Have Fun and Stay Safe

A person's foot sticks down through ice. Green blue water in the background the image is taken from underwater.
Given the park's name, it is not surprising that Glacier National Park's lakes and streams are extremely cold even in the summer.



Hypothermia

Given the park's name, it’s not surprising that its lakes and streams are extremely cold even in the summer. Swift, cold streams and rivers, moss-covered rocks, and slippery logs all present dangers. Children, photographers, boaters, rafters, swimmers, and fishermen have fallen victim to these rapidly flowing, frigid streams and glacial lakes.

Hypothermia, the "progressive physical collapse and reduced mental capacity resulting from the chilling of the inner core of the human body," can occur even at temperatures above freezing. Exposure to frigid bodies of water and sudden mountain storms can turn a pleasant day into a bitterly cold and life-threatening experience. People in poor physical condition or who are exhausted are particularly at risk.

To prevent hypothermia, avoid getting wet. Reconsider wading in or fording swift streams. Never walk, play, or climb on slippery rocks or logs, especially near waterfalls. When boating, don't stand up or lean over the side, and always wear a lifejacket. Try to avoid wearing sweat-soaked clothing and dress in layers, rather than in a single bulky garment. Avoid wearing cotton layers such as t-shirts and blue jeans. Pack a rainproof layer and warm wool hat for every hike. Consider bringing along a backup pair of wool socks.

Warning signs of hypothermia include uncontrolled shivering, slow or slurred speech, memory lapses and incoherence, lack of coordination such as immobile or fumbling hands, stumbling, a lurching gait, drowsiness, and exhaustion. If you or someone around you is experiencing symptoms, seek shelter from the weather and get the subject into dry clothes. Ensure they have a barrier between the ground and themselves. Build a fire, keep the subject awake, and give them warm, non-alcoholic drinks. If severe, strip the subject and yourself while getting them into a sleeping bag and making skin-to-skin contact with them. If the subject is semi-conscious or worse, get professional help immediately.

Drowning

Sudden immersion in cold water (below 80 °F, 27 °C) may trigger the "mammalian diving reflex." This reflex restricts blood from outer extremities of the body and routes it to vital organs like the heart, lungs, and brain. Keep your own safety in mind when trying to help someone drowning. Think “reach, throw, go.” Can you reach the person with a stick? Can you throw a rope or throw-bag toward them? Finally, is it safe to retrieve this person by getting in the water yourself? Always wear a personal floatation device (PFD).


Giardia

Giardiasis is caused by a parasite (Giardia lamblia) found in lakes and streams. If you experience any symptoms, such as persistent, severe diarrhea, abdominal cramps, or nausea, contact a physician. When hiking, carry water from one of the park's treated water systems. If you plan to camp in the wilderness, follow the recommendations received with your permit. Bring water to a boil for one minute minimum or use an approved filter.

Falling
Many accidents occur when people fall after stepping off trails or roadsides or venturing onto very steep slopes. Stay on designated trails and don't go beyond protective fencing or guardrails. Supervise children closely in such areas. At upper elevations, trails should be followed carefully, noting directions given by trail signs and markers. Avoid hiking in locations with a high level of danger involved if you were to fall.


Snow and Ice
Many accidents occur when people fall after stepping off trails or roadsides or venturing onto very steep slopes. Stay on designated trails and don't go beyond protective fencing or guardrails. Supervise children closely in such areas. At upper elevations, trails should be followed carefully, noting directions given by trail signs and markers. Avoid hiking in locations with a high level of danger involved if you were to fall.

Along the Roads
There are many great places to pull off to view wildlife and take pictures. Stay alert when driving around blind corners, as wildlife and careless pedestrians often cross and/or walk along the edges of roads. Don’t walk on roadsides, as many do not have adequate space available for both vehicles and pedestrians.

Avalanches on Going-to-the-Sun Road
There are 37 known avalanche paths that can affect travel between West Glacier and Saint Mary. Avalanches can bury you or push you off the road and leave debris piles over 30 feet (9.1 m) deep. In spring, avalanches often occur before and after rainstorms, snowstorms, warm weather, and sunny days. Be alert for potential rockfall and avalanches in spring and early summer, especially near Big Bend and Triple Arches bridge.Conditions in the park can be very different than concurrent weather in the Flathead Valley or other parts of Montana. Weather can change rapidly without warning especially at higher elevations. Start your day early and finish recreating before the warmest part of the day. Consider turning around if there is a rapid change in temperature. Do not stop under gullies or snowfields. Gullies can transport avalanches from above that are not visible from the road.

It is encouraged to carry avalanche rescue equipment: beacon, probe, and shovel.

