repair. Of course, the BTC cannot guarantee that every metre of the Trail will be in perfect shape. Trail conditions will vary according to the season and the weather.

We've compiled on this page some of the more common hazards to help you plan your trip. Remember, you are responsible for your safety while on the Trail.

10 Tips for Hiking Safely

Drinking Water

Weather

Terrain

Animals

Insects

Plants

Hiking During Hunting Season

10 Tips for Hiking Safely:

  1. Always prepare ahead for a hike. Consult a map. Plan your route based on the time available and the abilities of the group. Check for any Trail Changes or Notices (online or in the Bruce Trail App) before heading out.
  2. Make sure you have adequate clothing & footwear.
  3. Carry essential articles in a day pack.
  4. Modify your hiking speed in inclement weather and take extra care where the path is rocky, where it follows a cliff edge, or where is passes by caves or crevices.
  5. Be aware that some of the road and railway crossings along the Bruce Trail are very hazardous.
  6. Avoid hiking alone. If you must hike alone, give someone your route and timetable.
  7. Treat all water obtained along the Trail, except potable water which is available in parks and conservation areas.
  8. If you lose the Trail, try to retrace your steps to the last blaze. If this fails, sit down. Have something to eat, then look at your guide and map and try to concentrate calmly on where you may have gone wrong.
  9. Give wild animals a wide berth and never get between a mother of any species and her young.
  10. If you are camping, always hang your food, soap and tootpaste in a bag on a line strung between two trees about 4 metres off the ground and away from your tent. Do not take your backpack into your tent since it may smell of food.

Volunteers, visit our Health & Safety resource page for more detailed information on staying safe while volunteering on the Trail.

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Drinking Water

Explorers of the Bruce Trail will encounter water sources such as springs, streams, ponds and lakes at frequent intervals along the Trail. However, water may not be accessible at times.

All water sources found along the Trail should be assumed to be contaminated. Carry water that is known to be safe, and treat any water that must be obtained while on the Trail.

Given the prevalence of harmful giardia parasites in surface water, the Ontario Ministry of Health recommends to boil the water for 1 to 2 minutes or purchase a filter specifically designed to remove giardia. Ministry officials warn that adding chlorine bleach or treatment tablets to the water will not destroy giardia. Chlorine bleach or treatment tablets are effective in killing coliform and other harmful bacteria, but water should not be consumed until at least 20 minutes after treatment. Consult a pharmacist or outdoor store for advice on purchasing filters and water treatment tablets.

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Weather

Heat

Dry hot summers are common along the Trail. Water may be scarce on humid days, and sweat does not evaporate well. The best measures against heat emergencies are:

  • wearing a hat and sunscreen,
  • staying well hydrated as you walk, and
  • drinking plenty of water.

The most common types of heat problems are:

Sunburn

Can occur rapidly and can be quite severe; it is surprising how quickly a sunburn can occur in the spring when no leaves are on the trees.

Heat Cramps

During heavy exertion involuntary muscle spasms may occur that are called heat cramps. The pain of heat cramps can affect leg muscles, calves, the abdominal wall, the back and arms. Any muscle groups that are over exerted in heat may feel the pain of heat cramps.

Treatment of Heat Cramps:

  • Stop and relax in as cool and shaded an area as possible. Great time to find a cool stream!
  • Take in plenty of fluids preferably water and or sports drinks with electrolytes without caffeine
  • Gently massage the effected muscles and stretch gently

If the heat cramps do not go away after an hour of rest, fluids and stretching, it is time to seek medical attention.

Heat Exhaustion

Can strike suddenly without warning and can range in severity from mild heat cramps to heat stroke. Heat exhaustion is caused by heavy exertion in a hot environment often accompanied by dehydration caused by excessive fluid loss through perspiration.

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion:

  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Nausea
  • Low blood pressure
  • A rapid weak heartbeat
  • Cool, moist, pale skin
  • Low-grade fever
  • Sweating Heavily
  • Heat cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Dark-colored urine

Treatment for heat exhaustion:

  • Get to as cool an area as possible out of the sun
  • Hydrate with water and electrolytes
  • Cool water is your friend, soak body, hands, wrists and feet in a stream, or wet down loosened clothing and hat or sponge down overheated hiker with damp cloth
  • Lay down legs and feet slightly elevated

It is a good idea for anyone who experiences significant heat exertion, especially one with existing medical conditions to be checked out by a professional health practitioner as soon as possible.

