Montana COVID-19 Updates

Recreate Responsibly
in Western Montana

Noah Couser

How to Approach the Outdoors

Content shared with permission from, Tread Lightly! and Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

Spending time in outdoor spaces is very popular around here, and we sure are grateful for the quality and quantity of outdoor space we have in Western Montana. It’s paramount, however, that we all do our part to recreate responsibly when playing in local parks, on public lands and trails, in Montana’s two national parks, and everywhere in between, including our small towns.

Glacier Country Tourism is a partner in the national Recreate Responsibly initiative to provide all outdoor lovers the outlook to experience safe, responsible and successful outdoor adventures, and to preserve the places we all love.

We are also proud to partner with Tread Lightly!, in the initiative to protect and enhance access to recreation and opportunities for the motorized recreationalist, and with Leave No Trace, to minimize human impacts on the outdoors.

We encourage everyone to embrace discovery.

Spend time learning about our local gems and find off-the-beaten-path spots to explore. Use state and federal land websites like TrailLink, AllTrails, Guthook, and local meetup/Facebook/stewardship groups, or check out library books on local outdoor resources to find them.

As we embrace new places and new ways to get outside, we have a responsibility to think about our impact on the outdoors and to be a part of sustaining them for the future. This means:

  • Know the rules and safety information for the area you’re exploring, especially in regards to avalanches
  • Be willing to turn around when areas are too crowded.
  • Practice responsibility around wildlife: This means keeping a safe distance and never approaching, touching or feeding wildlife.
  • Take a Tread Lightly! course or Leave No Trace course.

It takes all of us working together to be good stewards to this great state. Here are some helpful resources to learn more about what Recreate Responsibly, Leave No Trace, and Tread Lightly! mean, and how to practice them while enjoying our great outdoors and fresh mountain air.

Recreate Responsibly
  • Know Before You Go
  • Plan Ahead
  • Play it Safe
  • Explore Mindfully
  • Prevent Aquatic Invasive Species
  • Leave No Trace
  • Tread Lightly
  • Traveling With Your Dog
  • Be Wildlife Wise
  • COVID-19 Safety
  • Avalanche Safety

Adequate trip planning and preparation helps travelers accomplish trip goals safely and enjoyably, while simultaneously minimizing negative impacts to the land. Poor planning often results in a miserable experience and unintended damage to a special place.

Western Montana's Outdoor Spaces, Towns and Tribal Lands

  • If you’re thinking about exploring Western Montana, first check the status of the places in consideration. If it’s closed, don’t go. If it’s crowded, have a backup plan. Remember, Western Montana sees a lot of visitors—especially around Glacier National Park. Before you book your trip, think about visiting in the spring, fall or winter. Glacier National Park is open year-round and offers adventures no matter the season.
  • Before recreating on Tribal lands, check Tribal land COVID requirements about mask-wearing.
  • Some areas and attractions may be closed, have reduced hours or be too busy to visit. Call ahead to businesses you plan to patronize. Lodging, stores, restaurants and breweries, museums, art galleries and even outdoor areas may have adjusted operating times and procedures or may have reduced capacity.
  • Check for mask requirements, as mask-wearing is enforced in some businesses. Although the Montana state directive does not require masks, there are businesses that require and enforce mask-wearing in indoor public spaces. In accordance with federal mandates, face coverings are also currently required on federal lands when social distancing is not possible—this includes Glacier National Park.
  • Masks are required for everyone on all forms of public transportation. Additional details are available at
  • Secure all reservations in advance—lodging, campsites, rental cars, tours, tickets, etc.

Venturing Out

  • Check travel updates and the weather forecast before you head out. Weather can change very quickly, especially in higher altitudes.
  • Know what to wear and pack. Wear activity-appropriate clothing and footwear. Layers are always a good idea, and bring all the necessary gear and essentials.  
  • Know your driving, hiking and biking routes and let friends and family know where you’ll be.
  • Be prepared for road delays and closures—be patient, and have a backup plan.
  • Be prepared for spotty cell phone service or even no service in some areas.
  • Keep an eye on your gas tank and know where the nearest gas station is.

