Though grizzly bears often get more attention, water is actually the number one cause of fatalities in Glacier National Park.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Read more about each species on the Bears informational page.
Keeping a Safe Distance
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.
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
Carry Bear Spray
Secure your Food and Garbage
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
While in Camp
If you encounter a bear inside the minimum recommended safe distance (100 yards / 91 m), you can decrease your risk by following these guidelines:
For more detailed information, watch our Bear Safety video.
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.
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 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.
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).
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.
Leave No Trace
We all have a responsibility to reduce our impact on the places we love.
Conditions are constantly changing. Check here for updates on which roads are open for driving, hiking, and biking.
Last updated: March 16, 2021