Heatstroke

This a potentially deadly heat related syndrome that occurs when the human body loses its ability to deal with heat stress by using its normal mechanisms for dealing with heat such as such as sweating and thermal control and is often caused by improper hydration and heavy exertion in hot weather such as hiking uphill or with heavy packs. Untreated heat exhaustion can rapidly turn into Heat Stroke. The factors that cause, raise the risk factor or can exacerbate heat exhaustion are the same for heat stroke. The main sign that someone is going into heat stroke is that their body temperature can reach 104 F (40C) and beyond at which point the person may exhibit personality changes, confusion and even go into a coma.

Symptoms of Heat Stroke:

  • Skin hot to the touch
  • Irritability, confusion or unconsciousness
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Rapid and shallow breathing
  • Elevated or lowered blood pressure
  • Cessation of sweating
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Fainting (Often the first sign in older adults)

Treatment for heat exhaustion:

  • Get medical attention immediately for anyone that is suffering from heat stroke
  • Cool the victim of heat stoke down by removing them from direct sun
  • If possible move them into a stream or creek or soak their clothes with water
  • If the person suffering from heat stroke is conscious have them rehydrate by drinking water or
  • sports drink
  • If you think someone is suffering from heat stroke you must get immediate medical attention! If you

don't have someone else to send for help along with you, stabilize the person in heat stroke first but
get professional help as quickly as possible.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia begins when exhausted people are exposed to wet and windy conditions outdoors, combined with low temperatures. Under such conditions body heat is lost and internal temperature drops. Hypothermia is even possible on a warm sunny day. For example: If you work up a good sweat hiking all day and your clothes are damp and you are a little tired or exhausted, Hypothermia is a very real threat, particularly when the sun dips late in the day.

Avoiding Hypothermia

  • You can avoid hypothermia if you guard against dehydration, fatigue, cold winds, and wet clothes. Be sure to:
  • Dress warmly, in layers.
  • Stay dry.
  • Protect yourself from wind, rain, and snow. (This can be done most effectively by wearing clothes that block wind and moisture.)
  • Eat high-energy snacks and drink plenty of water.
  • Do not over-exert.

Symptoms

You can also guard against hypothermia by being aware of the symptoms and taking action early to treat them. Progressive symptoms include:

  • Shivering. An early sign of hypothermia, shivering starts mildly, but can become more severe and finally convulsive before ceasing.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Loss of coordination. This might begin as difficulty tying one's shoelaces or zipping one's jacket, and eventually include stumbling or falling.
  • Confusion.
  • Apathy (for example, the victim not taking care of his or her own needs).
  • Irrational behavior.
  • Treatment

If you recognize hypothermia in someone, take action. If the victim is unconscious, seek medical help immediately. If the victim is conscious, or after medical help has been sent for an unconscious victim: 

  • Move the victim to shelter. Be very gentle with unconscious victims — their hearts are fragile and sensitive to jarring.
  • Remove wet clothes, and replace them with warm, dry garments.
  • If the victim is alert enough to hold a cup, give warm, but not hot, liquids to drink. Sugary drinks, such as warm Tang or Jello, are especially helpful. Never give food or drink to an unconscious victim — he or she may choke.
  • If the victim is conscious and able, moderate exercise such as walking will help to generate heat.
  • If the victim is unconscious or unable to exercise, place the victim in a sleeping bag to help speed rewarming, and insulate the sleeping bag with a plastic sheet (or a tarp) above and a pad below.

Thunderstorms & Lightning

Avoid open spaces, hills and high places or steep slopes. If you are in the forest stay there, but keep away from the edge of the forest, clearings or isolated trees. Do not lie down on the ground. Squat low to the ground with your feet together and keep your arms near your body. Tuck your head between your knees and avoid making contact with the ground with any other part of your body. This will reduce your risk of being struck by lightning.

Review the Government of Canada's Lightning Safety Overview for more information.

Wind

Wind is a significant danger when working in the forest or in an area with trees. Wind can cause weakened parts of the tree or Chicots (dead standing trees) to fall from above resulting in serious injury or death. A tree may not become dangerous to volunteers until certain wind speeds are encountered. If wind speeds exceed 40 km/hr activities should be stopped or suspended until conditions moderate.

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Terrain

Rivers, streams and other water bodies

Fording streams and rivers can be deceptively hazardous. Even a very shallow, swiftly flowing body of water can pack enough force to knock you off your feet. Use caution and common sense. Use a walking stick for an extra point of contact to provide stability.

Caves, Cliffs and Crevices

Be aware of the location of these areas on the property and do not take risks around them.

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Animals

Coyotes

Coyotes are a medium sized member of the Canidae family. Coyotes have grayish fawn coloured coat with black tipped hairs along the back and tail with a whitish tinge to the belly and throat. Have ears that are relatively large as compared to the rest of the head and a black tipped bushy tail that points down when running.

