Glacier National Park
What to Bring
Safety begins with the correct gear. Click here for a printable checklist of what to bring with you on your trip to Glacier. It’s particularly important to:
- Stay hydrated (bring 1 liter of water for 2 hours of hiking)
- Wear layers (weather conditions can change rapidly)
- Bring a map or gps/spot beacon
Water is the number one cause of fatalities in Glacier National Park. Please use extreme caution near water. Swift, cold glacial streams and rivers, moss-covered rocks, and slippery logs all present dangers. Children, photographers, boaters, rafters, swimmers, and fishermen have fallen victim to these rapid, frigid streams and deep glacial lakes. Avoid wading in or fording swift streams. Never walk, play, or climb on slippery rocks and logs, especially around waterfalls. When boating, don’t stand up or lean over the side, and always wear a lifejacket.
Hypothermia, the “progressive physical collapse and reduced mental capacity resulting from the chilling of the inner core of the human body,” can occur even at temperatures above freezing. Temperatures can drop rapidly. Exposure to frigid bodies of water and sudden mountain storms can turn a pleasant day into a bitterly cold and life-threatening experience. People in poor physical condition or who are exhausted are particularly at risk.
- Avoid hypothermia by using water-resistant clothing before you become wet.
- Wear clothing that wicks moisture away.
- Minimize wind exposure and if your clothes become wet, replace them.
- Avoid sweating by dressing in layers, rather than in a single bulky garment.
- Pack a sweater, warm hat, and rain gear for any hike.
The Warning Signs
- Uncontrolled shivering, slow or slurred speech, memory lapses and incoherence, lack of coordination such as immobile or fumbling hands, stumbling, a lurching gait, drowsiness, and exhaustion.
- Seek shelter from weather and get the victim into dry clothes.
- Give warm non-alcoholic drinks.
- Build a fire and keep victim awake.
- Strip victim and yourself, and get into sleeping bag making skin-to-skin contact.
- If victim is semi-conscious or worse, get professional help immediately.
Sudden immersion in cold water (below 80° F, 27° C) may trigger the “mammalian diving reflex.” This reflex restricts blood from outlying areas of the body and routes it to vital organs like the heart, lungs, and brain. The colder the water, the younger the victim, and the quicker the rescue, the better the chance for survival. Some cold-water drowning victims have survived with no brain damage after being submerged for over 30 minutes.
Giardiasis is caused by a parasite (Giardia lamblia) found in lakes and streams. Persistent, severe diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and nausea are symptoms of this disease. If you experience any symptoms, contact a physician. When hiking, carry water from one of the park’s treated water systems. If you plan to camp in the backcountry, follow recommendations received with your permit. Bring water to a boil or use an approved filter.
Many accidents occur when people fall after stepping off trails or roadsides, or by venturing onto very steep slopes. Stay on designated trails and don’t go beyond protective fencing or guardrails. Supervise children closely in such areas. At upper elevations, trails should be followed carefully, noting directions given by trail signs and markers.
Snow and Ice
Snowfields and glaciers present serious hazards. Snowbridges may conceal deep crevasses on glaciers or large hidden cavities under snowfields, and collapse under the weight of an unsuspecting hiker. Don’t slide on snowbanks. People often lose control and slide into rocks or trees. Exercise caution around any snowfield.
Along the Roads
There are many great places to pull off to view wildlife and to take pictures. Along the sides of roads, please be careful of moving, alternating traffic. Also be careful of pedestrian crossings and visitors walking along the sides of roads as you drive by.
Wildlife Viewing Tips
All animals in the Park, big and small, are wild and should be respected. Bringing binoculars will allow you to view wildlife at a safe distance. You can also try the “thumb rule” to determine an appropriate distance. Hold your hand straight out in front of you with your thumb up, like a hitchhiker. If your thumb does not completely cover the wildlife you are observing then you need to move farther away. This rule of thumb (pun intended) allows you to get closer to smaller critters like squirrels and marmots than larger ones like bighorn sheep and mountain goats who need more space. If an animal is ever in distress, aggressive, or changing their behavior in anyway because of you, then you need to give them more space. Results may vary and the regulation is always 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from bears and wolves.
