Backcountry Camping

Backcountry Offices have modified operations for the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Winter permits must be reserved 3 to 7 days in advance. For information on winter wilderness camping permits, please see our Winter Backcountry Camping page.

 
Backcountry Camping at Cracker Lake
Backcountry campers fixing dinner at Cracker Lake

NPS

 

Glacier's backcountry camping program is designed to minimize resource impacts while providing positive visitor experiences. The following information is designed to move you from a broad understanding of the overall permitting process to the specific steps needed to refine your plan and set out on the trail to enjoy a backcountry adventure in Glacier.

Table of Contents

Camping Fees

Getting a Permit

  • Walk-in Permits
    Office Locations
    Advance Reservations

Trip Planning

  • Map and Campsite List
    Trail Conditions
    Trail Closures
    Backcountry Blog
    Suggested Gear List

Regulations

  • Campsites
    Permits
    Trip Itineraries
    Group Size
    Leave No Trace
    Stock Use
    Accessibility

Safety

  • Drowning
    Hypothermia
    Snow and Ice
    Water Filtration
    Solo Travel
    Bears
    Other Wildlife

Special Trip Considerations

  • Nyack / Coal Creek Camping Zone
    River Camping
    Border Crossing
    Continental Divide Trail
    Recreation on the Blackfeet Reservation
    Winter Camping
    Volunteering

Transportation and Services

Shuttles
Guided Trips
Packing Services


Watching the Backcountry Camping Video is mandatory prior to getting a permit.

 
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Duration:
15 minutes, 17 seconds

This video will guide you through planning a trip to Glacier's backcountry and provide needed safety and resource protection information. It is required viewing to obtain a backcountry permit.

 
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Duration:
10 minutes, 19 seconds

This video will aid in planning a successful winter overnight experience in the park. Park visitors not planning on this level of extreme winter recreation will appreciate the challenges highlighted in this short vignette into Glacier's winter.

 
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Duration:
53 seconds

Tips for getting the best backcountry permits.

 

Camping Fees

From May 1 - October 31 there is a $7/night/person camping fee payable upon permit issuance at a backcountry permit office. Due to program fee requirements, there are no child or national land recreation pass discounts available. Winter backcountry camping permits (November 1 - April 30) are free.
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Getting a Permit

Walk-in Permits

Backcountry permits may be available the day before or day of a desired trip start date. Approximately half of all sites in a campground are set aside for walk-in campers. However, that does not mean those sites will be available at all times. Backpackers on longer trips (4 or more nights) may take walk-in sites well in advance. Arrive early the day before your intended trip start date for the best campsite availability. No reservation fees are charged for walk-in permits, only the $7 / night / person camping fee is charged. Permits will not be issued after 4:30 pm at any location.To prevent overnight camping on the Apgar Backcountry Camping Center porch and in the adjacent parking lot, backcountry users may only line up at 4:00 am or later. What's available tonight? The dates are listed in green at the top of the chart. The numbers below indicate how many sites are available for a "walk-in" permit. Check the date at the top to make sure the chart is current.

Permitting Locations

  • Apgar Backcountry Permit Center
    Opens June 26
  • St. Mary Visitor Center
    Open date to be determined
  • Many Glacier Ranger Station
  • Two Medicine Ranger Station
  • Polebridge Ranger Station
  • Waterton Lakes National Park Visitor Reception Centre

Advance Reservations

For summer 2021 backcountry permits, reservations will be accepted online beginning March 15. More information is available on our backcountry permit reservation page.
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Trip Planning

With its towering mountains, pristine alpine lakes, abundant wildlife, and over 700 miles of trails, Glacier is a backpacking paradise. Due to individual differences in fitness, backcountry experience, and personal preference, we don’t offer specific trip recommendations. What we can tell you is that in the broadest sense, Glacier's backcountry comes in two flavors—east and west roughly split along the Continental Divide. Each trail on a respective side offers a similar "feel." West side trails start at around 3,200 feet in elevation, are more heavily forested, and offer the greatest solitude. East of the divide, trails start at around 5,000 feet and the terrain is more sparsely vegetated, creating more open vistas and attracting more crowds.