Practice Leave No Trace

  • Be a considerate recreationist—whether hiking, biking or horseback riding, know trail etiquette ahead of time. Yes, trail etiquette is a thing and very important for safety and to ensure everyone has a positive experience.  For example, hikers heading up an incline trail have the right of way when meeting hikers heading down.
  • Minimize your campfire impacts by adhering to all fire bans and restrictions. Always have enough water on hand to put out any open flame.
  • If you are exploring the backcountry, know if there are limitations on human waste—know how to “go to the bathroom” in the woods. Ask where or if there are restroom facilities along trails and “go before you go.” 
  • Wildlife is just that—wild. It's important to know how to act and recreate responsibly around wildlife. View wildlife from the safety of your car or from a safe distance. Stay at least 100 yards away from bears and at least 25 yards away from other large animals. Visit the Bear Aware website to learn more. 
  • Learn more about Leave No Trace with the free online course: Leave No Trace: Take Action to Protect the Outdoors.

Prevent Wildland Fires

Wildland fire is a natural part of our region’s ecology. Many fires are caused by lightning, but many are also caused by humans.

  • Know how to prevent wildland fires by properly using outdoor equipment, making sure RV chains are not dragging en route, learning campfire safety and checking for fire restrictions and closures.
  • If you are traveling in the summer, know what fire restrictions are in place at your destination and check if campfires, barbeques and flammables are allowed. From fireworks to camp stoves, understand the potentially explosive nature of your toys and tools—some may be restricted or forbidden in your location.
  • Learn more about how to safely start, maintain and extinguish fires.
  • Find more information on how you can prevent wildland fires, Montana wildland fire resources, fire restriction information and more under the Prevent Wildland Fires tab on this site.

Once you know what your prospects are, plan ahead to stay safe and keep others safe. Adequate legwork ensures safer, more enjoyable travels—especially in the wild and unpredictable outdoors—and minimizes your impact on Montana’s resources and lands.

  • Secure reservations in advance—lodging, campsites, rental cars, shuttles, tours.
  • There is a new ticketed entry system for vehicles on the Going-to-the-Sun Road from May 28 to September 6, 2021, 6 a.m. – 5 p.m. If you plan to enter the park between those times, secure your ticket in advance and purchase your park pass in advance. Visit Glacier National Park’s ticketed entry system page for details. 
  • If you plan to ride the free shuttle, you will need to reserve a shuttle system ticket for each person over 2 years old on The Ticket-to-Ride serves as a Going-to-the Sun Road entry reservation ticket for the day. Make sure to read Glacier National Park’s website carefully.
  • Pack appropriate clothing and footwear and bring all the necessary gear and essentials. Packing list ideas include: hand sanitizer, mask, layers of clothing, hiking boots and good socks if hiking, GPS unit, hiking poles, bear spray (know how to use it), water, snacks, sunscreen, bug repellent, food, water and plastic bags to carry your trash out when you’re recreating outdoors, especially in remote areas.
  • Be prepared for road delays and closures—be patient and have a backup plan.
Make reservations in advance if you'd like to ride a Red Bus. Photo: Colton Stiffler

Now is especially the time to stick to low-risk activities that fit your skill level. First responders, search and rescue teams, and medical personnel are all at mass capacity right now, so reducing your risk of injury is of utmost importance.  

  • Know your physical limitations.
  • Always travel with ample water and provisions.
  • Be cognizant of the danger of water, whether moving or still. Drowning is the No. 1 cause of death in Glacier National Park where the water is very, very cold.
  • Stay a safe distance from all wildlife; they are wild for a reason—they can be unpredictable and dangerous. Know how to recreate in bear country.
  • Have a first-aid kit in your car or backpack. Ask park rangers and public land managers about potential safety concerns you should be aware of—bear activity, rock and mud slides, rough roads, etc.

Be part of an inclusive outdoors. We all play a role in helping to make sure our great outdoors are safe and welcoming for all abilities and identities by being kind, respectful and patient.

Please be mindful of our communities and small businesses, which have had to adapt to the change and may face limitations in hours and staffing this year—always call ahead.

Practice physical distancing. Keep your group size small. Be prepared to use a face covering and give others space. If you are sick, stay home and plan to visit Montana when you are well.

Keep in mind that other human beings might have different—but valid and safe—ways of enjoying the outdoors.

Be good stewards of our public lands and never recreate on private land.

Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) are plants, animals or pathogens that are not native to Montana and can cause harm to our environment and economy.

AIS are introduced accidentally or intentionally outside of their native range. AIS populations can reproduce quickly and spread rapidly because there are no natural predators or competitors to keep them in check. AIS can displace native species, clog waterways, impact irrigation and power systems, degrade ecosystems, threaten recreational fishing opportunities and can cause wildlife and public health problems.