An icon of wilderness, Glacier is home to large numbers of both black and grizzly bears. This page presents basic information needed to ensure a safe visit for both you and our wildlife. For more detailed information, stop by any visitor center or attend a ranger program.
Report any bear or unusual animal sightings to the nearest ranger or warden immediately. Size and/or color are not reliable indicators of species.
- Grizzly bears have a shoulder hump, dished face, rounded ears, and large white claws.
- Black bears have no hump, a straight dog-like muzzle, pointed ears, and dark claws.
Read more about each species on the Bears informational page.
Keeping a Safe Distance
Approaching, viewing, or engaging in any activity within 100 yards (91.4 meters) of bears or wolves, or within 25 yards (23 meters) of any other wildlife is prohibited. Use binoculars or a telephoto lens to improve your view. Keep the animal’s line of travel or escape route clear and move away if wildlife approaches you.
Never intentionally get close to a bear. Individual bears have their own personal space requirements, which vary depending on their mood. Each will react differently and its behavior cannot be predicted. All bears are dangerous and should be respected equally.
It’s exciting to see bears up close, but we must act responsibly to keep them wild and healthy. If you see a bear along the road, please do not stop near it. If you wish to view the bear, travel at least 100 yards (91.4 meters) and pull over in a safe location. Roadside bears quickly become habituated to traffic and people, increasing their chances of being hit by vehicles. Habituated bears may also learn to frequent campgrounds and picnic areas, where they may gain access to human food. To protect human life and property, bears that seek human food must be removed from the park. Resist the temptation to stop and get close to roadside bears—put bears first at Glacier.
Hiking in Bear Country
Hike in Groups
Hiking in groups significantly decreases your chances of having a bear encounter. There have not been any reported attacks on groups of four (4) or more in Glacier. If you are a solo hiker looking for company, check the Ranger-led Activity Guide for guided hikes.
While taking a jog or a run may be good exercise, joggers and runners run the risk of surprising a bear on the trail. Trail running is highly discouraged.
Carry Bear Spray
Bear spray is an inexpensive way to deter bear attacks and has been shown to be the most effective deterrent. Be sure you know how to use it and that you are carrying it in an accessible place. Check the Ranger-led Activity Guide for summer demonstrations.
Bears will usually move out of the way if they hear people approaching. Most bells are not enough. Calling out and clapping at regular intervals are better ways to make your presence known. Do your best to never surprise a bear.
Secure your Food and Garbage
Never leave food, garbage, or anything used to prepare, consume, store, or transport food unattended. Store all food and odorous items safely. Other scented items include: toiletries, feminine products, sunscreen etc.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Some trail or environmental conditions make it hard for bears to see, hear, or smell approaching hikers. Be particularly careful by streams, against the wind, or in dense vegetation. A blind corner or a rise in the trail also requires special attention. Look for scat and tracks. Bears spend a lot of time eating, so be extra alert hiking in obvious feeding areas like berry patches, cow parsnip thickets, or fields of glacier lilies. Keep children close by. Avoid hiking early in the morning, late in the day, or after dark.
While in Camp
Our campgrounds and developed areas can remain unattractive to bears if each visitor manages food and trash properly. Following park regulations will help keep the “wild” in wildlife and ensure your safety as well.
- Keep a clean camp! Never improperly store or leave food unattended.
- All edibles, food containers (empty or not), cookware (clean or not), and trash (including feminine hygiene products) must be stored in a food locker or hung when not in use, day or night.
- Do not throw any food or garbage into the pit toilets.
- Inspect your campsite for bear sign and for careless campers nearby. Notify a park ranger of any potential problems.
If you encounter a bear inside the minimum recommended safe distance (100 yards / 91 m), you can decrease your risk by following these guidelines.
- If a bear or other animal is moving in your direction on a trail, get out of its way and let it pass.
