Your Guide to Enjoying Montana’s Outdoors Safely And Responsibly
It takes all of us working together to keep Montana wild, beautiful and pristine. Here in Kalispell, we’ve always been big advocates of responsible travel. Since our mountain town is in one of the most stunning places in the United States, it seems fitting that we do our part to help take care of it, including sharing information with visitors and residents about how to #RecreateResponsibly.
Kalispell, the soul of Montana, is within easy reach of Montana’s natural wonders, from the 185 miles (297 kilometers) of shoreline around Flathead Lake to trails that weave in, around and through public lands like Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest.
Be A Good Steward Of The Outdoors
No matter which direction you head from Kalispell, all roads lead to the outdoors. As a Steward of the outdoors, be sure to pack it in, pack it out and leave the outdoors outside!
Here are the basics of how to love Montana & its great outdoors:
- Pack it in, pack it out. Anything you take into nature with you also needs to be taken out by you. This means garbage, pet waste and everything in between. And if you see garbage that’s not yours, we encourage you to pick that up and pack it out, too.
- Leave the outdoors outside. Don’t take rocks, plants, trees, flowers or any other wild thing with you.
- Be considerate of those around you. Oftentimes, folks head to the outdoors to enjoy the peace and solitude that’s found there. As much as possible, let the sounds of nature prevail, while also keeping in mind that Montana is bear country and it’s well-advised to make noise as you hike in the outdoors to let wildlife know you’re there.
- Share the trail and follow posted guidelines. Most trails in northwest Montana are multi-use and you may encounter hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders. Take a minute and learn the yield triangle: mountain bikers yield to horses and foot traffic; hikers yield to horses and descending riders; and downhill hikers yield to hikers heading uphill. And if you’re biking, be sure to help keep single-track trails just that by staying on the trail, avoiding muddy trails and riding through – and not around – standing water. Resources: IMBA Rules of the Trail.
Campfires: What You Need To Know
The best campfires take place in designated fire pits or existing fire rings, along with smores of course. Before going to sleep or leaving your campsite, make sure your campfire is all the way out. Drown, stir, and feel that it is out!
Learn more about Campfires:
When it comes to camping, please stick to developed campsites and campgrounds. National parks, state parks and national forests all offer ample campsites.
During our hot weather months when fire danger is high, be sure to check in on restrictions regarding having a campfire.
Keep your campfire small, ensure it’s out completely and cold to the touch prior to leaving or going to sleep. Learn more about campfires and how to safely have them from Smokey Bear.
Check The Weather Forecast And Road Conditions
It is always important, prior to departing your hotel for the day, to check the weather forecast and road conditions of where you are headed. And even if the weather is slated to be sunny, it’s always a good idea to bring layers for fluctuating temperatures and rainstorms, especially if you’re headed to the mountains.
A few other things to keep in mind:
Check the status of roads in Glacier National Park here.
Road construction is a usual occurrence during the summer in Montana. Check the Montana Department of Transportation road conditions here.
Make a backup plan. Whether it’s related to weather, road closures, construction delays or congestion at parking areas or trailheads, it’s always a good idea to have an alternate plan. Check out things to do outside Glacier National Park, explore murals and street art, kayak or fish the waters of Flathead Lake, peruse local shops and watering holes in downtown Kalispell, take a horseback trail ride through the mountains of Montana or take a day trip.
Hiking In Montana
A big part of hiking – whether you’re a beginner or an experienced adventurer – is to be prepared. Kalispell and the surrounding areas are composed of thousands of miles of hiking trails from nearby Jewel Basin to Glacier National Park.
Tips to enjoy the trails:
- Make sure you have the gear you need. This includes sturdy boots (break them in before bringing them to Montana), bear spray, layers, a hat, sunscreen, water and snacks.
- Hike with a buddy. While you can take solo hikes, it’s always a good idea to hike with a friend. If you are hiking solo, stick to a well-marked trail and let a friend know where you’re headed.
- Respect public (and private) lands. There are portions of trails on public lands that also cross onto private property. Be respectful and stay on trails.
- Pick up a map; let someone outside of your hiking group know where you are going.
- Know basic trail manners; if you are a hiker heading uphill, you have the right of way.
- If you’re hiking with a dog, be sure you know the rules of the trail. Pets are not permitted on trails in Glacier National Park, while dogs are welcome in the Flathead National Forest. Keep in mind that some trails and developed areas require your pup to be on a leash.
Wildfires and Smoke
Here in Montana, wildfires are part of the landscapes and while some are caused by natural occurrences like lightning, many are caused by humans.
Tips on Tracking Wildfires and Smoke:
When recreating outdoors, be sure to use fire responsibly. Only have a campfire in an approved area and when you’re done camping or cooking, be sure it’s fully extinguished. Other practical tips: take care to properly dispose of matches and cigarette butts in a closed container, don’t park a vehicle on dry grass and use extra caution in wooded areas. Plan ahead: know what fire restrictions are in place where you are going and check if campfires, barbeques are allowed.
Keep in mind that Montana may have smoke in our skies that can affect air quality. Sometimes this smoke is from wildfires burning in Montana, but oftentimes the smoke is blowing in from other areas, states or countries. You can get the latest information on wildfires on InciWeb, while air quality reports are found here.
