Glacier's backcountry camping program is designed to minimize resource impacts while providing positive visitor experiences. The following information is designed to move you from a broad understanding of the overall permitting process to the specific steps needed to refine your plan and set out on the trail to enjoy a backcountry adventure in Glacier.
Table of Contents
From May 1 - October 31 there is a $7/night/person camping fee payable upon permit issuance at a backcountry permit office. Due to program fee requirements, there are no child or national land recreation pass discounts available. Winter backcountry camping permits (November 1 - April 30) are free.
Getting a Permit
Backcountry permits may be available the day before or day of a desired trip start date. Approximately half of all sites in a campground are set aside for walk-in campers. However, that does not mean those sites will be available at all times. Backpackers on longer trips (4 or more nights) may take walk-in sites well in advance. Arrive early the day before your intended trip start date for the best campsite availability. No reservation fees are charged for walk-in permits, only the $7 / night / person camping fee is charged. Permits will not be issued after 4:30 pm at any location.
What's available tonight? The dates are listed in green at the top of the chart. The numbers below indicate how many sites are available for a "walk-in" permit. Check the date at the top to make sure the chart is current.
Apgar Backcountry Permit Center
St. Mary Visitor Center
Many Glacier Ranger Station
Two Medicine Ranger Station
Polebridge Ranger Station
Waterton Lakes National Park Visitor Reception Centre
Backcountry sites can be reserved in advance starting March 15 for groups of 1-8 campers and March 1 for groups of 9-12 campers. There is a $40 application fee ($10 administrative fee + $30 fulfilled trip request fee) for EACH application you submit. If backcountry personnel are unable to award an advance reservation itinerary based upon the parameters you indicate, the $30 fulfilled trip request fee will be refunded. Applicants should expect a two month period of time between application submittal and notification of permit status. The camping fee of $7 / night / person is due upon picking up your permit. Applications can be submitted ONLINE ONLY.
With its towering mountains, pristine alpine lakes, abundant wildlife, and over 700 miles of trails, Glacier is a backpacking paradise. Due to individual differences in fitness, backcountry experience, and personal preference, we don’t offer specific trip recommendations.
What we can tell you is that in the broadest sense, Glacier's backcountry comes in two flavors—east and west roughly split along the Continental Divide. Each trail on a respective side offers a similar "feel." West side trails start at around 3,200 feet in elevation, are more heavily forested, and offer the greatest solitude. East of the divide, trails start at around 5,000 feet and the terrain is more sparsely vegetated, creating more open vistas and attracting more crowds.
Map and Campsite List
For specific trail descriptions and other planning tools, visit Glacier's non-profit partner, the Glacier National Park Conservancy.
Suggested Gear List
The following items should be carried on every trip into Glacier’s backcountry:
Backcountry camping is restricted to 65 designated campgrounds with the exception of the Nyack / Coal Creek camping zone where both designated campgrounds and at large camping are available.
A backcountry use permit is required for all overnight camping, and must be in your possession while in the backcountry. They are valid only for the dates, locations, and party size specified.
Itineraries must be contiguous. You cannot exit one trailhead and drive to another trailhead to access campgrounds on the same trip. Note: Hiking short road sections on foot—Many Glacier and Two Medicine developed areas, Crossing Going to the Sun Road at Jackson Glacier Overlook—to connect longer itineraries is permitted.
The maximum party size allowed is 12 persons. Each backcountry campground has 2-7 campsites. Each campsite is limited to four (4) people and two (2) tents (2-4 person).
Leave No Trace
Many of Glacier’s backcountry camping regulations are based on Leave No Trace (LNT) outdoor ethics. LNT tells us that by concentrating impacts, including eating, sleeping, and human waste disposal, we prevent degradation of a broader area. Concentrating impacts essentially creates small pockets of impact and leaves nearly pristine conditions over larger areas. For more information visit LNT.org.
Information regarding the use of stock in the backcountry can be found on our Private Stock Use page.
Wheelchairs and trained aid dogs are appropriate accommodations in the backcountry. Due to potential hazardous interactions with bears, aid dogs are discouraged.
Use extreme caution near water. Swift, cold glacial streams and rivers, moss-covered rocks, and slippery logs are dangerous. Avoid wading in or fording swift streams. Never walk, play, or climb on slippery rocks and logs, especially around waterfalls.
Be prepared for sudden weather changes. Use rain gear before you become wet. If your clothes do become wet replace them with dry ones. Layer with synthetic or wool clothing as a base layer. Minimize wind exposure. Eat high-energy foods often.
Snow and Ice
Snowfields and glaciers can present serious hazards. Snow bridges may conceal deep crevasses on glaciers or hidden cavities under snowfields. These bridges may collapse under the weight of an unsuspecting hiker. Use extreme caution when crossing steep snowfields on trails and in the backcountry.
The protozoan Giardia lamblia may be present in lakes and streams. When ingested, their reproductive cysts may cause an intestinal disorder that appears weeks after your trip. The easiest method of effective water treatment is to boil water for one minute (up to five minutes at higher elevations) or use a filtration system capable of killing or removing particles as small as 1 micron.
Solo travel in the backcountry is not recommended. The best insurance for a safe and enjoyable trip rests with your ability to exercise good judgment, avoid unnecessary risks, and assume responsibility for your own safety while visiting Glacier’s backcountry
Approaching, viewing, or engaging in any activity within 100 yards of bears or wolves, or within 25 yards 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. Visit our Bear Safety page to find detailed information about hiking in bear country.
Deer, mountain goats, marmots, and other rodents are attracted to urine and sweat. They will chew holes in clothes, boots, and camping gear if left unattended.
Mosquitoes and flies can be a nuisance in some areas in July and August. Bring insect repellent or be prepared to cover up with lightweight clothing and perhaps a head net.
Special Trip Considerations
Nyack / Coal Creek Camping Zone
Northbound travel from Goat Haunt Ranger Station (USA) into Waterton Townsite (Canada) mandates contact with the Canadian Chief Mountain Port of Entry upon arrival at Waterton Townsite. Information on contacting the Port of Entry is available at the Waterton Lakes Visitor Centre or the Waterton Station of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The Goat Haunt Port of Entry will operate from 11:15 am to 5 pm from June through September No entry into the United States past the Goat Haunt Ranger Station will be authorized outside of these hours.
Continental Divide Trail
Recreation on Blackfeet Reservation
Transportation and Services
Glacier Shuttle System
Glacier National Park Lodges hiker's shuttle
Glacier Park Inc. hiker's shuttle
There are no commercial shuttle or taxi services available in the North Fork area (Polebridge, Bowman/Kintla Lakes) of the park.
Guided backpacking trips are available through Glacier Guides.
Swan Mountain Outfitters offers drop-camp service using stock to pack your gear into certain sites. A backcountry permit is required.
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This video will guide you through planning a trip to Glacier's backcountry and provide needed safety and resource protection information. It is required viewing to obtain a backcountry permit.
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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: January 2, 2020