- If you can move away, do so. If moving away appears to agitate the bear, stop. In general, bears show agitation by swaying their heads, huffing, and clacking their teeth. Lowered head and laid-back ears also indicate aggression. Bears may stand on their hind legs or approach to get a better view, but these actions are not necessarily signs of aggression. The bear may not have identified you as a person and is unable to smell or hear you from a distance. Help the bear recognize you as a friendly human.
- Talk quietly.
- Do not run! Back away slowly, but stop if it seems to agitate the bear.
- Try to assume a non threatening posture. Turn sideways, or bend at the knees to appear smaller.
- Use peripheral vision. Bears may interpret direct eye contact as threatening.
- Continue to move away as the situation allows.
- If a bear appears intent on approaching you, your group, or your campsite in a non-defensive manner (not showing signs of agitation), gather your group together, make noise, and try to discourage the bear from further approaching. Prepare to deploy your bear spray. If you are preparing or consuming food, secure it. DO NOT LET THE BEAR GET YOUR FOOD!
- If a bear approaches in a defensive manner (appears agitated and/or charges), stop. Do not run. Talk quietly to the bear. Prepare to deploy your bear spray. If contact appears imminent and you do not have bear spray, protect your chest and abdomen by falling to the ground on your stomach, clasp your hands around the back of your neck, and leave your pack on for protection. If the bear attempts to roll you over, try to stay on your stomach. If the attack is defensive, the bear will leave once it recognizes you are not a threat. If the attack is prolonged, FIGHT BACK!
For more detailed information, watch our Bear Safety video.
This aerosol pepper spray temporarily incapacitates bears. It is an effective, non-toxic, and non-lethal means of deterring aggressive bears. Under no circumstances should bear spray create a false sense of security or serve as a substitute for practicing standard safety precautions in bear country.
Bear spray is intended to be sprayed into the face of an oncoming bear. Factors influencing effectiveness include distance, wind, rainy weather, temperature extremes, and product shelf life. It is not intended to act as a repellent. Do not spray gear or your camp with bear spray. Pre-sprayed objects may actually attract bears.
Be aware that you may not be able to cross the U.S./Canada border with some brands of bear spray. Canadian Customs will allow the importation of USEPA-approved bear spray into Canada. Specifications state that the bear spray must have USEPA on the label.
Mountain Lion Safety
A glimpse of one of these magnificent cats would be a vacation highlight, but you need to take precautions to protect you and your children from an accidental encounter.
- Don’t hike alone.
- Make noise to avoid surprising a lion and keep children close to you at all times.
- If you do encounter a lion, do not run. Talk calmly, avert your gaze, stand tall, and back away. Unlike with bears, if attack seems imminent, act aggressively. Do not crouch and do not turn away. Lions may be scared away by being struck with rocks or sticks, or by being kicked or hit.
Lions are primarily nocturnal, but they have attacked in broad daylight. They rarely prey on humans, but such behavior occasionally does occur. Children and small adults are particularly vulnerable. Report all mountain lion encounters immediately!
Glacier provides a wonderful opportunity to view animals in their natural setting. Along with this opportunity comes a special obligation for park visitors. With just a little planning and forethought, visitors can help ensure the survival of a threatened or endangered species. Always enjoy wildlife from the safety of your car or from a safe distance. Do not approach wildlife to take photographs. Every year visitors get too close to wildlife in order to get a picture. Sadly, injuries have occurred as a result. Use a telephoto lens instead. This will not only insure your safety, but the safety of the animal. And never approach a bear or get out of your car to get a picture of a bear.
Feeding, harassing, or molesting wildlife is strictly prohibited and subject to fine. Bears, mountain lions, goats, deer, or any other species of wildlife can present a real and painful threat, especially females with young.
For most wildlife, like moose, elk, bighorn sheep mountain goats, deer, and coyotes, visitors are to be at least 75 feet (25 yards/23 meters) away. For wolves, grizzly and black bears, visitors need to be at least 300 feet (100 yards/91.4 meters) away.
