canoe on lake in Glacier National Park
Canoe on lake in Glacier National Park

NPS / Jacob W. Frank


Glacier National Park offers a variety of boating experiences. The rivers and lakes in this mountainous region are very cold. All users (boaters, skiers, and swimmers) should be aware of the dangers of hypothermia at any time of the year.

Protect Glacier's Waters: Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers

Don't Move a Mussel

Now there is a new and serious threat. Imagine a future where going to your favorite rock-skipping beach, you find the shoreline matted with tens of thousands of small mussel shells, with everything cemented together in a sharp, smelly mess. Imagine once productive fisheries wiped out by these new invaders. It's not science fiction, impacts are already occurring in waters in the Great Lakes, eastern provinces and states, the prairies and plains, and more recently in the Southwestern United States.

Since the 1980s freshwater zebra and quagga mussels have steadily advanced westward, transported on trailered boats. Very recently, a mussel-carrying boat was intercepted at a marina on Flathead Lake. The boat had come from the Southwest. Flathead Lake is just downstream from Glacier.

Protecting the waters of the Peace Park requires immediate action, both by the parks and by every boater.

Glacier National Park Watercraft Launch Regulations

*All watercraft (motorized and non-motorized) with uninspectable water holding compartments are prohibited from launching in Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park will honor motorized watercraft inspections and seals from Montana State, Whitefish Lake, and Blackfeet Tribal Inspectors following a 30 day quarantine. Dated sealing documentation must be presented prior to launching. Non-motorized watercraft will only be issued launch permits after inspection by Glacier National Park inspectors.

Waterton Lakes National Park Permit Regulations

Currently, motorized and trailer-launched watercraft require a 90 day quarantine after inspection before launching on Waterton Lake. Non-motorized boats may self-certify prior to launching.

To obtain the permit you must complete a self-inspection form, which will act as a permit. Watercraft users must ensure their permits are available for examination. Self-inspection forms will be available at the park gate, Visitor Reception Centre, Operations Building and Wardens Office, campgrounds, and select locations in town. Permit stations will also be located throughout the park at boat launches and the most popular boating areas.

More information is available on the Waterton Lakes National Park Lakes Activities page.

Additional Aquatic Invasive Species Information

A concern we must all address is the spread of harmful aquatic invasive species (AIS). These are non-native species that can harm native aquatic ecosystems as well as negatively impact visitor use and enjoyment of park waterways. AIS such as lake trout have been extremely detrimental to native bull trout populations, replacing them as the top aquatic predator in the many of the large lakes on the west side of Glacier. AIS can come in many other forms including other animals such as zebra and quagga mussels, plants such as Eurasian watermilfoil, or pathogens such as whirling disease. These species can hitch a ride on any equipment--boats, trailers, and float tubes, as well as on waders and wading boots. AIS have devastating impacts on native aquatic ecosystems.


Boating Permits and Season Dates

2020 COVID-19 Related Boating Changes

  • Apgar: (Lake McDonald is the only water open to boating in the park) - Inspection station hours 8am-4pm Seven days/week
  • All watercraft must be cleaned thoroughly before coming to inspection station
  • Due to staffing cuts, you can expect some delays. We appreciate your patience.
  • Boaters will be expected to unload and clean their boats without help from NPS employees. Boaters will remove any personal items they store in the watercraft to prevent inspectors from having to touch people's personal items. Limited cleaning of boats may be possible, however any boats that need significant cleaning will be denied launch permits.
  • Physical distancing guidelines of 6 feet will be maintained.
  • Trailered watercraft with gas-powered motors are permitted on Lake McDonald after an inspection and after being quarantined for 30 days prior to launch. Boats will be sealed to the trailer after inspection and seals will be removed by park personnel following the 30-day drying time.
  • Non-motorized watercraft, and non-trailered electric motorized watercraft will be permitted after same day inspection by Glacier National Park AIS inspectors. These watercraft do not require sealing or a quarantine period.
  • Glacier National Park, State of Montana and other Montana certified inspection entity seals (CSKT, Blackfeet, Whitefish Lake, etc.) on motorized watercraft will be honored, pending verification of quarantine. Non-motorized and non-trailered electric motorized watercraft require inspection by Glacier National Park AIS inspectors prior to launch.
  • Motorized boaters wishing to re-launch on Lake McDonald must have their watercraft resealed upon take-out during regular inspection station hours.
  • All vessels with uninspectable water holding compartments are prohibited from launching in Glacier National Park
  • All open park waters (currently only Lake McDonald) will close on November 1.

