Trail Riding in Glacier National Park
Not all trails are suitable and open to trail riding by horseback, or to stock of any
kind, including mules, donkeys, and even llamas.
Check maintenance schedules for all trails before starting out in case some have been closed due to landslides or debris blocking the areas you wish to travel. These schedules may change daily so be aware that the rangers make up a new chart showing problem areas each day as reports come in. It is also a good idea to check river crossings, especially the middle fork of Flathead.
Paved roads are always off limits to riders, but dirt roads that are most popular and usually open to trail riders are: Old Flathead Ranger Station, the road to Apgar Lookout Trailhead, Bowman Lake Road, and inside North Fork Road.
Some of these trails will be late to open in spring and early summer because of lingering snows and wet conditions due to heavy rainfall. At times the trails are closed due to increased bear activity also. This is another reason to always check in with park rangers to assure you are going to be safe from weather, and you and your horse or you will not become “Animals of Prey” for hungry bears. Anything on the move looks like dinner to a Grizzly.
A party of ten animals and riders is the usual limit on any trail ride, but by special consideration, and the supervisors permission, as many as twenty have been known to take a day trip on certain trails. Check ahead for this provision.
Horse and Stock Loading Ramps
If you are bringing horses or other animals into the park by stock truck, please check with the ranger station prior to your trip to Glacier National Park for loading ramps. The Visitor Center and Ranger Station will either mail you the mapped list of ramps, or you may receive it upon arrival. This list will include numbers permitted in certain camp areas, and length of time you may occupy these sites.
Overnight Horse Camping
For overnight or weekly camping, you must be issued a backcountry use permit at the visitor center or ranger stations. A fee of twenty dollars per reservation, and four dollars per person per night will be charged. Children under age sixteen have free entry.
Backcountry camping is open June thru’ September, and reservations for campsites is recommended, (especially if you have a preference) in July and August. This rule is due to strict regulations on numbers of persons and stock per site. Remember―Animals are eating and fertilizing machines so land usage is important to not pollute or damage the park. True trailblazers choose September to travel the Glacier trails because crowds have thinned by then, trails are broken-in for better horse travel, and there are fewer insects.
Low Impact Horse Usage
As I mentioned in the previous lines, proper use of Glacier Park’s backcountry is maintained by limiting the numbers of people and animals in specified areas in order to eliminate conflict with other users, stop damage to natural resources, and maintain beauty and balance of nature in the park.
By following a few simple rules, everyone can and will have a great time and leave the park in the same pristine condition as when they arrived.
1) No grazing is allowed―You must pack ample supplementary feed such as grain and pellets for your animals for the entire duration of your stay.
2) Bear resistant feeders can be found at ranger stations at the park, and all feed must be hung high enough in trees during the night to keep out of reach of prowling bears.
3) Pack mules, llamas, and stock not in use must be tied or tethered securely. Animals prone to pawing or scraping the ground’s surface should be hobbled.
4) Tie animals at least 200 ft. from any water source―streams, lakes, waterfalls, or rivers.
5) Please use hitch racks where provided to tie animals.
6) Where there are no hitch racks, tie a rope (called a highline) securely between two trees off trail. Tie the horses to this line to cut down on trampling or marring root system around an individual tree.
7) Stock is not allowed in camping grounds, so load and unload them at hitch rails provided.
8) Loose herding or trailing is prohibited.
9) Hikers are required to stand quietly on the lower side of the trail when stock and trail riders are passing.
10) Stay on designated riding trails―cross country riding, or riding on pavement is prohibited.
11) Scatter manure, and level ground wherever it has been disrupted before breaking camp.
12) Stock is not permitted in auto zones.
Border Rules and Restrictions
When crossing from the park across the border with stock, the Canadian stockmen require a Coggins test on each animal to be endorsed by a veterinarian. Call: Montana State Veterinarians at (403) 653-3009 for information. US stockmen must acquire a horsemen’s use permit from Carway Customs in order to stay no longer than seventy-hours. Carway is the only border crossing to be used both to enter and exit.
Horsing around in Glacier National Park was written by Tamara Hillman.