By: Pat Doyle, Montana State Parks

It’s that time of year when ice anglers and other recreationists head out to Montana’s “hard” waters for the winter season.

Whether ice fishing, ice skating, hunting, snowmobiling or just taking a walk, Montana State Parks and Western Montana’s Glacier Country remind recreationists that safety should be the No. 1 concern during a day out, on (or near) the ice.  

Ice fishing can be a safe and fun family activity. Photo: Montana State Parks

When on the Ice, Please Remember: 

+ Anglers and other recreationists should be familiar with the water body they plan to recreate on. Pay close attention to the changing conditions of the ice.

+ If you have even the slightest doubt about the safety of the ice—stay off it. Nothing is ever worth a fall into frigid water.

+ Blue or “clear” ice is usually hard. Watch out for opaque, gray, dark or porous spots in the ice that could be weak, soft areas. Ice also tends to thin more quickly at the shorelines.

+ Note areas on the ice that look “different”—they usually are. Many times, thinner areas of ice (caused by springs, gas pockets, sunken islands, points, etc.) have a different color or look to them. Use extreme caution or stay away from these areas.

+ The following are recommended minimum ice thickness guidelines (for good, clear ice):

+ Watch for pressure ridges. These are areas of open water or thin ice where the ice has cracked and heaved due to expansion from freezing.

+ Test the ice ahead of you with an ice spud bar or an auger.

+ Don’t leave children unsupervised on the ice.

+ Lakes and ponds do not freeze at the same thickness all over. Some ponds have windmills to aerate water for fish survival, and ice may be thin near these areas.

+ Moving water weakens ice by wearing it away from underneath. Avoid going on ice on rivers, streams, or where a river or stream enters a lake, pond or reservoir.

+ The least safe ice usually occurs early and late in the season, when the weather is warmer and less predictable.

+ Remember, NO ICE is 100% safe!

Make sure children are well-supervised while on the ice. Photo: Montana State Parks

Other Common Ice-Safety Reminders: 

+ Search for videos on ice safety and “what to do” if you should fall through the ice. You can watch one here.

+ Consider changes in the weather (and ice conditions) during the prior 24 hours. 

+ It’s a good idea to wear a life jacket (PFD) or carry a throwable floatation device while out on the ice—safe ice anglers and recreationists do it all the time.   

+ Dress warm but practical. Many styles of ice fishing jackets and bibs provide extra buoyancy to help keep you afloat if you do fall through.   

+ Before you leave the house, tell someone where you plan to go and when you plan to return.  

+ Carry a pair of ice picks (long spikes on a heavy string around your neck). If you break through the ice, you can use the spikes to grip the ice and pull yourself out of the water. 

Here are some videos on Ice Fishing Safety and ATV Ice Safety.

Please note: We ask that all our visitors and residents Recreate Responsibly by being mindful of the following: practice physical distancing; know before you go; plan ahead; play it safe; leave no trace; tread lightly, and build an inclusive outdoors. Travel responsibly by reviewing Western Montana COVID-19 information and guidelines at

January 24, 2022

Related: Fishing, Montana, Outdoor Fun, Recreate Responsibly, Vacation, Winter Fun