Bear Safety
Researchers have estimated that Glacier provides habitat for nearly one thousand bears. This page presents basic information needed to ensure a safe visit for both you and bears living in the park. For more detailed information, stop by any visitor center or attend a ranger program.

Bear Identification
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is home to both black bears and grizzly bears. Size and/or color are not reliable indicators of species. Other physical characteristics are more helpful:

  • Black bears have a prominent rump, a straight, dog-like muzzle, pointed ears, and dark claws.
  • Grizzly bears have a shoulder hump, dished face, rounded ears, and long, light-colored claws.

Report any bear or unusual animal sightings to the nearest ranger or warden immediately. Read more about each species on the Bears informational page.

Keeping a Safe Distance
Intentionally approaching, viewing, or engaging in any activity within 100 yards (91 m) of bears or wolves is prohibited. Maintain 25 yards (23 m) from any other wildlife. If you’re causing the behavior of the animal to change, you’re too close. Use binoculars or a telephoto lens to improve your view. Keep the wildlife’s line of travel or escape route clear and move away if an animal approaches you.

Never intentionally get close to a bear. Individual bears have their own personal space requirements, which vary depending on their mood. Each will react differently, and their behavior cannot be predicted. All bears are dangerous and should be respected.


Roadside Bears
It’s exciting to see bears up close, but we must act responsibly to keep them wild and healthy. If you see a bear along the road, please do not stop near it. If you wish to view the bear, travel at least 100 yards (91 m) and pull over in a safe location. Roadside bears quickly become habituated to traffic and people, increasing their chances of being hit by vehicles. Habituated bears may also learn to frequent campgrounds and picnic areas, where they may gain access to human food. To protect human life and property, bears that seek human food must be removed from the park. Resist the temptation to stop and get close to roadside bears


Make Noise
Bears usually move out of the way if they hear people approaching. Bear bells are not adequate or effective. Calling out and clapping at regular intervals are better ways to make your presence known. Do your best never to surprise a bear.

Hike in Groups
Hiking in groups significantly decreases your chances of having a negative bear encounter. There have not been any reported attacks on groups of four or more in Glacier. If you’re a solo hiker looking for company, check the Ranger-led Activity page for guided hikes.

Don’t Run on Trails
Joggers and runners risk surprising a bear on the trail. Trail running is strongly discouraged.

Carry Bear Spray
Bear spray is an inexpensive way to deter bear attacks and has been shown to be the most effective deterrent. Be sure you know how to use it and that you are carrying it in an accessible place. Check the Ranger-led Activity page for summer demonstrations.

Be Aware of Surroundings
Some environmental conditions make it hard for bears to see, hear, or smell approaching hikers. Be particularly careful by streams, against the wind, or in dense vegetation. A blind corner or a rise in the trail also requires special attention. Look for scat and tracks. Bears spend a lot of time eating, so be extra alert when hiking in obvious feeding areas like berry patches, cow parsnip thickets, or fields of glacier lilies. Always keep children close. Avoid hiking very early in the morning, very late in the day, or after dark.

Secure Food and Garbage
Never leave food, garbage, or anything used to prepare, consume, store, or transport food unattended. This includes your backpack or day pack. Secure all food and odorous items safely and pack out all garbage. Other scented items include toiletries, feminine products, sunscreen, etc.

While in Camp
Glacier’s campgrounds and developed areas can remain unattractive to bears if each visitor manages food and trash properly. Following park regulations will help keep the “wild” in wildlife and ensure your safety as well.

  • Keep a clean camp! Never improperly store or leave food unattended.
  • All edible items, food containers (empty or not), cookware (clean or not), and trash (including feminine hygiene products) must be stored in a vehicle or designated food locker or hung when not in use, both day and night.
  • Do not throw any food or garbage into pit toilets.
  • Monitor your campsite for signs of bears and for careless campers nearby. Notify park staff of any potential problems.

