Boating

Important Notice:

Park waters are currently closed to all boating. Waters will reopen to boating in late spring of 2018.

Late Spring 2018
  • Hand-propelled, non-trailered watercraft including kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards will be allowed to launch on all Park waters after inspection and permit issuance by NPS staff.
  • Privately owned motorized and trailered watercraft will be allowed to launch on Lake McDonald only following an inspection and 30 day quarantine.
 
canoe on lake in Glacier National Park
Canoe on lake in Glacier National Park

NPS / Jacob W. Frank

 

Boating Permits  /  Rules and Regulations  /  Public Docks and Ramps  /  Overnight Use

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

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

You must thoroughly clean, drain, and dry all of your boating, wading, and fishing equipment before coming to the park. A free launch permit is required to launch all non-motorized watercraft in Glacier National Park. In order to qualify for the permit, all such boats, arriving at the park, must be cleaned, drained, and dried prior to inspection by NPS staff. Boats that pass inspection will be issued a launch permit, which is valid as long as your watercraft stays in the park. It is critical that all boats be cleaned, drained, and dried or a permit will not be issued.

If you would like to launch a motorboat on Lake McDonald, please read the press release and FAQ for more information about inspection and quarantining procedures, including how to make an inspection appointment.

Boat trailers are not permitted to enter park waters except when they have been quarantined along with a motorboat. All trailered non-motorized watercraft must be hand carried to launch points.

Inspection stations for motorized (Lake McDonald only) and hand-propelled watercraft will be located on the west side of the park in Apgar Village (for Lake McDonald and North Fork area lakes), and the east side of the park (hand-propelled only) at Two Medicine, St. Mary, and Many Glacier Ranger Stations. Though launch hours for hand propelled watercraft are not restricted, inspection hours are limited.

When inspection stations close for the 2017 season, the lakes will also close to boating for the winter.

Adjacent to the Apgar Public Boat Ramp
June 1 – October 31
8:00 am to 4:00 pm

Boaters traveling to the North Fork region should visit the Lake McDonald inspection station for a launch permit. After successful inspection, they should 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 – October 13
8:00 am to 4:00 pm

Many Glacier Ranger Station
June 1 – September 29
7:00 am to 4:30 pm


Glacier National Park only provides boat inspections and permits for boaters launching on park waters. Inspections and launch permits for Blackfeet tribal waters are available on U.S. Hwy 2 between East Glacier and Browning and at Chewing Black Bones Campground, just north of St. Mary MT.

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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 & 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.

Required Equipment

One U.S. Coast Guard approved, wearable, personal flotation 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 flotation device when vessel is underway.

Navigation lights must be used when boating between sunset and sunrise.

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.

Operate your boat in a safe manner so as not to disturb or endanger others.

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.
  • 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.
  • Overloading of boats.
  • Using trailers to launch or recover vessels.
  • Installation of any obstruction in the water.
  • "Para-sailing"
  • Discharging toilet wastes into the water.
  • Depositing trash, refuse, or debris of any kind in the water.

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.

Use of Watercraft in Glacier

Motorized or trailered vessels are prohibited from launching in Glacier National Park. Hand-propelled boats and sailboats are permitted on park waters with the following exception: from April 1 through September 30, the section of Upper McDonald Creek between Mineral Creek and Lake McDonald is closed to all types of boating and floating to protect nesting Harlequin ducks.

Boating may be restricted in certain areas for safety or to protect sensitive wildlife habitat throughout the park. Marker buoys and/or signing will be placed to designate the closures.

Pets

Pets are allowed in developed areas, frontcountry campsites and picnic areas, along roads, and in boats on lakes where 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.

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.

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Camping and Overnight Use

Undesignated camping is not allowed on lakes or lakeshores. Overnight camping on a vessel/boat within Glacier National Park is prohibited. There are chances to paddle up to backcountry sites on lakes or float to river camping.

A Backcountry Use Permit is required for all overnight backcountry camping in Glacier National Park. Between May 1 and October 31, 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 the Backcountry Camping page for details.

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Last updated: November 10, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 128
West Glacier, MT 59936

Phone:

(406) 888-7800

Contact Us