Bears and Wildlife
Northwest Montana is home to grizzly and black bears, and while seeing bears in their natural habitat is thrilling, it’s important to view them from a safe distance. Along with Moose, Mountain Lions, Elk, Mountain Goats and Wolves, to name a few!
Here are a few ways to avoid negative wildlife encounters:
- Carry bear spray and know how to use it. Be sure you keep it in a location that’s easily accessible, like your belt or an easily accessible pocket; do not keep it in your backpack. Bear spray is available for purchase in many local stores, and you can rent it in Apgar Village and Glacier National Park.
- Hike in a group.
- Let bears and wildlife know you’re there. Bears don’t want to see people in the wild and if they hear you coming, they’ll typically get out of the way. Talk loudly, holler ‘heyyyyy beeeaaaarrrrr’ or clap to let them know you’re coming.
- Be wise. If a bear is aggressive, it’s typically because they are protecting their babies or they have a food supply (like a moose or elk) nearby. Never turn and run from a bear — instead slowly back away and give it room. Glacier National Park and Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks have additional intel on how to have a safe visit to Montana.
Learn how to use bear spray before you head out on the trails. Watch the video!
If you’re an avid outdoors person, chances are you’re going to want to head into Montana’s backcountry.The wilderness is a challenge in and of itself and teaches us to be prepared for the unexpected, from cooking to building a shelter and navigating trails and terrain to how to prepare drinking water.
Tips and need to know for Montana’s backcountry:
Follow food storage guidelines: Don’t bury or leave behind any food or food scraps. Never store food in your tent and don’t leave it unattended at your campsite. Hang your food at least 10 feet up and 4 feet out from an upright support or secure in a hard-sided bear-resistant container. Keep all attractants away from your campsite. Read more here.
Learn how to answer the “call of the wild” if there are no available restrooms.
Additional resources: backcountry camping in national parks; and the beginner’s guide to the backcountry.
In the summer, Montana’s lakes, rivers and streams are popular places for swimming, boating, canoeing, sailing, fishing, stand-up paddleboarding, boating and dipping your toes in the water. And while our waters are inviting, it’s important to keep a few things in mind when playing in or around the water.
Some Important Water Safety Tips
- It’s cold. All of Montana’s waterways are glacial- or snow-fed, which makes them much colder than water in other places.
- It’s easy to slip. Once rocks and logs get wet, they can be slippery, making it easy to fall into the water. Take extra care when walking across or through rivers, bays and lakes.
- Have a PFD. In Montana, personal flotation devices (life jackets) must be worn by kids under the age of 12, waters skiers/tubers/anyone being towed by a boat and anyone operating or riding a personal watercraft like a jet ski. Be sure you have enough life jackets for everyone on board your watercraft.
- Keep an eye on little ones. Water, especially in spring and early summer, flows quick and fast, with rapids and waterfalls being prevalent.
Clean, Drain, Dry. As a state, Montana has worked hard to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. If you’re coming here with a motorized or non-motorized watercraft, you will need to have it inspected prior to hitting the water. More about bringing your watercraft into Montana can be found here.
Traveling with Your Dog
When you come to Montana, you’ll see that dogs are much-loved around here. But it’s important to check to see if dogs are allowed in the areas you’ll be hiking or exploring.
Tips for Your Furry Friend
- Keep in mind that if your dog isn’t allowed, there’s a good reason for it, like protecting wildlife and people. It’s easy to find places that allow dogs on leashes (like the Flathead National Forest), while some city and county parks have off-leash fenced areas to play with your pup.
- Clean up. You are responsible for cleaning up after your pet and disposing of the waste in the garbage.
- If you’re planning to visit Glacier National Park, your dog is allowed in your car while driving park roads, some campgrounds, picnic areas in parking areas and along roadways when you are stopped. Dogs are not allowed to be on trails, along lake shores outside of developed locations, in the backcountry or in any buildings.
- Take your dog to an off-leash park, like Begg Park Dog Park off Airport Road on the south side of Kalispell and Hugh Rogers WAG Park in Whitefish.
- If you plan on heading to a place where your dog isn’t allowed, schedule doggie daycare. There are a variety of local companies that offer this service, including Glacier K9 Resort & Spa, The Dog Club, Dee-O-Gee and Pawsitively Perfect.
Make it Better
We all have a responsibility to do what we can to sustain the outdoor places we love. Volunteer, donate, and advocate for the outdoors. Show your appreciation to one of Kalispell’s recreation areas: Foys To Blacktail Trails and Lone Pine and Flathead Lake State Parks – Montana State Parks Foundation.
Get The Guide
Start planning your trip to Kalispell and northwest Montana with our free travel guide. Inside you’ll find year-round options of places to stay, things to do, insider tips and advice on visiting Glacier National Park and the best of downtown Kalispell.
How to Recreate Responsibly in Winter
As seasons change, so do our recreational activities. To stay safe and help protect the places we play during winter, there are six rules to help you recreate responsibly and stay safe.
The Latest On Wildland Fires And Air Quality
When summer starts to come to an end, most years that means fire danger spikes to a HIGH. Conditions may become hazy and air quality can fluctuate. Don’t worry, we have all you need to know in one place.
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