Winter Wilderness Camping

The snow-covered skyline of mountains behind Lake McDonald in winter
Experience winter in Glacier National Park's backcountry.

NPS

 
 

Obtaining a Winter Wilderness Camping Permit

From November 1 through May 1, special wilderness regulations are in effect. Due to limited winter staffing, there are no physical locations open to issue you a wilderness camping permit. Instead, all permits during this time are issued electronically by advance reservation.

Permits may be obtained between 3-7 days prior to your intended trip start date. Wilderness Permit Center staff will make every effort to return your communication for last minute (1-2 day(s) ahead) trip requests, however at times this may not be possible.

You can contact us to set up your advance reservation wilderness permit by either phone or email:
 

  • Call 406-888-7800 and press 5 on the phone tree to leave a message requesting a winter wilderness permit. Be sure to include a call back number.
  • A ranger will return your call within a few days at the number provided, enter the permit itinerary, and issue you the permit via email.
  • Watch the winter wilderness camping video at 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 glac_backcountry_permits@nps.gov requesting a winter wilderness permit. Please include the following information:
  1. Name, Phone #, email, mailing address, your email address
  2. Name(s) of other campers
  3. Emergency contact information - Name and phone #
  4. Vehicle license plate including state
  5. Itinerary start and end dates
  6. Camping locations for each night of the itinerary
  • 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 at 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.
 

Winter Wilderness Camping Regulations

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

 

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:
  • Food storage regulations listed above are recommended but not required, unless specifically mandated by your permitting official due to known bear activity.

Group size is limited to a maximum of (12) persons with a two-night limit at any spot.

  • 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.
  • Good campsites are found, not made. Site alterations are not necessary. Damaging live trees and plants or otherwise disturbing protected natural features and cultural artifactsis prohibited. Keep campsites small.
  • 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, uneaten food scraps, and other garbage should be packed out.
  • 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.
  • Standard Leave No Trace principles are just as important to follow in the winter as in the summer. Please review the seven Leave No Trace principles by following the link at the bottom of this page before you begin your trip.

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.

  • All winter wilderness travel must be human-powered. Oversnow machines are not permitted in the park.
  • Fishing regulations for Glacier National Park are available at visitor contact stations.
  • Pets are not permitted on trails or anywhere in the backcountry. All unplowed roadways are “trails” in the winter.
 

Winter Safety Gear & Concerns

 

Winter camping in Glacier National Park requires clothing for a wide range of weather conditions. Conditions can rapidly change during an eight-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 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.

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 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.
 

Watch the Winter Wilderness Camping Safety Video

 
 

Additional Resources

  • A backpacker walks on trail towards the mountains, holding a can of bear spray.
    Wilderness Camping Safety Videos

    Watch the required wilderness safety videos before you arrive to speed up your permit issuing process.

  • A hiker holds his hands in a heart before a lake and mountains.
    Leave No Trace

    Learn how practicing Leave No Trace ethics protects Glacier's beauty for all.

  • Park Ranger rapelling with a littler during rescue training.
    Safety

    Learn how to keep yourself safe while exploring the park.

Last updated: February 12, 2024

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 128
West Glacier, MT 59936

Phone:

406-888-7800

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