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.

Though grizzly bears often get more attention, water is actually the number one cause of fatalities in Glacier National Park.



Hypothermia

Given the park's name, it is not surprising that Glacier National Park's lakes and streams are extremely cold even in the summer. Swift, cold glacial streams and rivers, moss-covered rocks, and slippery logs all present dangers. Children, photographers, boaters, rafters, swimmers, and fishermen have fallen victim to these rapid, frigid streams and deep 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. Temperatures can drop rapidly. 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 and logs, especially around waterfalls. When boating, don't stand up or lean over the side, and always wear a lifejacket. Stay dry by avoiding sweating and dress in layers, rather than in a single bulky garment. Pack an extra sweater, warm hat, and raingear for every hike.

If you or someone around you is experiencing hypothermia, seek shelter from weather and get the victim into dry clothes. Give warm non-alcoholic drinks. Build a fire and keep victim awake. Strip victim and yourself, and get into sleeping bag making skin-to-skin contact. If victim is semi-conscious or worse, get professional help immediately. 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.

Drowning

Sudden immersion in cold water (below 80° F, 27° C) may trigger the "mammalian diving reflex." This reflex restricts blood from outlying areas of the body and routes it to vital organs like the heart, lungs, and brain. The colder the water, the younger the victim, and the quicker the rescue, the better the chance for survival. Some cold-water drowning victims have survived with no brain damage after being submerged for over 30 minutes.

Giardia

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

Mountainous Terrain

Many accidents occur when people fall after stepping off trails or roadsides, or by venturing onto very steep slopes. Stay on designated trails and don't go beyond protective fencing or guard rails. Supervise children closely in such areas. At upper elevations, trails should be followed carefully, noting directions given by trail signs and markers.

Snow and Ice

Snowfields and glaciers present serious hazards. Snowbridges may conceal deep crevasses on glaciers or large hidden cavities under snowfields, and collapse under the weight of an unsuspecting hiker. Don't slide on snowbanks. People often lose control and slide into rocks or trees. Exercise caution around any snowfield.

Along the Roads

There are many great places to pull off to view wildlife and to take pictures. Along the sides of roads, please be careful of moving, alternating traffic. Also be careful of pedestrian crossings and visitors walking along the sides of roads as you drive by.

Snow above Going-to-the-Sun Road can avalanche onto the road. There are 37 known avalanche paths that can affect the travel between West Glacier and Saint Mary. Avalanches can bury you or push you off the road and leave debris piles over 30 feet deep on the road. In the spring, avalanches can often occur before and after rainstorms, snowstorms, warm weather, and sunny days.

Weather conditions in Glacier National Park can be extremely different than weather in the Flathead Valley or other parts of Montana. Weather can change rapidly without warning. 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.

An icon of wilderness, Glacier is home to large numbers of both black and grizzly bears. This page presents basic information 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 and grizzly bears. Report any bear or unusual animal sightings to the nearest ranger or warden immediately. Size and/or color are not reliable indicators of species.

  • Grizzly bears have a shoulder hump, dished face, rounded ears, and large white claws.
  • Black bears have no hump, a straight dog-like muzzle, pointed ears, and dark claws.

Read more about each species on the Bears informational page.

Keeping a Safe Distance
Approaching, viewing, or engaging in any activity within 100 yards (91.4 meters) of bears or wolves, or within 25 yards (23 meters) of any other wildlife is prohibited. Use binoculars or a telephoto lens to improve your view. Keep the animal’s line of travel or escape route clear and move away if wildlife 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 its behavior cannot be predicted. All bears are dangerous and should be respected equally.



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 (91.4 meters) 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—put bears first at Glacier.

Hike in Groups
Hiking in groups significantly decreases your chances of having a bear encounter. There have not been any reported attacks on groups of four (4) or more in Glacier. If you are a solo hiker looking for company, check the Ranger-led Activity page for guided hikes.

Trail running
While taking a jog or a run may be good exercise, joggers and runners run the risk of surprising a bear on the trail. Trail running is highly 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 Guide for summer demonstrations.

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

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

Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Some trail or 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 hiking in obvious feeding areas like berry patches, cow parsnip thickets, or fields of glacier lilies. Keep children close by. Avoid hiking early in the morning, late in the day, or after dark.

While in Camp
Our 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 edibles, food containers (empty or not), cookware (clean or not), and trash (including feminine hygiene products) must be stored in a food locker or hung when not in use, day or night.
  • Do not throw any food or garbage into the pit toilets.
  • Inspect your campsite for bear sign and for careless campers nearby. Notify a park ranger 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 is 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, but stop if it seems to agitate the bear.
    • Use 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 in bear country.

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 actually attract bears.

Be aware that you may not be able to cross the U.S./Canada border with some brands of bear spray. Canadian Customs will allow the importation of USEPA-approved bear spray into Canada. Specifications state that the bear spray must have USEPA on the label.

All of Glacier's wildlife can be dangerous to you. For most wildlife, like moose, elk, bighorn sheep mountain goats, deer, and coyotes, visitors are to be at least 75 feet (25 yards/23 meters) away. For wolves, grizzly and black bears, visitors need to be at least 300 feet (100 yards/91.4 meters) away.

Glacier provides a wonderful opportunity to view animals in their natural setting. Along with this opportunity comes a special obligation for park visitors. With just a little planning and forethought, visitors can help ensure the survival of a threatened or endangered species. Always enjoy wildlife from the safety of your car or from a safe distance. Do not approach wildlife to take photographs. Every year visitors get too close to wildlife in order to get a picture. Sadly, injuries have occurred as a result. Use a telephoto lens instead. This will not only insure your safety, but the safety of the animal. Feeding, harassing, or molesting wildlife is strictly prohibited and subject to fine. Bears, mountain lions, goats, deer, or any other species of wildlife can present a real and painful threat, especially females with young.


Mountain Lions
Lions 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 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. Make noise to avoid surprising a lion and keep children close to you at all times. If you do encounter a lion, do not run. Talk calmly, avert your gaze, stand tall, and back away. Unlike with bears, if 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 flu. If you have potentially been exposed and exhibit flu-like symptoms, you should seek medical care immediately. Avoid rodent infested areas. Camp away from possible rodent burrows or shelters (garbage dumps and woodpiles), and keep food in rodentproof 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: March 16, 2021

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 128
West Glacier, MT 59936

Phone:

(406) 888-7800

Contact Us