Map and Campsite List

Use this backcountry campground map and campground information to help plan your trip. GPS data points are also available.
For specific trail descriptions and other planning tools, visit Glacier's non-profit partner, the Glacier National Park Conservancy.

Trail Conditions

Trail conditions change frequently throughout the year, but our Trail Status Reports page offer some seasonal generalizations as well as specific trail condition updates throughout the summer season, that will help you know what to expect in the backcountry. Trail status reports offer specific details about a given trail on a given date, however, Glacier's wilderness is vast and some trail status reports may not be updated for several weeks, or even months for lesser used trails. For this reason, trail status reports only offer a snapshot of trail conditions and should be used in conjunction with other tools such as weather reports, prior backcountry experience in Glacier, and assessment of your own backcountry skill level.

Trail Closures

Hazardous or emergency conditions may make it necessary to close a trail segment. These closures may effect your planned itinerary. Backcountry rangers will make an effort to contact you on the trail to let you know your options and assist with route changes. It may take a while for everyone to be contacted. Do not enter any closed trail, even if it was part of your planned itinerary. See the current closures and postings list.

Suggested Gear List

The following items should be carried on every trip into Glacier’s backcountry:

  • Bear Spray
  • Topographic map
  • Compass
  • First Aid Kit
  • High-calorie food
  • Shelter
  • Sleeping bag and pad
  • Appropriate footwear
  • Wool or synthetic clothing to layer (dry clothes to sleep in
  • Rain jacket and pants
  • Lightweight camp shoe
  • Footwear for stream crossings
  • A weatherproof food and garbage hanging bag
  • 25 feet of rope for hanging food and garbage
  • Water container and water filter
  • Campstove and fuel
  • Emergency signalling device
  • Insect repellent

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Regulations

Campsites

Backcountry camping is available in 65 designated campgrounds throughout the park, with the exception of the Nyack / Coal Creek camping zone where both designated campgrounds and at large camping are available.

Permits

A backcountry use permit is required for all overnight camping, and must be in your possession while in the backcountry. They are valid only for the dates, locations, and party size specified.

Trip Itineraries

Itineraries must be contiguous. You cannot exit one trailhead and drive to another trailhead to access campgrounds on the same trip. Note: Hiking short road sections on foot—Many Glacier and Two Medicine developed areas, Crossing Going to the Sun Road at Jackson Glacier Overlook—to connect longer itineraries is permitted.

Group Size

The maximum party size allowed is 12 persons. Each backcountry campground has 2-7 campsites. Each campsite is limited to four (4) people and two (2) tents (2-4 person).

Leave No Trace

Many of Glacier’s backcountry camping regulations are based on Leave No Trace (LNT) outdoor ethics. LNT tells us that by concentrating impacts, including eating, sleeping, and human waste disposal, we prevent degradation of a broader area. Concentrating impacts essentially creates small pockets of impact and leaves nearly pristine conditions over larger areas. For more information visit LNT.org.

Stock Use
Information regarding the use of stock in the backcountry can be found on our Private Stock Use page.

Accessibility

Wheelchairs and trained service dogs are appropriate accommodations in the backcountry. Due to potential hazardous interactions with bears, service dogs are discouraged.
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Safety

Drowning

Use extreme caution near water. Swift, cold glacial streams and rivers, moss-covered rocks, and slippery logs are dangerous. Avoid wading in or fording swift streams. Never walk, play, or climb on slippery rocks and logs, especially around waterfalls.

Hypothermia

Be prepared for sudden weather changes. Use rain gear before you become wet. If your clothes do become wet replace them with dry ones. Layer with synthetic or wool clothing as a base layer. Minimize wind exposure. Eat high-energy foods often.