Bear Encounters
If you encounter a bear inside the minimum recommended safe distance (100 yards; 91 m), you can decrease your risk by following these guidelines:
  • If a bear or other animal is moving in your direction on a trail, get out of its way and let it pass.
  • If you can move away, do so. If moving away appears to agitate the bear, stop. In general, bears show agitation by swaying their heads, huffing, and clacking their teeth. Lowered head and laid-back ears also indicate aggression. Bears may stand on their hind legs or approach to get a better view, but these actions are not necessarily signs of aggression. The bear may not have identified you as a person and may be unable to smell or hear you from a distance. Help the bear recognize you as a friendly human.
    • Talk quietly.
    • Do not run! Back away slowly. Stop if it seems to agitate the bear.
    • Use your peripheral vision. Bears may interpret direct eye contact as threatening.
    • Continue to move away as the situation allows.
  • If a bear appears intent on approaching you, your group, or your campsite in a non-defensive manner (not showing signs of agitation), gather your group together, make noise, and try to discourage the bear from further approaching. Prepare to deploy your bear spray. If you are preparing or consuming food, secure it. DO NOT LET THE BEAR GET YOUR FOOD!
  • If a bear approaches in a defensive manner (appears agitated and/or charges), stop. Do not run. Talk quietly to the bear. Prepare to deploy your bear spray. If contact appears imminent and you do not have bear spray, protect your chest and abdomen by falling to the ground on your stomach, clasp your hands around the back of your neck, and leave your pack on for protection. If the bear attempts to roll you over, try to stay on your stomach. If the attack is defensive, the bear will leave once it recognizes you are not a threat. If the attack is prolonged, FIGHT BACK!
For more detailed information, watch our Bear Safety video.

Bear Spray
This aerosol pepper spray temporarily incapacitates bears. It is an effective, non-toxic, and non-lethal means of deterring aggressive bears. Under no circumstances should bear spray create a false sense of security or serve as a substitute for practicing standard safety precautions.

Bear spray is intended to be sprayed into the face of an oncoming bear. Factors influencing effectiveness include distance, wind, rainy weather, temperature extremes, and product shelf life. It is not intended to act as a repellent. Do not spray gear or your camp with bear spray. Pre-sprayed objects may instead attract bears.

Be aware that you may not be able to cross the US/Canada border with some brands of bear spray. Canadian Customs will allow USEPA-approved bear spray to cross. The bear spray cannister must have USEPA printed on the label.

Wildlife Safety
All of Glacier's wildlife can be dangerous. For most species, like moose, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and deer, visitors must maintain at least 25 yards (23 m) of distance. For wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, and mountain lions, a distance of at least 100 yards (91 m) should be observed.

The park provides a wonderful opportunity to view animals in their natural habitat. Along with this opportunity comes a special obligation for park visitors. Always enjoy wildlife from the safety of your car or from a safe distance. Do not approach wildlife to take photographs. Visitors who have gotten too close to animals while trying to get a picture have been severely injured in the past. Use a telephoto lens instead. This will not only ensure your own safety, but also the safety of the wildlife. Feeding or harassing wildlife is strictly prohibited and subject to a fine. All wildlife can present a real and painful threat, especially females with young and males during mating season


Mountain Lions
Cougars are primarily nocturnal, but they have attacked in broad daylight. They rarely prey on humans, but such behavior occasionally does occur. Children and small adults are particularly vulnerable. Report all mountain lion encounters to a ranger immediately. A glimpse of one of these magnificent cats would be a vacation highlight, but you need to take precautions to protect you and your children from an accidental encounter. Don’t hike alone. Keep children close and always make noise to avoid surprising a lion. If you do encounter one, don’t run! Talk calmly, maintain eye contact, act big, stand tall, and back away. If the cougar continues to pursue, throw rocks or sticks at it. Unlike with bears, if an attack seems imminent, act aggressively. Do not crouch and do not turn away. Lions may be scared away by being struck with rocks or sticks, or by being kicked or hit.

Ticks

Ticks are most active in spring and early summer. Several serious diseases, like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, can be transmitted. Completely remove attached ticks and disinfect the site. If rashes or lesions form around the bite, or if unexplained symptoms occur, consult a physician.


Rodents and Hantavirus

Deer mice are possible carriers of Hantavirus. The most likely source of infection is from rodent urine and droppings inhaled as aerosols or dust. Initial symptoms are almost identical to the onset of the flu. If you have potentially been exposed and exhibit flu-like symptoms, seek medical care immediately. Avoid rodent-infested areas with a lack of ventilation. Camp away from possible rodent burrows or shelters (garbage dumps and woodpiles) and keep food in rodent-proof containers. To prevent the spread of dust in the air, spray the affected areas with a water and bleach solution (1½ cups bleach to one gallon of water).



 
Crowds of hikers walk across a snowy meadow in the mountains.

Tips for Dealing with Crowds

May through September is the busiest time of the year in Glacier National Park. Within that, July and August are the busiest of all.

A hiker stands on a rock in the mountains with a vast landscape beyond them.

Leave No Trace

We all have a responsibility to reduce our impact on the places we love.

A large yellow snow plowing machine moves snow off a high mountain road.

Current Conditions

Conditions are constantly changing. Check here for updates on which roads are open for driving, hiking, and biking.

A bear track in wet mud.

Bear Safety

Are you ready to encounter a bear?

Last updated: October 31, 2021

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 128
West Glacier , MT 59936

Phone:

406 888-7800

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