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Safety in Glacier National Park

Rivers and Lakes: Use extreme caution near water. Swift, cold glacial streams and rivers, moss-covered rocks, and slippery logs all present dangers. Children, photographers, boaters, rafters, swimmers, and fishermen have fallen victim to these rapid, frigid streams and deep glacial lakes.

Avoid wading in or fording swift streams. Never walk, play, or climb on slippery rocks and logs, especially around waterfalls. When boating, don’t stand up or lean over the side, and always wear a lifejacket.

Drowning: Sudden immersion in cold water (below 80° F, 27° C) may trigger the "mammalian diving reflex." This reflex restricts blood from outlying areas of the body and routes it to vital organs like the heart, lungs, and brain. The colder the water, the younger the victim, and the quicker the rescue, the better the chance for survival. Some cold-water drowning victims have survived with no brain damage after being submerged for over 30 minutes.

Revival Procedure:

  • Retrieve victim from water without endangering yourself.
  • Prevent further body heat loss, but do not rewarm.
  • Near-drowning victims may look dead. Don’t let this stop you from trying to revive them! If there is no pulse, start CPR regardless of the duration of submersion.
  • Delayed symptoms may occur within 24 hours.Victims must be evaluated by a physician.

Giardia: Giardiasis can be caused by a parasite (Giardia lamblia) found in park lakes and streams. Persistent, severe diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and nausea are the main symptoms of this disease. If you experience any symptoms, contact a physician. When hiking, carry water from one of the park’s treated water systems. If you plan to camp in the backcountry, follow recommendations received with your permit. The easiest effective water treatments are either to bring water to a boil or to use an approved filter.

Hypothermia: Hypothermia, the "progressive physical collapse and reduced mental capacity resulting from the chilling of the inner core of the human body," can occur even at temperatures above freezing.Temperatures can drop rapidly. Sudden mountain storms can change a warm and pleasant hike into a drenching, bitterly cold and life-threatening experience. People in poor physical shape or who are exhausted are particularly at risk.


  • Avoid hypothermia by using water-resistant clothing before you become wet.
  • Wear clothing that wicks moisture away.
  • Minimize wind exposure and if your clothes become wet, replace them.
  • Avoid sweating by dressing in layers, rather than in a single bulky garment.
  • Pack a sweater, warm hat, and raingear for any hike.

Warning Signs:

Uncontrolled shivering, slow or slurred speech, memory lapses and incoherence, lack of coordination such as immobile or fumbling hands, stumbling, a lurching gait, drowsiness, and exhaustion.

Immediate Treatment

  • Seek shelter from weather and get the victim into dry clothes.
  • Give warm non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Build a fire and keep victim awake.
  • Strip victim and yourself, and get into sleeping bag making skin-to-skin contact.
  • If victim is semi-conscious or worse, get professional help immediately.

Wildlife Hazards
: Recommended safety precautions and procedures for bears are found elsewhere in this chapter.

Mountain Lions: A glimpse of one of these magnificent cats would be a vacation highlight, but you need to take precautions to protect you and your children from an accidental encounter. Don’t hike alone. Make noise to avoid surprising a lion and keep children close to you at all times. If you do encounter a lion, do not run.Talk calmly, avert your gaze, stand tall, and back away. Unlike with bears, if attack seems imminent, act aggressively. Do not crouch and do not turn away. Lions may be scared away by being struck with rocks or sticks, or by being kicked or hit. Lions are primarily nocturnal, but they have attacked in broad daylight.They rarely prey on humans, but such behavior occasionally does occur. Children and small adults are particularly vulnerable. Report all mountain lion encounters immediately!

Whether bears, mountain lions, goats, sheep, deer, squirrels, marmots, or any other species, all park wildlife can present a very real and painful threat, especially females with young. Always enjoy wildlife from the safety of your car or from a safe distance. Feeding, harassing, or molesting wildlife is strictly prohibited and subject to fine.

Medical Services
If you are injured or suddenly become ill while visiting the parks, please contact a warden or ranger for information and assistance. To ensure adequate staffing on your arrival at a hospital, call before setting out.

Montana Hospitals
Glacier County Medical Center
892-2nd St. E., Cut Bank, MT

Kalispell Regional Hospital
310 SunnyView Lane, Kalispell, MT

NorthValley Hospital
Highway 93 South, Whitefish, MT

Teton Medical Center
915 4 NW, Choteau, MT

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Watch Your Step
Mountainous Terrain: Many accidents occur when people fall after stepping off trails or roadsides, or by venturing onto very steep slopes. Stay on designated trails and don’t go beyond protective fencing or guard rails. Supervise children closely in such areas. At upper elevations, trails should be followed carefully, noting directions given by trail signs and markers.

Snow and Ice: Snowfields and glaciers present serious hazards. Snowbridges may conceal deep crevasses on glaciers or large hidden cavities under snowfields, and collapse under the weight of an unsuspecting hiker. Don't slide on snowbanks. People often lose control and slide into rocks or trees. Exercise caution around any snowfield in the parks.

Ticks: Ticks are most active in spring and early summer. Most bites don’t result in illness, but several serious diseases, like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, can be transmitted. Completely remove attached ticks and disinfect the site. If rashes or lesions form around the bite, or if unexplained symptoms occur, consult a physician.

Rodents and Hantavirus: Deer mice and other rodents are possible carriers of Hantavirus, an acute respiratory disease affecting the lungs. The most likely source of infection is from rodent urine and droppings inhaled as aerosols or dust.

Avoid areas where rodents may congregate such as burrows or nests, old uncleaned cabins, or other rodent-infested structures. Try to camp away from possible rodent burrows or shelters (garbage dumps and woodpiles), and keep food in rodent-proof containers. To prevent the spread of dust in the air, spray affected areas with a disinfectant before cleaning.

Initial symptoms are almost identical to the onset of flu. If you have potentially been exposed and exhibit flu-like symptoms, you should seek medical care immediately.

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Information provided by the National Park Service

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