Boating

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

NPS / Jacob W. Frank

 

All watercraft launched within Glacier National Park MUST be inspected for aquatic invasive species (AIS). The permitting process is fast, free, and informative.

2021 Boating Permits and Season Dates

Lake McDonald

  • Inspection station across the road from the Apgar boat dock
  • Both motorized and non-motorized
  • May 8 – October 31

North Fork Area (Kintla and Bowman Lakes)

  • Inspection station at the North Fork put-in/take-out, across the river from the Polebridge Ranger Station
  • Non-motorized on both, and <10 hp motorized on Bowman only
  • May 8 (upon seasonal road opening) – October 31
  • Before the Polebridge inspection station opens (May 28) and after it closes for the season (September 6), North Fork-bound boaters need to be inspected at the Apgar inspection station instead.
  • Inspections for North Fork-bound watercraft will still be available at the Apgar inspection station throughout the summer for (A) those entering the park prior to 6 am or after 5 pm, or (B) those who have a valid Going-to-the-Sun Road Entry Reservation Ticket.

Many Glacier Area (Sherburne and Swiftcurrent Lakes)

  • Inspection station near the boat dock behind the Many Glacier Hotel
  • Non-motorized only
  • May 29 – September 23

St. Mary Lake

  • Please note: Inspections are not available in the St. Mary Valley this summer. Boaters must get their vessels inspected at the Apgar station and then drive over Going-to-the-Sun Road to launch at St. Mary Lake.
  • Non-motorized only
  • GTSR opening date – September 23

Two Medicine Lake

  • Inspection station will not be open for privately owned vessels in 2021.
  • Concessioner rental boats only
  • No open dates in 2021
 

Aquatic Invasive Species: Mussels

Protecting our waters requires immediate action, both by the National Park Service and by every boater.Imagine going to your favorite rock-skipping beach and finding the shoreline matted with hundreds 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 evident in the Great Lakes region, eastern provinces and states, the prairies, 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 from the southwestern US was intercepted at a marina on Flathead Lake, a waterbody just downstream from Glacier.

We must all address the spread of harmful aquatic invasive species (AIS). These are non-native species that can devastate native aquatic ecosystems, as well as negatively change visitor use and enjoyment of park waterways. AIS can come in many forms, including 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, float tubes, waders, and wading boots.

Watercraft Launch Regulations

The 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 free inspection by Glacier National Park personnel.

All watercraft (motorized and non-motorized) with un-inspectable water holding compartments are prohibited from launching.

Waterton Lakes National Park Permits

Motorized and trailer-launched watercraft require a 90-day quarantine after inspection before launching on Waterton Lake.

Non-motorized boaters may self-certify prior to launching. Watercraft users must complete a self-inspection form, which will then act as a permit, and must keep it readily available for examination. Forms are available at the park gate, Visitor Reception Centre, Operations Building and Wardens Office, campgrounds, and select locations in town. Permit stations are also located throughout the park at boat launches and the most popular boating areas.

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

Additional Aquatic Invasive Species Information

 

Federal and State 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’s your responsibility to know and obey the US Coast Guard and State of Montana regulations for boat operation and safety. Rangers may board any boat for the purpose of examining documents, licenses, and other permits relating to the operation of the boat and to inspect the boat to determine compliance with regulations.

Registration

  • All sailboats 12 feet (3.7 m) in length and longer must be registered and numbered according to State of Montana regulations. Hand-propelled boats are exempt.

Required Equipment

  • One US Coast Guard-approved, wearable, personal floatation device (PFD), of the appropriate size for the intended user, readily accessible, and in good condition, must be carried on board.

  • All children 12 years and under must wear a PFD when the 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.

Prohibited Actions

  • 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 the boat is moving faster than 5 mph.

  • Swimming from a boat while it’s 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.

  • Operating personal watercraft vehicles (Jet Ski, Wave Runner, etc.).

  • Operating a vessel over 5 mph within 100 feet (30.5 m) of a diver’s marker or swimmer.

  • Discharging toilet wastes into the water.

  • Depositing trash, refuse, or debris of any kind in the water.

Accidents and Reports

Boaters should render assistance to all persons needing help.

Report any accident resulting in death, personal injury, or property damage to a park ranger no later than 24 hours after the incident.

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 identification of the boat to any injured person or to the owner of any property damaged.

Camping and Overnight Use

A Wilderness Camping 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 in-advance reservations. Please check Glacier's Wilderness Camping page for details.

Undesignated camping is not allowed on lakes or lakeshores. Overnight camping on a vessel/boat within the park is prohibited.

Pets

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.

Hypothermia

Glacier’s rivers and lakes are very cold year-round. All users (boaters and swimmers) should be aware of the dangers of hypothermia, 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, shed and replace them with dry layers.

Other Waters

White water canoeing, kayaking, and rafting can be enjoyed on the North and Middle Forks of the Flathead River, which form the south and west boundaries of Glacier.

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

Last updated: November 4, 2021

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 128
West Glacier , MT 59936

Phone:

406 888-7800

Contact Us

Stay Connected