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Glacier National Park Boating

Glacier National Park offers a variety of boating experiences. Boat launching ramps are available on Bowman and McDonald Lakes on the west side, and St. Mary and Two Medicine Lakes on the east side of the park.

Boat rentals are available at Apgar, Lake McDonald Lodge, Rising Sun, Many Glacier, and Two Medicine. Canoes or rafts can be carried to many smaller waters. White water canoeing, kayaking, or rafting can be enjoyed on the Flathead River which forms the south and west boundary of Glacier. The rivers and lakes in this mountainous region are very cold. All water users (boaters, swimmers, and skiers) should be aware of the dangers of hypothermia at any time of the year.


All motorboats and sailboats 12 feet in length and longer must be registered and numbered according to State of Montana regulations. Hand propelled boats are exempt, and boats from other states or countries may be used temporarily without Montana registration.

Rules of the Waterways:

Keep to the right in channels when safe practicable.

Keep to the right when approaching another boat head-on or nearly so.

Boats propelled by a motor shall keep clear of boats propelled by oars, paddles, or sails.

Yield right-of-way to vessels on your right side in crossing situations.

Yield right-of-way to vessels you overtake or pass.

Where Permitted Hand-propelled boats and sailboats are permitted on all park waters, except on a section of Upper McDonald Creek. The section of Upper McDonald Creek between Mineral Creek and Lake McDonald is closed to all types of boating and floating to protect nesting Harlequin ducks.

Privately owned motorboats and motor vessels are prohibited from all park waters with the exception of the following:

Motorboats and motor vessels are allowed on McDonald, Sherburne, St. Mary, Two Medicine, and Waterton Lakes (no boat launch ramps exist on Sherburne Lake; only hand carried craft are permitted).

Motorboats and motor vessels are allowed on Bowman and Two Medicine Lakes but are limited to ten (10) horsepower or less.

Required Equipment A wearable type personal floatation device for each person on board, classified as Type I, II, III, or V.

The throwable (Type IV) floatation device, such as a cushion or ring bouy, can no longer be substituted.

Children under 12 must wear a personal floatation device.

Flame arrestor (USCG approved) on each carburetor on inboard gasoline engines.

Fire extinguisher(s) (B-1 type) or a fixed fire extinguisher system for all inboard engines and outboards with enclosed fuel compartments.

Sound producing device for each motorboat 16 feet and longer.

Navigation lights for motorboats and sailboats used between sunset sunrise.

Accidents Reports Any accident resulting in death, personal injury, or property damage shall be reported (by each boat operator involved) to a park ranger as soon as possible, and no later than 24 hours after the incident. Boaters should render assistance to all persons needing help.

Give in writing the name and address of the boat operator and the identification of the boat to any injured person or to the owner of any property damaged.

Not Allowed Reckless or negligent boat handling so as to endanger or be likely to endanger the lives of others.

Boat handling by any person under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Riding the gunwales, transom, or foredeck while boat is moving faster than 5 mph.

Swimming from boat while underway.

Interference with other boats or with free proper navigation of waterways.

Leaving a boat unattended for more than 24 hours without specific authority from the superintendent or his duly authorized representative.

Using trailers to launch or recover vessels at a site other than at a designated boat launching site.

Overloading of boats.

Installation of any obstruction whatever in the water.

Operating airboats.


Use of personal watercraft on any park waters.

Operating a vessel in excess of 5 mph within 100 feet of a diver's marker, downed water skier, or swimmer.

Discharging toilet wastes into the water.

Depositing trash, refuse, or debris of any kind in the water.

Water Skiing While water skiing, at least two competent persons must be in the towing boat, one of whom (other than the operator) must observe the person being towed.

Each person being towed must wear a lifesaving device. If device being worn is not approved by the USCG, an approved device must be readily available in towing boat. Anyone water skiing must wear personal floatation device - ski belts are not USCG approved and are no longer acceptable.

Water skiing is permitted only on Lake McDonald and St. Mary Lake, and only from sunrise to sunset.

Towing is prohibited within 100 feet of any person swimming or diving.

Noise Level A federal regulation prohibits the use of watercraft exceeding 82 decibels of noise within all national parks. This regulation is strictly enforced on all park waters. Those operating personal watercraft and other high-powered boats should check their engine noise levels to be sure they comply with the regulations.

Personal watercraft (jet skis) are currently prohibited.

Shoreline Closures Boating may be restricted in certain areas for safety or to protect sensitive wildlife habitat. Marker buoys and/or signing will be placed to designate the closures.

To provide for the safety of the general public using beaches for swimming and other similar activities, the segments of the south shoreline of Lake McDonald, as described below, are closed to the beaching of any motorized watercraft; and, motorized watercraft are prohibited within an area extending into the water 300 feet perpendicular to the shoreline.

The section of shoreline beginning at the outlet of the lake and extending eastward approximately 60 yards west of the existing concession boat docking facility.

The section of shoreline beginning at the Apgar Amphitheater and extending eastward to the point the shoreline meets the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Camping Undesignated camping is not allowed on lakes or lakeshores.

A Backcountry Use Permit is required for all designated backcountry campsites. A fee of $4 per person per night will be charged at the time of permit issuance (June 1 through September 30). There is no fee for campers aged 16 and under. An additional fee of $20 will be charged for confirmed advance reservations.

Regulation National Park Service boating regulations will be found in Title 36, Part 3, of the Code of Federal Regulations and are available at park headquarters and staffed ranger stations.

It is your responsibility to know and obey the U.S. Coast Guard and State of Montana regulations for boat operation safety.

Park rangers may inspect or board any boat for the purpose of examining documents, licenses, and/or other permits relating to the operation of the boat and to inspect the boat to determine compliance with regulations.

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