Coydogs are a cross between a Coyote and a domestic dog and have a more variable coat colouring ranging from grayish-brown to yellowish-gray to reddish-brown. These animals keep the predatory nature of the Coyote and the dogs lack of fear of humans and are often to blame for many livestock attacks instead of purebred Coyotes.

Recently there has been a heightened awareness of Coyotes due to increased sightings in urban areas and a few close calls with people being approached by them. They are generally afraid of humans and will avoid us at all costs but sometimes they become less timid from the chance at an easy meal through our curbside garbage or in some cases people even feeding them.

If you are approached stay calm, back away slowly and never turn your back or run. If the animal still seems aggressive stand tall, wave your arms and make lots of noise. Carry a flashlight to scare the animals away at night and if they pose an immediate threat, call 911. Always keep your pets on a leash when hiking the Trail as they may get injured if they chase a Coyote.

Black Bears

Black bears are active in the northern section of the Bruce Trail, on the Bruce Peninsula, from early spring until late fall. Bears tend to avoid humans and Black Bear attacks on humans are very rare. 

To avoid a Black Bear encounter:

  • Make noise as you move through wooded areas; Talk, clap or sing to avoid surprising a bear
  • Travel with others if possible
  • Carry and have readily accessible a whistle or an air horn, and bear pepper spray. Know how to use this spray.
  • Avoid strong fragrances that may cause a bear to be curious; put any food you are carrying in sealed containers in your pack.
  • Keep your dog on a leash

If you encounter a bear:

  • Remain calm and do not run or climb a tree
  • Do not try to get closer to the bear for a better look or picture.
  • If the bear is not paying any attention to you, slowly and quietly back away while watching the bear to make sure it isn't following you.
  • If the bear obviously knows you are there, raise your arms to let the bear know you are a human. Make yourself look as big as possible. Speak in a firm but non-threatening voice while looking at the bear and backing away.
  • If the bear continues to approach, stand your ground and be aggressive - use your whistle or air horn, yell, stand tall, wave your arms and throw objects. Fight back if you have to.

Rattlesnakes

Massassauga Rattlesnakes have a brownish grey to dark grey background with dark saddle-shaped blotches on the back with several rows of alternating blotches on the side. They have a diamond shaped head with white stripes along jaw and slited pupils like a cats. They are a heavily bodied snake with narrower neck and a rattle at the end of their tail.

Tips for avoiding rattlesnakes:

  • Wear footwear that covers the ankles and long pants.
  • Be careful reaching or walking into brush or under rocks, under logs, in shady areas, or sunny areas where they may be basking.
  • If you hear a rattlesnake stay calm, stop walking, determine its location and slowly walk away – give it plenty of room to move away.
  • Do not harm the snake.

If you are bitten by a rattlesnake remain calm, call 911, reduce activity and lay down to prevent circulation of venom, remove any jewelry from around the bite and wash and cleanse the wound. Do not apply ice or a tourniquet.

Insects

Ticks and Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease is an infection caused by bacteria spread through the bite of Blacklegged ticks (Ioxdes scapularis; aka Deer Ticks) not Dog Ticks. Blacklegged ticks are found along the Bruce Trail and learning to identify and deal with them is key to a healthy hike.

Ticks are most active in the summer months, but can be found at any time of the year when the temperature is above freezing. They are found in woodlands, tall grasses and bushes.

Tips on avoiding Tick bites:

  • Stay on the Trail
  • Use appropriate insect repellants on skin and clothing
  • Cover up: Wear light clothing so you can spot ticks more easily. Wear clothing which fits tightly at wrists, ankles, and waist. Tuck shirt tails into pants and pant legs into socks.
  • Double-check: After your hike, promptly check your body for presence of ticks, especially hair, moist, dark places like armpits and groin and clothing. Check children and pets too.
  • Bathe and/or change clothes after your hike
  • Remove embedded ticks properly or seek medical attention for removal.

If you find a tick: Seek treatment promptly if symptoms of tick-borne illness develop later, even if tick bite was not known to occur.

Early symptoms of Lyme Disease include fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, fatigue and a skin rash resembling a bullseye.

Visit Government of Ontario Lyme Disease Information Page for the latest information and prevention recommendations.

Bees/Stinging Insects

Stinging insects have a sting (or stinger) at the posterior end of their abdomen. This group of insects includes honey bees, bumble bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and ants.