Rules and Regulations

National Park Service boating regulations are found in Title 36, Part 3, of the Code of Federal Regulations and are available at park headquarters and staffed ranger stations. It is your responsibility to know and obey the U.S. Coast Guard and State of Montana regulations for boat operation and safety. Park rangers may inspect or board any boat for the purpose of examining documents, licenses, and/or other permits relating to the operation of the boat and to inspect the boat to determine compliance with regulations.

All sailboats 12 feet in length and longer must be registered and numbered according to State of Montana regulations. Hand propelled boats are exempt.

Required Equipment

One U. S. Coast Guard approved, wearable, personal floatation device, of the appropriate size for the intended user, readily accessible, and in good condition, must be carried on board. All children 12 and under must wear a personal floatation device when vessel is underway.

Navigation lights for motorboats and sailboats must be used between sunset and sunrise. Non-motorized boaters should have a light if out after dark.

Rules of the Waterways

Keep to the right in channels and when approaching another boat head-on or nearly so. Yield right-of-way to vessels on your right in crossing situations and to vessels you overtake or pass. Boats propelled by oars, paddles, or sails have the right-of-way over boats propelled by motors.

Regulations Prohibit the Following:

  • Reckless/negligent boat handling that endangers or is likely to endanger the lives of others.
  • Boat handling by any person under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Riding the gunwales, transom, or foredeck while boat is moving faster than five mph.
  • Swimming from boat while underway.
  • Interference with other boats or with free and proper navigation of waterways.
  • Leaving a boat unattended for more than 24 hours without specific authority from the park superintendent or his/her duly authorized representative.
  • Using trailers to launch or recover vessels.
  • Overloading of boats.
  • Installation of any obstruction in the water.
  • Operating “airboats.”
  • “Para-sailing.”
  • Personal Watercraft Vehicles (Jet Ski, Wave Runner, Etc.)
  • Operating a vessel in excess of five mph within 100 feet of a diver’s marker or swimmer.
  • Discharging toilet wastes into the water.
  • Depositing trash, refuse, or debris of any kind in the water.
Operate your boat in a safe manner so as not to disturb or endanger others.

Accidents and Reports

Report any accident resulting in death, personal injury, or property damage to a park ranger no later than 24 hours after the incident. Boaters should render assistance to all persons needing help.

The operator of each vessel involved must complete a written report. This report needs to include the name and address of the boat operator and the identification of the boat to any injured person or to the owner of any property damaged.

Camping and Overnight Use

A Backcountry Use Permit is required for all overnight backcountry camping. Between June 1 and September 30, a per person per night fee will be charged at the time of permit issuance. An additional fee will be charged for confirmed advance reservations. Please check Glacier’s Backcountry Camping Guide for details.

Undesignated camping is not allowed on lakes or lakeshores. Overnight camping on a vessel/boat within Glacier National Park is prohibited.

Pets are allowed in developed areas, frontcountry campsites and picnic areas, along roads, and in vessels on lakes where motorized watercraft were permitted (Bowman, McDonald, Sherburne, St. Mary, Swiftcurrent, Two Medicine, and Upper Waterton Lakes). Pets must be on a leash no longer than six feet, under physical restraint or caged at all times, including while in open-bed pickup trucks. Pets are not to be left tied to an object when unattended. Pet owners must pick up after their pets and dispose of waste in a trash receptacle. Owners must not allow a pet to make noise that is unreasonable.


The rivers and lakes in this mountainous region are very cold. All users (boaters and swimmers) should be aware of the dangers of hypothermia at any time of the year. Hypothermia can occur even at temperatures above freezing. People in poor physical condition or who are exhausted are particularly at risk.

Avoid hypothermia by wearing water-resistant or moisture wicking clothing and dressing in layers. Minimize wind exposure and if your clothes become wet, replace them.

Other Waters

White water canoeing, kayaking, or rafting can be enjoyed on the Flathead River, which forms the south and west boundary of Glacier.

Boaters operating on Waterton Lake, who land in the United States, are subject to U.S. customs regulations and are required to check in at Goat Haunt Ranger Station.

Last updated: October 5, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 128
West Glacier, MT 59936


(406) 888-7800

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