If you plan to recreate on Montana’s waterways, know:

  • What AIS inspections are required if you bring your own boat.
  • If you use a watercraft of any kind (motorized and nonmotorized) while here, follow three simple steps: Clean, Drain, Dry

VIDEO: Montana Invasive Species

Glacier Country Tourism believes in being good stewards of our destination, balancing our culture, natural environment, and quality of life and experience—protecting the very qualities that make Northwest Montana first and foremost a wonderful place to live, with the added benefit of being a wonderful place to visit.

Glacier Country Tourism is a proud partner of Leave No Trace, the most widely used stewardship education program on public lands across Montana. The program has been shown to reduce recreation related impacts and continues to inspire millions of visitors each year through the easy to practice Seven Principles of Leave No Trace. Think you know Leave No Trace? Take the free online course Leave No Trace: Take Action to Protect the Outdoors and find out!

Leave No Trace Take the Course

Please respect all public lands, waterways, Tribal lands and local communities by:

Leave No Trace Resources

©Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics

Glacier Country Tourism is proud to partner with Tread Lightly! in the initiative to protect and enhance access to recreation and opportunities for the motorized recreationalist. The program teaches outdoor ethics and best practices through recreate responsibly messaging for specific motorized sports along with the T.R.E.A.D Principles. Being responsible doesn’t mean being boring. Educate yourself now with the free Tread Lightly! 101 Online Awareness Course.

TREAD LIGHTLY Take the Course

By working together as one motorized community, we can keep our trails open, healthy and beautiful for generations to come.  Do your part by keeping trails clean and trash free, and educating yourself on ways to ride responsibly specific to your motorized activity below:

Tread Lightly! Resources

I Ride, I Drive, I Off-Road, I Tread Lightly!

If you’re traveling with your dog in Western Montana, it’s important to be a responsible pet owner, plan ahead and know before you go. First and foremost, dogs should be properly licensed and up-to-date on vaccines, and, of course, aggressive pets should be left at home. Bring dog waste bags and pick up dog waste promptly. Always dispose of waste in proper receptacles, which you’ll often find near trails. If you don’t find a proper receptacle, you’ll need to carry the waste out with you. Make sure your dog doesn’t chase wildlife; this could harm wildlife, your dog or even you—or your dog could get lost. Make sure you carry enough food and water for you and your dog while you’re out exploring, and note that pets are not allowed on some public lands and waterways, and in other areas they must be leashed. Please note, dogs are not allowed on most trails in Glacier National Park.

Wildlife is just that—wild. It's important to act responsibly around wildlife, and it's also vital that, while recreating in the area, we help preserve and enhance wildlife habitat by practicing Leave No Trace principles.

  • View wildlife from the safety of your car or from a safe distance. Stay at least 100 yards away from bears and at least 25 yards away from all other wildlife such as mountain goats or bison.
  • Never approach, touch or feed wildlife, even when an animal does not seem to be threatened by your presence.
  • Let wildlife know you're nearby. When hiking, be sure to bring a friend, carry bear spray, stay on designated trails and make noise at regular intervals.
Stay at least 25 yards away from mountain goats and 100 yards away from bears. Photo: Nathan Peterson

Recreating in Bear Country

It's important to remember that we share the land with wild animals. Many grizzly and black bears travel the forests, trails and terrain of Glacier Country. The grizzly bear is identified by a distinctive hump on its shoulders. Typically, its coat is dark brown, but can vary from very light cream to black. Grizzlies weigh between 400 and 1,500 pounds and can stand up to 8 feet tall on their hind legs. They also move very quickly and can reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. When recreating in bear country, it's important to follow and practice certain rules and guidelines.

  • Stay 100 yards away from bears at all times.
  • Carry bear spray and know how to use it.
  • Hike in groups of three or more people.
  • Don't hike at dawn, dusk or at night, when grizzlies are most active.
  • Don't use perfumes or scented body lotions.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Most bears prefer to avoid people. When hiking, be sure to make noise such as clapping, whistling or singing so bears and other wildlife know you're coming.
  • If you see a decomposing animal carcass or smell a strong odor, be sure to give a wide berth to the area, as bears are attracted to these smells.
  • Never enter a closed trail.
  • Camp in designated camping areas.
  • Maintain a clean campsite. Be sure to store food in a bear-proof canister or hang it between trees at a height unreachable by bears.
  • Be sure to pack out all garbage. Remember, even if it's an organic or biodegradable item—like an orange peel, apple core or cherry pit—it is not native to the forest and takes a long time to decompose. Plus, these are not foods animals find in their natural habitat and they can become sick if they eat them.
  • Bear Encounters: Once a bear has noticed you and is paying attention to you, additional strategies can help prevent the situation from escalating. Read more from the National Park Service about bear encounters here.
  • Remember that bears will fiercely defend their cubs. Don't come between a cub and a sow.