Tips for working around stinging insects:

  • Anyone with sting allergies should carry bee sting kits containing epinephrine
  • Be aware of potential for hives in brush or hollow logs, hanging in trees or in the ground
  • Take a look around. Check to see if there are any visible signs of activity or a hive or nest. If you see a number of insects flying around, check to see if they are entering/exiting from the same hole or place. If so, it is likely a nest or a source of food.
  • Wear light coloured clothes, long sleeve shirts, long pants, and closed-toed boots or shoes.
  • Avoid brightly coloured, patterned, or black clothing.
  • Do not wear perfumes, colognes, scented soaps, or powders as they contain fragrances that are attractive
  • Most bees and wasps will not sting unless they are startled or attacked. Do not swat at them or make fast movements. The best option is to let the insects fly away on their own. If you must, walk away slowly, or gently "blow" them away. The only exception is if you have disturbed a nest and hear "wild" buzzing. Protect your face with your hands and run from the area immediately.

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Plants

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy has 3 lobed or smooth edged leaves that can be variable in shape. The middle leaflet has a much longer stalk than the two side ones. The plant can be a vine, shrub or  herbaceous plant. It grows on sandy, stony, or rocky shores, thickets, clearings, forests, meadows and along the borders of woods and roadsides.

Giant Hogweed

Giant Hogweed is an extremely large plant growing from 2.5 to 4 metres (8 to 14 feet) high with leaves up to 1 metre (3 feet) in breadth. It has a thick—5 to 10 centimetres (2 to 4 inches)—hollow stem that is mottled with dark purple. Its stem and the undersides of its leaves are covered in coarse hairs. Its large, umbrella-shaped flowers are white in colour and can be more than 30 centimetres (1 foot) in diameter. The seeds of Giant Hogweed are flat and oval in shape. It can be found along roadsides, vacant lots, streams, and rivers. It is often classified as a freshwater weed and is typically found in floodplains. It produces a noxious sap that sensitizes the skin to ultraviolet light. This is known as photosensitivity, which can result in severe and painful burning and blistering.

It is important to avoid any skin contact with this plant. Since the sap increases the photosensitivity of the skin, it is important to avoid exposure to the sun for at least 48 hours after contact; the sun’s radiation and can cause skin that has been exposed to the sap to burn and blister. If blisters form, contact a medical professional for advice and treatment.

Wild Parsnip

Wild Parsnip has a single light green (sometimes purple-tinged) ,deeply-grooved, hollow stem and stands between 5 and 150 cm tall. The leaves are alternate on the stem, pinnately compound, approximately 15cm in length, with saw toothed edges. The flowers are small, yellow, 5-petalled and grow in umbrellalike clusters and bloom between June through to October. It occurs throughout Ontario in abandoned yards, waste places, meadows, old fields, roadsides and railway embankments.

Wild Parsnip has similar health issues as Giant Hogweed but not as severe.

Tips for dealing with noxious plants:

  • Learn to identify Poison Ivy, Giant Hogweed and Wild Parsnip and avoid them.
  • Cover up: Wear long sleeves and long pants to avoid direct contact with skin.
  • Use care removing clothing (including gloves) that may have been in contact with plants.
  • Whenever the skin contacts a noxious plant, wash the area with cold water within 1 to 3 minutes or as soon as possible. Do not use soap and/or hot water that can remove the natural protective oils from your skin.
  • Upon returning from the field, use rubbing alcohol to cleanse contacted skin.

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Hiking in Hunting Season

Due to the potential risks involved in hiking during the fall hunting season, the Bruce Trail Conservancy strongly advises that hiking in the Blue Mountains, Beaver Valley, Sydenham and Peninsula Club sections of the Bruce Trail be undertaken with caution during November and December. 

6 Tips for Hiking During Hunting Season:

  • Be aware: Understand that hunting is taking place. Know the seasons, dates, locations.
  • Be visible: Wear hunter orange or another bright colour (as a hat, vest, scarf) and avoid beige, brown, white, red or green clothing.
  • Make some noise: Talk, whistle, and generally let your presence be known.
  • Keep your pet on a leash and use a bright vest, collar or leash to make your pet more visible.
  • Avoid hiking at dawn and dusk, and anytime visibility is limited.
  • Stick to established trails.

Hunting Season Dates:

Hunting season dates in Ontario vary depending on the area, the type of game, and even the type of hunting equipment used. Large-game hunting [deer, bear, moose] takes place along some sections of the Bruce Trail from about October to January each year.

More detailed information about hunting in Ontario, including locations and dates, is available from the Ministry of Natural Resources at:
http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/en/Business/FW/2ColumnSubPage/291144.html 

More resources on hiking during hunting season:

"Be Safe, Be Seen" factsheet from Simcoe County Trails
 

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