Winter Backcountry Camping

view of Haystack Butte and the mountains behind in the middle of winter.
Winter in the backcountry of Glacier National Park

NPS

 

Winter Camping Basics

Winter permits may be reserved 3 to 7 days in advance. No in person permits will be available.

Phone Reservations

  • Call 406-888-7800 and press 5 on the phone tree to leave a message requesting a winter wilderness permit and include a call back number.
  • A ranger will call you at the number provided, enter the permit itinerary, and issue the permit via email.
  • Watch the winter wilderness camping video remotely on the park website by scrolling to the bottom of this page.
  • You can either print out a hard copy of the permit or store it electronically on a phone or other device.
  • No signature is necessary on electronic permits.

Email Reservations

  • Send an email to the Wilderness Permits Office requesting a winter wilderness permit and include a call back number: glac_backcountry_permits@nps.gov
  • A ranger will call you at the number provided, enter the permit itinerary, and issue the permit via email.
  • Watch the winter wilderness camping video remotely on the park website by scrolling to the bottom of this page.
  • You can either print out a hard copy of the permit or store it electronically on a phone or other device.
  • No signature is necessary on electronic permits.

*Please note: Rangers will make every effort to contact you in a timely manner, however due to mimimal staffing during the winter months, it may take several days to return email and phone permit requests.

Equipment
Winter camping in Glacier National Park requires clothing for a wide range of weather conditions. Conditions can rapidly change during an 8 hour period. Temperatures can fall from 50° F to well below zero, and sunny days can turn to rain or snow with white-out conditions. Always travel with a compass or GPS device and adequate maps to cover your route.

Backcountry campers will typically need cross country skis or snowshoes for safe and efficient travel over the deep snowpack. Be sure to have emergency repair parts for such equipment so that a broken ski or binding doesn’t create an emergency. On steeper routes, ski skins provide a real advantage for uphill travel.
If you are traveling in the higher elevations and steeper terrain, avalanche transceivers, probe poles, shovels, and the knowledge of their use are a must for each party member.

A self-contained campstove is highly recommended because dead and down wood will mostly likely be covered by snow.

A four-season sleeping bag and insulated pad are a must. The most common options for winter campsite shelter include a four season tent, or snow caves, trenches or igloos when snowpack permits.

Winter Mountaineering
Weather conditions make winter mountain climbing especially challenging. Along with the inherent dangers of snow and ice-covered slopes, avalanche danger increases. Ice climbers will find Glacier’s frozen waterfalls very technically demanding.
Submitting a voluntary climbing registration form is strongly recommended. The climbing registration form and other information pertinent to your trip is available at visitor contact stations.

Avalanches
Avalanches are a real danger in the mountainous portions of Glacier. Be sure to check the latest avalanche advisory for Glacier National Park. Avoid areas in old avalanche paths and stay off steep, open slopes and cornices. If you must cross a steep, open slope, travel up and above the steep area or well below the bottom. Travel one at a time, loosen pack straps, remove ski poles and fasten all layers of clothing. If an avalanche should occur, discard all equipment and make swimming motions toward the surface. The survival rate is only 50% after a burial of only 30 minutes. A sole survivor should not go for help unless it is only a few minutes away. Mark the last place the victim was seen, and search directly downslope, probing the snow with ski poles or anything available. Each member of a party traveling in avalanche terrain should carry a shovel. Avalanche transceivers and probes are strongly recommended.

Winter Backcountry Camping Regulations

  • Group size is limited to a maximum of (12) persons with a two night limit at any spot.
  • Wood fires, other than personal wood fuel camp stoves, are prohibited. Gathering dead and down firewood for personal camp stoves is allowed, but be aware that dead and down wood is usually under snow during the winter.
  • Camping is not allowed (unless in a designated campground) within 100 feet of roadways, trail corridors, creeks, or lakes. Camping is prohibited on vegetation and saturated soil freshly emerging from snow cover.
  • Dig out and use pit toilets whenever possible. Wag bags are available with most winter permits, and provide a convenient way to remove human waste from the backcountry. When they are not available, human waste should be disposed of at least 100 yards from water sources, trails, roads, campgrounds, and developed areas. All toilet paper and other garbage should be packed out.
  • Oversnow machines are not permitted in the park.
  • Pets are not permitted on trails or anywhere in the backcountry. All unplowed roadways are “trails” in the winter.
  • Fishing regulations for Glacier National Park are available at visitor contact stations.
  • From April 1 to November 30, all food, garbage, and equipment used to cook or store food in winter undesignated campsites must be suspended at least 10 feet above the ground and four feet horizontally from a tree trunk or other object, or secured in such a manner as to be completely out of reach of bears (suspended over a cliff, etc.), or secured in a bear resistant food container at all times except during preparation or consumption.
  • Storage sites and food preparation areas must be at least 100 feet from camping and sleeping areas.
  • From December 1 to March 31, the food storage regulations listed above are recommended but not required, unless specifically mandated by the permitting official due to known bear activity.
  • Your backcountry use permit is valid only for the dates, locations, and party size specified. It must be in your possession while in the backcountry.

Violation of these regulations may result in the issuance of a violation notice and/or revocation of the backcountry use permit.

Leave No Trace
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Check weather forecast and avalanche advisory, select the appropriate equipment, and inquire about travel routes and conditions. Use a map and compass instead of landmarks.

Camp and Travel on Durable Surfaces
Durable surfaces include established roads, trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses, or snow.

Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams. Avoid areas of freshly emerging vegetation and soil.

Good campsites are found, not made. Site alterations are not necessary. Keep campsites small.

Dispose of Waste Properly
Pack it in, pack it out. Pack out all litter and refuse, including uneaten food scraps.

Use toilets when possible. Otherwise dispose of human waste at least 100 yards from water sources, campgrounds, trails and developed areas. Pack out or burn toilet paper.

Leave What You Find
Avoid damaging live trees and plants. Campsite alterations are prohibited.

All natural features and cultural artifacts are protected and should be left undisturbed. Feeding wildlife is harmful and illegal.

Minimize Use and Impacts of Fire
Wood fires are prohibited. Self-contained campstoves are highly recommended.

Respect Wildlife
Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters their behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.


 
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Duration:
10 minutes, 19 seconds

This video will aid in planning a successful winter overnight experience in the park. Park visitors not planning on this level of extreme winter recreation will appreciate the challenges highlighted in this short vignette into Glacier's winter.

Last updated: December 3, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 128
West Glacier, MT 59936

Phone:

(406) 888-7800

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