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 and pack it out. Also practice Leave No Trace principles and leave the outdoors outside.
Here’s How to Love Montana & our Great Outdoors:
- Pack it in, pack it out. Anything you take into Montana’s outdoors 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 (including animals) with you.
- Be considerate of those around you. Oftentimes, folks head outside to enjoy the peace, solitude and fresh air 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, and we like to think they’re best experienced with s’mores. Before going to sleep or leaving your campsite, make sure your campfire is all the way out. Drown it with water, stir it to mix the ashes and wood, ensure all embers are wet and make sure that everything is cool before leaving.
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 abundant campsites, include free sites and fee-based campgrounds.
During our hot weather months when fire danger is high, be sure to check 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
Prior to departing your hotel for the day, be sure to check the weather forecast and road conditions for where you’re 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. Plus, Montana’s weather patterns tend to change quickly so it’s always best to be prepared.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind:
If you’re visiting Big Sky Country in the summer, know that road construction is a usual occurrence during this time of year. For the latest information on construction throughout Montana, get the full rundown from the Montana Department of Transportation road conditions here.
And if you’re planning to visit Glacier National Park, get the latest on the status of roads here.
Our best advice: 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 on Flathead Lake, fish the Swan River, peruse local shops and watering holes in downtown Kalispell, take a horseback trail ride through the mountains of Montana or simply take a drive.
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, with locations that include Jewel Basin, Herron Park, Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest.
How 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 a solo hike, it’s always a good idea to hike with a buddy. If you are hiking solo, stick to well-marked trails and let a friend know where you’re headed and when you plan on being back.
- 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.
- Take a map with you and if you’re hiking with a group, let someone outside of your hiking buddies know where you are going.
- Know basic trail manners. For example, 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 and where dogs are and are not allowed. 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. When you’re here, actively do your part to prevent wildland fires.
Tips on Tracking Wildland Fires & Smoke:
When recreating outdoors, be sure to recreate responsibly and know how to use fire in a safe and appropriate way. Only have a campfire in an approved and designated 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 (never flick them out a window), don’t park a vehicle on dry grass, if you’re pulling a trailer or boat make sure your chains aren’t dragging (chains can create sparks and cause wildfires) and use extra caution in wooded areas. Plan ahead: know what fire restrictions are in place where you are going and check if campfires and/or barbeques are allowed.
Keep in mind that Montana may have smoke in our skies that can affect air quality. Sometimes this smoke is from wildland fires burning in Montana, but oftentimes the smoke is blowing in from other areas, states or countries. You can get the latest information on wildfires at MTFire.org, while air quality reports are found here.
Bears, Mountain Lions & Elk – Meet Montana’s 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. Beyond bears, be prepared to see moose, mountain lions, bobcats, elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer and wolves, to name a few.
How 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 open outside 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. Learn how to use bear spray before you head out on the trails; you can watch the video here.
- Hike in a group.
- Let bears and wildlife know you’re there. Bears don’t want to encounter people in the wild and if they hear you coming, they’ll typically get out of the way. Make noise – you can talk loudly, holler “Hey beaaaar!” or even 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. If you encounter a bear on a trail, move out of his or her way and let them pass. Want to learn more? Glacier National Park and Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks have additional intel on how to have a safe visit to Montana.
If you’re an avid outdoors person, chances are you’re going to want to head into Montana’s backcountry. Big Sky Country has numerous wilderness areas, with each that deliver a unique challenge and jaw-dropping terrain. Beyond just providing access to open and wild lands, wilderness areas teach us to be prepared for the unexpected, from cooking to building a shelter and navigating trails and terrain to how to prepare drinking water.
What You Need to Know for Adventuring in Montana’s Backcountry:
Follow food storage guidelines: don’t bury or leave behind any food or food scraps. Never store food, candy or scented items in your tent, and never leave food out and unattended at your campsite. Hang your food at least 10 feet up and four feet out from an upright support or secure in a hard-sided bear-resistant container. Keep all attractants away from your campsite. Learn more about proper food storage from the U.S. Forest Service.
In the background, you may find that there are no available restrooms; learn how to answer the “call of the wild.”
In the summer, Montana’s lakes, rivers and streams are popular places for swimming, boating, canoeing, sailing, fishing, stand-up paddleboarding, boating and simply 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.
Important Water Safety Tips
- Our water is cold. All of Montana’s waterways are glacial-fed 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.
- Get a PFD. In Montana, personal flotation devices (life jackets) must be worn by kids under the age of 12, as well as 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 Kalispell, 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 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.
Safety for Timber Harvesting Areas
While exploring our outdoors, you may come across well-planned timber harvest areas. If the harvesting site is active or does not seem to be active at that moment, do not enter! There are many hazards on a job site such as falling, rolling or sliding trees, equipment and uneven terrain.
Do Your Part to 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.
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The Latest on Wildland Fires and Air Quality
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