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

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

To aid in the prevention of the spread of aquatic invasive species, no boats may enter park waters until after they have been inspected and permitted by park staff. Permits may be obtained at the following locations, during the dates and times listed only.

Inspection stations for motorized (Lake McDonald only) and hand-propelled watercraft are 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 at Two Medicine, St. Mary, and Many Glacier Ranger Stations. Though launch hours for hand propelled watercraft are not restricted, inspection hours are limited. Boat trailers are not permitted to enter park waters except when they have been quarantined (30 days) along with a motorboat. All trailered non-motorized watercraft must be hand carried to launch points.

When inspection stations close for the 2019 season, the lakes will also close to boating for the winter.

Lake McDonald
(Across street from Public Boat Ramp)

  • May 11 – 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)

  • Boat inspections are not available in the North Fork area.
    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 possible alternate inspection procedures.

Two Medicine Ranger Station

  • June 1 – September 28
    7:00 am to 4:30 pm

St. Mary Visitor Center

  • June 1 – September 28
    7:00 am to 4:30 pm

Many Glacier Ranger Station

  • June 1 – September 28
    7:00 am to 4:30 pm

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.”
  • 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.

Use of Watercraft in Glacier

Lake McDonald

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 also be permitted, and do not require the quarantine period.

Other Park Waters

Non-motorized watercraft and non-trailered electric motorized watercraft are permitted same day launch on Lake McDonald, Bowman Lake, Two Medicine Lake, St. Mary Lake, and Swiftcurrent Lake, after inspection and permit issuance by NPS staff. They will not require a 30-day dry time because the motors are not water-cooled and therefore are classified as lower risk, similar to hand-propelled water-craft.

Kintla Lake is open to hand-propelled watercraft, after inspection. Inspections for the North Fork area of the park (Bowman and Kintla Lakes) are performed at the Apgar Village permit station.

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.

Shoreline Restrictions

In order to provide for the safety of the general public using Lake McDonald beaches for swimming and other similar activities, a “No Wake Zone” has been established. This zone is 300 feet north of the south shore (end) of the lake from Going-to-the-Sun Road to the lake outlet located at Lower McDonald Creek. Marker buoys will be placed annually to delineate the zone.

Boat Docks and Launching Ramps

Public boat docks are located at Lake McDonald (Apgar), St. Mary, Upper Waterton (Goat Haunt), and Two Medicine Lakes. Trailers may not be used to launch or recover watercraft.

Boat launching ramps are available on Bowman and McDonald Lakes on the west side of Glacier, as well as Swiftcurrent, Two Medicine, and St. Mary Lakes on the east side of the park.

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.

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: April 26, 2019

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 128
West Glacier, MT 59936


(406) 888-7800

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