Ticks are most active in spring and early summer. Several serious diseases, like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, can be transmitted. Completely remove attached ticks and disinfect the site. If rashes or lesions form around the bite, or if unexplained symptoms occur, consult a physician.
Rodents and Hantavirus
Deer mice are possible carriers of Hantavirus. The most likely source of infection is from rodent urine and droppings inhaled as aerosols or dust. Initial symptoms are almost identical to the onset of flu. If you have potentially been exposed and exhibit flu-like symptoms, you should seek medical care immediately. Avoid rodent infested areas. Camp away from possible rodent burrows or shelters (garbage dumps and woodpiles), and keep food in rodent proof containers. To prevent the spread of dust in the air, spray the affected areas with a water and bleach solution (1½ cups bleach to one gallon of water).
Help stop aquatic invasive species (AIS) by having your boat inspected. Glacier National Park waters are generally open for boating from mid-May through October. All watercraft require an NPS inspection and permit before launching. Prior cleaning, draining, and drying of all watercraft, both externally and internally, will reduce inspection time significantly. Click here for more information.
Gas Powered Motorized and Trailered Watercraft:
Lake McDonald is the only lake where gas powered trailered motorboats may launch, subject to the following regulations
- Inspection: by an approved NPS inspector certifying boat and trailer are free of AIS
- Sealing: After inspection, boats will be sealed to their trailer
- Drying: After a 30 day drying time (Quarantine), the seal will be removed by an NPS inspector and the boat will be allowed to launch.
- Relaunching: Boaters wishing to launch subsequently on Lake McDonald can have their boats resealed immediately after exiting the lake during normal station operating hours. These resealed boats may launch without another quarantine period as long as their seal remains intact.
- Other Agency Inspections: Glacier National Park will honor Inspection and sealing by Montana State, Whitefish Lake, and Blackfeet tribal inspectors, subject to verification of sealing date and 30 day dry time (quarantine).
Non-Motorized Watercraft and Non-Trailered Electric Motorized Watercraft (canoes, paddleboards, kayaks, rowboats, rafts, catarafts, sailboats, etc.):
Launch on all open waters, subject to the following regulations
- Trailers: Trailered launching prohibited
- Water cooled electric motors: Prohibited
- Inspection: Same day launch after NPS inspection certifying boat and/or electric motor are free of AIS
- All watercraft and watercraft systems must be accessible for inspection: uninflated rafts or float tubes, watercraft with internal water holding tanks, wash systems, etc. will be denied a launch permit.
- New, unused inflatable watercraft will not require an inspection; however they will require a permit before launching.
- An inspection will be required upon each entry to the park if intending to launch. Visitors staying overnight in the park will not need a daily inspection.
- West side lakes (McDonald, Bowman, Kintla) close on October 31.
- Eastside Lakes (Two Medicine, St. Mary, Many Glacier) close on September 30.
2018 Inspection Locations and Hours of Operation
Lake McDonald (Across street from Public Boat Ramp)
May 12 – May 31
8:00 am to 4:00 pm
June 1 – October 31
7:00 am to 9:00 pm (Hours adjusted for waning daylight)
North Fork (Polebridge)
There are no watercraft inspection stations in the North Fork region. Bowman or Kintla Lake boaters must stop at the Lake McDonald inspection station for a launch permit. After successful inspection, they must proceed directly to their North Fork launch destination.
*North Fork residents should contact the Polebridge Ranger Station for alternate inspection procedures.
Two Medicine Ranger Station
June 1 – September 29
7:00 am to 4:30 pm
St. Mary Visitor Center
June 1 – September 29
7:00 am to 4:30 pm
Many Glacier Ranger Station
June 1 – September 29
7:00 am to 4:30 pm
Glacier National Park will honor motorized watercraft inspections and seals from Montana State, Whitefish Lake, and Blackfeet Tribal Inspectors. Non-motorized watercraft will only be issued launch permits after inspection by Glacier National Park inspectors.