Montana Public Radio

Montana Coronavirus Closures, Restrictions And Exemptions

May 29, 2020

Updated 05/29/20

Gov. Steve Bullock says Montana has flattened the curve of COVID-19 spread in the state and it's time to start reopening. The reopening plan comes in phases, Phase 1 began April 26. Phase 2 begins June 1.

Here's what's open, closed or restricted in Montana as of June 1, 2020.

COVID-19 guidelines for vulnerable populations during phase 2 of Montana's reopening.
Credit Montana Disaster and Emergency Services

Phase 2 relaxes some restrictions while lifting others. People should avoid gathering in groups of more than 50 when appropriate physical distancing is not possible. Gatherings of any size should continue practicing physical distancing. Vulnerable individuals are still encouraged to follow stay-at-home guidance.

Businesses can remain open but must adhere to physical distancing. That applies to places of assembly such as live music venues and bowling alleys, which can now reopen with reduced capacities. These places are to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people.

Employers should continue encouraging telework. If it’s not feasible, they should follow Phase 1 guidance. That includes accommodating alternate work schedules, closing common areas and minimizing non-essential business travel. Special accommodations should be made for members of a vulnerable population, or for those living with such individuals.

Tourists: The travel quarantine for non-work-related arrivals expires June 1. However, the Montana National Guard will still be authorized to assess travelers in airports and train depots.The state’s tourism communities will undergo a robust public health plan. This will include testing of employees and the surging of additional PPE to impacted health care systems.

It is important to note many of Montana’s tribal governments have their own stay-at-home orders. Residents and travelers alike should be aware of and respect the travel restrictions instituted by tribal governments.

Here’s what closures and restrictions are in place Phase 2:

• Senior living or assisted living facilities continue under Phase 1 guidance. Visitors are prohibited, and anyone interacting with residents and patients must operate under strict hygiene and protection protocols.

COVID-19 guidelines for tourists during phase 2 of Montana's reopening.
Credit Montana Disaster and Emergency Services

• Outdoor recreation, and outdoor recreation sites, also continue under Phase 1 guidance. Sites can become operational if they adhere to strict physical distancing between groups and exercise frequent sanitation protocols if public facilities are open.

• Child care facilities can increase capacity if physical distancing guidelines can be implemented.

• Restaurants / bars / breweries / distilleries / casinos, gyms / pools / hot tubs, and movie theaters remain under Phase 1, but will increase in capacity from 50% to 75%. Operationally this means strict physical distancing. Bars, restaurants and casinos must remove all customers by 11:30 p.m.

National forest lands remain open, but services are still limited.

“At this time, the Forest Service continues to remain open and operational, and we are committed to the continuity of our mission. Our primary delivery of public service will occur through virtual means (ie. telephone and online service).”

The agency also has a COVID-19 FAQ. When campgrounds and developed recreation sites reopen varies between forests. Follow the links below for more information on specific national forests:

Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest: The Forest continues to update its list of recreation site openings. A total of four opened for Memorial Day weekend, with four more set to open the weekend of May 29.

Bitterroot National Forest: The latest website update: “Closures for campgrounds, rental cabins, group facilities, and toilets remain in place past April 30 … We will send out an update as soon as we have more definitive timeframes on reopening, thank you for your continued patience.”

“All Bitterroot National Forests offices are operating virtually until further notice. This means most employees are teleworking, and we are no longer doing any business in person.”

Masks can help slow the spread of COVID-19 from people who don't yet know they have it, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Credit Montana Disaster and Emergency Services

The Forest’s COVID-19 site does have a list of projected opening dates for recreation sites, organized by ranger district. While the page warns these dates could change, most look to open late May or at the very beginning of June.

Custer-Gallatin National Forest: Latest updates for this forest can be found in its most recent closure press release, according to public information officer Marna Daley. She also advised checking the Custer Gallatin’s Facebook page for the latest updates.

Flathead National Forest: According to Flathead’s latest Facebook post on site re-openings, all fee campgrounds are open. It also breaks down site access by district, a handy list if your looking to visit a favorite spot.

Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest: “The target date for having many Forest campgrounds open is May 22. Additionally, rental facilities like cabins will begin a phased reopening after May 15 based on seasonal availability and facility conditions.”

Kootenai National Forest: Forest staff report all cabins and recreation sites are open, although offices are still closed as staff work remotely. Visitors are encouraged to visit the Forest’s website and Facebook page for the latest updates.

Lolo National Forest: The Forest’s latest update, a May 21st Facebook post, links back to its website and this list of opening dates on the website.

National parks in Montana are following individualized plans:

Glacier National Park: While the park is not currently open to the public, it has released a phased reopening plan.

“This plan articulates the phased reopening sequence that is focused on protecting the park employees, volunteers, partners, and the public. Visitor service operations will start conservatively and will expand if conditions allow, or contract if necessary. There will be fewer staff and services available in the park in 2020.”

The first phase of the park’s reopening involves the reopening of some roads, trails and bathrooms. The park is looking to start its phased reopening the second week of June.

The western entrances at West Glacier and Camas Creek will initiate Phase 1. Private businesses in Apgar may choose to open with the park and restrooms will be available, although visitor centers will remain closed.

Going to the Sun Road is expected to be open for vehicles up to Avalanche Creek, with hiker and biker access up to Logan Pass. A full road opening is on track for late June.

Glacier’s eastern entrances will remain closed in line with non-essential travel restrictions enacted by the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council.

Yellowstone National Park began a partial reopening on May 18, allowing visitors to enter through its Wyoming gates. The Montana entrances near West Yellowstone, Gardiner and Cooke City will open on June 1.

The move comes as part of a phased reopening plan, meaning visitors will have limited access to some services and the park overall will remain day-use only.

State Parks

According to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks website, the latest department-wide press release on COVID-19 related closures is from April 24. That announcement lists the following restrictions:

  • Overnight camping opportunities resumed at most FWP fishing access sites and state parks on May 1.

  • Group sites, including fishing piers, will open May 1.

  • At all sites, as in other aspects of life, social distancing guidelines must be strictly followed.

  • Visitor centers, park offices and FWP lobbies are still closed to the public at this time.

  • Bannack State Park will remain closed until further notice.

  • Float recreation on the Smith River resumed May 5.

  • Until June 1, out-of-state travelers who are not travelling for work-related purposes are still required to follow the governor’s 14-day quarantine directive when they come to Montana, as they carry the risk of spreading COVID-19 to Montana residents. Guidance for those directives can be found at fwp.mt.gov/covid19. The directives include the requirements that those in quarantine cannot leave for groceries, recreation, work or any other activity.

  • Paddlefish season (yellow tag) closures on the Yellowstone and Lower Missouri rivers are still in effect.

  • Paddlefish season (white tag) on the Upper Missouri River will run as usual from May 1 through June 15. However, this year there will be no snag-and-release opportunity. Visit fwp.mt.gov for information about other paddlefishing opportunities later in the year.

  • Most wildlife management areas will remain under their normal seasonal closures until the standard May 15 date.

  • The suspension of nonresident spring hunting for turkey and black bear expired April 24.

  • Hunter education class closures will extend through at least May 7. FWP is working to develop other class opportunities to meet the needs of students, and still align with social distancing guidelines and restrictions on the size of gatherings. As those logistics are finalized, more information will be available.

Montana’s COVID-19 website is a regularly updated source for the Montana COVID-19 updates. Find more details on the state's phased reopening plan here.