Your Guide to Enjoying Montana’s Outdoors Safely and Responsibly
Your Guide to Soaking up Montana’s Outdoors Responsibly
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.
These places have been home to wildlife and humans for thousands of years, and it’s our goal to keep them just as untouched, beautiful and wild for generations to come. And now, perhaps more than ever, we’re drawn to the outdoors for safety, comfort and inspiration. When visiting Kalispell, the Flathead Valley and Montana this spring, here are the actions you can take to protect our outdoor places and spaces, while also keeping yourself safe.
CHECK THE WEATHER FORECAST AND ROAD CONDITIONS
You’re officially in Montana, which means there are two things you can never be sure of – weather patterns and cell service. Prior to departing your hotel for the day, be sure to check the weather forecast and road conditions. And even if the weather is slated to be sunny (check the latest Kalispell area conditions here), it’s always a good idea to bring layers for fluctuating temperatures and rainstorms, especially if you’re headed to the mountains.
- Check the status of roads in Glacier National Park here. New for 2021, a ticketed entry system is in place and entry tickets (as well as an entrance fee) is required for the Camas Road, West Glacier and St. Mary entrances between the hours of 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. from May 28-September 6, 2021.
- Road construction is a usual occurrence during the summer in Montana. Keep in mind that there is heavy construction taking place on U.S. Highway 2, largely between Hungry Horse and Essex and you should be prepared for delays. Here’s the latest rundown of projects throughout the state.
- 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.
BE A GOOD STEWARD OF THE OUTDOORS – LEAVE NO TRACE
No matter which direction you head from Kalispell, all roads lead to the outdoors. Here in Montana, there’s a high standard of outdoor etiquette and regard for wild places. If you’re not familiar with how to treat the outdoors? Well, we’re here to help.
- 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.
HIKING IN MONTANA
There are thousands of miles of hiking trails in and around Kalispell, from nearby Jewel Basin to Glacier National Park and the Cabinet Mountains to the Bob Marshall Wilderness. A big part of hiking – whether you’re a beginner or an experienced adventurer – is to be prepared.
- 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.
CAMPING AND CAMPFIRES: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
When it comes to camping, Montana is a great place to do it. Keep in mind that the best campfires take place in designated fire pits or existing fire rings. Before going to sleep or leaving your campsite, make sure your campfire is all the way out. Learn more about campfires and how to safely have them from Smokey Bear. When it comes to camping, please stick to developed campsites and campgrounds. National parks, state parks and national forests all offer ample campsites.
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 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.
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.
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. To have the most successful and safe backcountry trip, there’s one thing you need to do – be prepared.
- Keep wildlife wild. 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 in a tall tree away from your campsite that bears and other wildlife can’t reach.
- 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.
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. Never approach bears or any other wildlife and stay at least 100 yards away from bears.
- 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 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 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 has additional intel on how to have a safe visit to Montana.
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."
- 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.
TRAVEL SAFE AND RECREATE RESPECTFULLY
To keep Montana, our residents and visitors safe, it’s important that we all make efforts to travel safely and responsibly.
- Be prepared to wear a mask at indoor visitor centers, in all federal buildings and in other places where you’re not able to physically distance from others not in your traveling party.
- Avoid crowded parks, trails and water-access points. If you’re heading to a trail and a parking lot is full, keep driving until you reach the next one.
- Be kind, welcoming and inclusive. Now more than ever, people are drawn to the outdoors, its wide-open spaces and fresh mountain air. Play an active role in helping to make the outdoors a place where everyone – no matter their age, ability or identity – feel safe and welcome.
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. 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, Lucky Dog Day Camp, Dee-O-Gee and Pawsitively Perfect.