Read more about bear safety.

Although the state of Montana does not require masks, face coverings are required in federal buildings and on federal lands when social distancing is not possible—this includes Glacier National Park. There may also be tribe-specific orders on our American Indian reservations, so please know before you go. Individual businesses throughout the region may require and enforce mask wearing in indoor public spaces—please respect their right to do so.

We have all gone to great lengths to help control the spread of COVID-19, and it remains imperative that we continue to follow CDC guidelines. By continuing to take measures seriously, we protect our family, friends and neighbors against the risk of COVID-19, and the Delta variant in particular, as Montana experiences a rise in COVID cases. At this time, physical distancing is still expected. Keep your group size small and give others space. If you are sick, stay home.

Everyone, especially those at higher risk of getting sick, should continue to follow Montana Department of Public Health and CDC recommendations to protect themselves and others.


We’re very serious about our backcountry terrain around here. We’re also very serious about backcountry safety. The wild and rugged nature of Montana’s high country should never be an afterthought, especially when it’s covered in snow. Avalanche safety should always be top of mind when you’re headed back into the deep stuff, whether via ski, snowboard, snowshoe or snowmobile. Proper gear and know-how are everything.

Here are some recommendations for avalanche safety:

Go With a Guide

Play it safe with a backcountry ski or snowmobile tour. Your guide knows best when it comes to avalanche safety.

Stay In Bounds at Ski Resorts

When recreating at ski resorts, don't ski or sled the backcountry on your own unless it is permitted AND you are up-to-date on the avalanche forecast, own and know how to use the right avalanche safety gear, and have adequate training.

Get Educated in Avalanche Safety

Know before you go. Take a course in avalanche safety, which will teach you the basics of avalanche safety gear, snow testing, avalanche awareness and avalanche rescue. Avalanche safety education includes courses for motorized and non-motorized snowsports. Courses in avalanche safety are offered online and in the field.

To find courses and education resources, visit:

Learn everything you can about avalanche safety before heading out, or better yet, go with a guide. Photo: Noah Couser

Check Avalanche Forecasts

Always check the local avalanche forecast before you recreate in the backcountry, and understand what it means. The U.S. and Canada use a five-category avalanche danger estimation system. This North American Avalanche Danger Scale allows avalanche forecasters to communicate avalanche threat—low, moderate, considerable, high, extreme.

Visit for conditions and warnings. For local Western Montana avalanche conditions, advisories and information, visit Missoula Avalanche and the Flathead Avalanche Center.

Carry Avalanche Gear

Learn what gear you need for the backcountry, get the right gear, and know how to use it. This is critical. Find the beacon, shovel, probe and airbag pack that are right for you.

Avalanche beacons (or transceivers) transmit your location so others can find you or you can find them in the aftermath of an avalanche.

Avalanche shovels are essential for backcountry recreation. They can be used to dig out persons buried by snow, but they are also necessary for studying snowpack and digging emergency shelters.

Probes are also essential pieces of backcountry gear. These lightweight, folding poles help you determine how deep the snow is and, in the case of an avalanche rescue, where to begin digging.

Airbag packs feature a bladder that, when pulled, inflates to keep you closer to the surface during an avalanche.

Please note that having avalanche safety gear does not mean you should be reckless and recreate in areas where the avalanche threat is anything but low.

Know Your Snow

Avoid avalanches by learning where and why they occur. Learn to recognize the red flags of an unstable snowpack, which indicate avalanche danger. These include signs of a recent avalanche, or signs of unstable snow. Recent heavy snowfall or rain, or a rapid increase in above freezing temperatures, also creates unstable snow and increases the likelihood of avalanches. 

Among other avalanche safety gear, snow study tools and kits are essential pieces of backcountry equipment to determine the safety of the snowpack, but are not an alternative to checking the avalanche forecast before you head out, which is vital.

Engage in Backcountry Sports Responsibly

Learn more about recreating responsibly while playing in the deep stuff, including backcountry skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and camping. Read more tips about responsible backcountry snowsports from our friends at Tread Lightly!

Connect With Glacier Country

Recreate Responsibly on Tribal Lands

Read more

Glacier National Park 2021 Updates

Read more

Recreate Responsibly in Western Montana

Read more

Call for expert help


Start Planning Your Trip