The water in Glacier National Park is brilliantly colored, clean, and extremely inviting, so it is easy to understand why so many people who visit Glacier wonder about swimming.
So, can you swim in Glacier National Park?
The answer is yes! You can absolutely swim in any lake and get in any river you want to in Glacier National Park. Keep in mind, the water is extremely cold and can be uncomfortable to swim in for long durations. The average lake temperature does not get above 50 degrees in the summer. Despite this, swimming is a common activity in Glacier and one you can engage in safely if you make good choices.
I highly recommend it on your next visit. There is something special about being in that beautiful, cold water!
Keep reading to learn how to stay safe and enjoy a refreshing swim in Glacier National Park.
Does the park allow swimming?
Yes! Swimming is allowed in Glacier National Park, with little-to-no restrictions! However, there are other water-related activities, like boating and bathing, that involve more rules.
Boating with your own boat is permitted once an aquatic invasive species inspection has been completed and a launch permit has been issued. The permit is restricted to specific bodies of water. Find out the most current information about boating rules and regulations in Glacier.
Bathing in the waters of Glacier is heavily discouraged because the introduction of soap and other chemicals to the water damages the ecosystem and does not follow the principles of Leave No Trace. Don’t do it!
If you don’t have your own boat, you can do guided boat tours and/or rent motor boats and kayaks.
How cold is the water?
The water in Glacier National Park varies in temperature depending on the time of year and the location, but one truth remains constant. The water is COLD. I am originally from Indiana, where you can jump in a reservoir and the water feels like it is the same temperature as the air. This is absolutely not the case in Glacier.
I grew up spending my summers in Glacier with my park ranger parents and swimming was a very fun childhood (and adulthood, who am I kidding?) activity for me and my sisters.
Swimming in Glacier is not the same experience as swimming in a heated pool in your backyard. Swimming in Glacier usually means lowering yourself in the water for only a few minutes. The water is very cold. Being submerged in cold water for a long time is uncomfortable and can be extremely dangerous.
Warmest and coldest lakes
Generally, Lake McDonald is the warmest and most easily accessible lake in Glacier. Lake McDonald is on the west side of the park, which means it is at a lower elevation and experiences higher average air temperatures than the lakes on the east side of the park. The water temperature in Lake McDonald usually peaks in August at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Of all the Glacier lakes I have swam in, Lake McDonald is the most pleasant, without a doubt.
On the east side of the park, people like to swim in Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. This is because they have easily accessible shorelines and are located along popular hiking trails. The water temperature in Swiftcurrent and Josephine lakes usually peaks somewhere around 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
I am a seasonal resident of Many Glacier, where Swiftcurrent and Josephine are located, and I can confidently say that Swiftcurrent is usually warmer and Josephine is usually colder. However, Lake Josephine has better beaches for swimming.
Other lakes in Glacier are even colder. Iceberg Lake, named for the literal chunks of ice commonly floating around in it, is popular for a very quick dip into the water. It is usually followed by exclamations of pain and disbelief at the intense cold. Iceberg Lake hovers at a refreshing (or brain-numbing) 35-40 degrees Fahrenheit. The only way I can describe jumping in Iceberg Lake is that it feels like your entire body is having a brain freeze.
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Where are the best places to swim?
The best places to swim in Glacier are going to vary depending on who you ask, but after a lifetime of summers swimming in the park, I feel equipped to answer this question. I’ve chosen a few lakes that are easy to access and pleasant to swim in.
I will cover four of the best lakes to swim in but visitors can swim in any lake or stream in the park.
To swim in any of the lakes, research current traffic restrictions and required vehicle reservations, which you can learn more about on the Glacier NPS website.
Lake McDonald is my favorite lake in Glacier to swim in. The water in Lake McDonald (like most of Glacier’s other lakes) is so clear that you can see to a depth of approximately 20 feet. The experience of swimming and being able to see the colorful rocks 20 feet below you is incredible!
The water in Lake McDonald tends to be warmer than in other lakes, which makes it the most pleasant swimming experience. One of life’s most wonderful experiences, in my opinion, is floating on your back in Lake McDonald on a calm day when the water’s surface has been warmed by the sun and it is as still as glass.
To experience this for yourself, find any pullout along the Going to the Sun Road that gives you access to the water! Apgar, at the foot of Lake McDonald, also has a relatively large beach that many people like to swim from.
Bowman Lake has a lovely and easily accessible beach, and the water is beautiful. The views from Bowman Lake are incredible too!
In my experience, the water in Bowman Lake feels colder than in Lake McDonald but is still warmer than lakes on the east side of Glacier. I spent many an afternoon swimming in Bowman Lake as a kid, and I still enjoy it today!
Bowman Lake is in the North Fork area of Glacier, which requires a bit of bumpy driving on gravel roads. If your vehicle is capable, I recommend making the journey. Be aware you may need a vehicle reservation so check the park website.
Swiftcurrent Lake, located in Many Glacier, is another lovely lake for a swim. It is not warm, but it is not quite bone-chillingly painful either. The caveat to this recommendation is that there isn’t much swimming access from the shoreline.
The best way to enjoy a swim in Swiftcurrent Lake is to rent a kayak or canoe and use that to access the beach directly across from the Many Glacier Hotel. If that isn’t an option, the rocky shoreline in front of the hotel is just fine for swimming as long as you have tough feet or some sort of water shoes or sandals. You can drive right up to Swiftcurrent Lake, making it very easy to park.
Lake Josephine, also located in Many Glacier, is a great lake for swimming. The best place to swim in Lake Josephine is from the beach at the foot of the lake. The beach is large, the rocks are small and smooth, and the water gets deep very gradually.
The water is usually slightly colder than Swiftcurrent Lake, and you won’t want to swim for very long, but the feeling of bliss when you’re swimming in such a beautiful lake cannot be beaten.
You have to hike about one mile to access Lake Josephine, which is a small price to pay for such a great experience.
Iceberg Lake is where you can experience what will likely be the most invigorating (and painful) 2-second swim of your life.
“Swim” is not quite the right word to describe what will happen when you enter Iceberg Lake. You will probably wade into about thigh or waist depth, quickly dunk your body underwater, and run out squealing like a stuck pig. The water is so cold your body simply does not know how to handle itself.
Iceberg Lake is a 10-mile round-trip hike, but the views along the way and the destination itself make every step worth it.
How do I stay safe while swimming?
Do not swim in rivers or near waterfalls. Fast-moving water, and even water that appears to be moving slowly, can be incredibly dangerous—especially if the water is cold.
Be cautious around water, even if you have no plans to enter it. Swift, cold water, mossy rocks, and wet logs can all become extremely dangerous. A slip into cold water or a river can mean injury or death, so take the dangers seriously.
Be aware of hypothermia. Hypothermia is the physical collapse and reduced mental capacity of the body, which happens when the inner core of the body is chilled. If it is a hot day, you have been hiking, and you feel like you could stay in the water for hours—DON’T!
People who are exhausted have an increased risk of hypothermia. Hypothermia has warning signs, which include uncontrolled shivering, slow or slurred speech, memory loss or incoherent speech, loss of coordination, drowsiness, and difficulty walking.
It is important to remember that water is more dangerous than it might appear. In fact, drowning is one of the top three causes of death in Glacier National Park.
Is there anything else I should know?
Swimming is just one of the many cool things one can do in Glacier National Park. Planning a trip to Glacier is hard and confusing because it’s huge and there are so many things to do!
Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites, yet still, avoid crowds. We have a detailed itinerary that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to the best places at the right times!