Boating Information & Permits

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) prior to launching

Glacier National Park honors motorized watercraft inspections and seals from Montana State, Whitefish Lake, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Blackfeet Tribe, and Waterton Lakes National Park, following a 30-day quarantine. Dated sealing documentation must be presented prior to launching.

Personal Floatation Devices (PFD) are required for all watercraft users. Launch permits will not be issued without proof of a PFD for each boater.

Boating Permits and Season Dates

  • Vessels are permitted on park waters on the west side of the Continental Divide between the second Sunday in May and October 31
  • Vessels are permitted on park waters on the east side of the Continental Divide between the last Saturday in May and the last Thursday in September

Lake McDonald

  • Inspection station across the road from the Apgar boat dock.
  • Both motorized and non-motorized.
  • For motorized boaters wishing to launch on opening day, we suggest you have your boat inspected and sealed at one of our partner AIS inspection stations 30 days prior to opening day.


Season Dates and Hours
May 12–September 30
7:30 am–5:00 pm

October 1–October 31
8:00 am–4:00 pm

Hours will be adjusted for waning daylight

North Fork Area (Kintla and Bowman Lakes)

  • Inspection station at the Polebridge Ranger Station.
  • Non-motorized boating on Kintla and Bowman Lakes.
  • <10 hp motorized boating allowed on Bowman only.

Season Dates and Hours
May 12–October 12 (Depedent on seasonal road opening/closures)
8:00 am–5:00 pm

*Inspections may be available at Kintla and Bowman Lakes outside of normal business hours, subject to NPS staff availability, and not guaranteed. All vessels entering North Fork lakes must be inspected prior to launch.

Many Glacier Area (Sherburne and Swiftcurrent Lakes)

  • Inspection station located in the ranger station parking area.
  • Non-motorized boating only.

Season Dates and Hours
May 25–September 26
7:30 am–5:00 pm

St. Mary

  • Inspection station is located in front of the St. Mary Visitor Center
  • Both motorized and non-motorized. (Motorized craft are permitted on St. Mary Lake after a 30-day quarantine.)

Season Dates and Hours
May 25–September 26
7:30 am-5:00 pm

Two Medicine

  • Inspection station is located in a turnout on the north side of Two Medicine Road, two miles east of the entrance station.
  • Both motorized and non-motorized. (Motorized craft are permitted on Two Medicine Lake after a 30-day quarantine.)

Season Dates and Hours
May 25–September 26
7:30 am-5:00 pm

 

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 United States 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 honors motorized watercraft inspections and seals from Montana State, Whitefish Lake, Confederated Salish and Kootenai, 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 Upper and Middle Waterton lakes.

All non-motorized watercraft coming from outside of Waterton Lakes National Park boundaries are not permitted to enter waterbodies within Waterton Lakes National Park.

Non-motorized watercraft include canoes, kayaks, rafts, stand-up paddle (SUP) boards (inflatable and hard), sailboats, paddle boats, belly boats, drift boats, windsurfers, kite boards, inflatable watercraft, pedal assist kayaks, catamarans, hydrofoils, catarafts, and other amphibious watercraft. Water equipment and toys i.e., fishing equipment, scuba gear, inflatable toys still require a self-certification permit. Permit stations are located throughout the park.

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 waste 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 May 1 and October 31, a $7 per-person, per-night fee will be charged at the time of permit issuance, as well as a $10 permit fee. 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 are 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 prior to traveling to Goat Haunt USA using the cbp roam application. The app is available on both Apple and Google platforms. For more information, visit https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/goathaunt.htm

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 128
West Glacier, MT 59936

Phone:

406-888-7800

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