Snow and Ice

Snowfields and glaciers can present serious hazards. Snow bridges may conceal deep crevasses on glaciers or hidden cavities under snowfields. These bridges may collapse under the weight of an unsuspecting hiker. Use extreme caution when crossing steep snowfields on trails and in the backcountry.

Water Filtration

The protozoan Giardia lamblia may be present in lakes and streams. When ingested, their reproductive cysts may cause an intestinal disorder that appears weeks after your trip. The easiest method of effective water treatment is to boil water for one minute (up to five minutes at higher elevations) or use a filtration system capable of killing or removing particles as small as 1 micron.

Solo Travel

Solo travel in the backcountry is not recommended. The best insurance for a safe and enjoyable trip rests with your ability to exercise good judgment, avoid unnecessary risks, and assume responsibility for your own safety while visiting Glacier’s backcountry.

Bears

Approaching, viewing, or engaging in any activity within 100 yards of bears or wolves, or within 25 yards 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. Visit our Bear Safety page to find detailed information about hiking in bear country.

Other Wildlife

Deer, mountain goats, marmots, and other rodents are attracted to urine and sweat. They will chew holes in clothes, boots, and camping gear if left unattended.

Mosquitoes and flies can be a nuisance in some areas in July and August. Bring insect repellent or be prepared to cover up with lightweight clothing and perhaps a head net.
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Special Trip Considerations

Nyack / Coal Creek Camping Zone

This area offers greater opportunities for solitude along with greater challenges in the form of undesignated camping. In addition to undesignated camping, designated camping is also available. Advance reservations are not allowed for undesignated camping.

River Camping

Interested in doing an overnight river trip? Find all the information you need on our River Camping Permits page. Advance reservations are not allowed for river camping.

Border Crossing

There are special considerations to take into account before you plan a trip across the International Boundary at Goat Haunt. Please read the information on our Visiting Goat Haunt page for details. Crossing the border without following the special procedures can result in a $5,000.00 fine.

Continental Divide Trail

A 110-mile segment of The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT) runs through Glacier. The designated CDT route and an early/late season alternate route are marked in blue on the map. CDT through-hikers (Mexico to Canada), who plan on entering Glacier at Marias Pass, should call the backcountry office at (406) 888-7857 prior to starting their trip for information on obtaining a backcountry permit.

Recreation on Blackfeet Reservation

A Conservation/Recreation Use Permit is required for all recreational activities on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. A separate permit is required for fishing on the reservation. For further information call (406) 338-7207.

Winter Camping

Visit our Winter Backcountry Camping page for details on this special, but challenging, time of the year to be in Glacier's backcountry.

Volunteer Photography

Backcountry enthusiasts may volunteer to re-photograph glaciers to help document them as part of the U.S. Geological Survey Repeat Photography Project. All the photo sites are backcountry destinations, making this a great way to combine your activity with park scientific objectives. Check out the Citizen Science program for more ways to help while hiking.
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Transportation and Services

Shuttles

Glacier Shuttle System
From early July to Labor Day, the free park shuttle runs along Going-to-the-Sun Road between Apgar Visitor Center and St. Mary Visitor Center, stopping at many trailheads along the way.

Glacier National Park Lodges hiker's shuttleA fee-based trailhead shuttle from Many Glacier to the St. Mary Visitor Center. Check for this summer's dates and times of operation.

Glacier Park Inc. hiker's shuttleA fee-based shuttle scheduled to operate on the east side of the park. Check for seasonal dates and times of operation. There are no commercial shuttle or taxi services available in the North Fork area (Polebridge, Bowman/Kintla Lakes) of the park.

Additional Services

Guided backpacking trips are available through Glacier Guides.

Swan Mountain Outfitters offers drop-camp service using stock to pack your gear into certain sites. A backcountry permit is required.
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Last updated: December 3, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 128
West Glacier, MT 59936

Phone:

(406) 888-7800

Contact Us