This 3-mile hike on the east side of Glacier National Park presents intimate views of two waterfalls on creeks flowing into Saint Mary Lake. Before the Mississippi-bound water from the Continental Divide reaches the grand lake, it spills over Saint Mary Falls and Virginia Falls, two easy-to-reach gushers that can be picked up as a pair. The trail descends 200 feet to Saint Mary Falls and then climbs 250 feet to Virginia Falls. Reverse that up and down on the return of this scenic out-and-back hike past cascades and two waterfalls.
From the Saint Mary Falls Trailhead on Going-to-the-Sun Road, hike downhill on Saint Mary Falls Cutoff Trail through a forest of firs, spruces, and cedars gracing the west end of Saint Mary Lake. A stretch of exposed rock near the top of the trail deliver broad westward views toward Gunsight Pass, Reynolds Mountain, and more peaks along the Continental Divide.
A third of a mile from the top, hit a junction and make a right and an immediate left, heading west on Saint Mary Lake Trail toward Saint Mary Falls. After 0.8 miles of hiking, you will cross a wooden bridge spanning a rocky gorge just below the waterfall. Saint Mary Falls gushes through a rocky channel, dropping fifty thunderous feet over two tiers. Have a seat on the open rock and watch the water churn out of the gorge and down the mountain toward the lake. This is the shorter, more powerful of the two waterfalls. This impressive setting would make a satisfying turnaround point, but a second waterfall is just ahead, so keep hiking.
Continue south, dipping past a small brook before climbing to an area of exposed granite and a string of cascades. Though Virginia Falls is farther upstream, this is a nice place to sit down for a snack. The bare rock offers views across the forest toward Saint Mary Lake.
Progress up the trail, leaving the creek for a tranquil forest. Climb a switchback up to a junction just below Virginia Falls. Turn left on Saint Mary Lake Trail, crossing a footbridge for a view up the creek toward the waterfall. Virginal Falls tumbles 100 feet down a string of tiers. Explore upstream from the bridge for even better views of the waterfall. Hikers may also continue straight at the junction up to Virginia Falls View Point at the top of the Virginia Falls.
Once you’ve seen both waterfalls, return the way you came. No permit is needed to hike to Saint Mary Falls and Virginia Falls, but Glacier National Park has an entrance fee.
To get to the trailhead: The trail begins from a turnout on the south side of Going-to-the-Sun Road, 6.8 miles east of the Continental Divide at Logan Pass and 10.7 miles west of the Saint Mary Visitor Center. The trailhead for Saint Mary Falls is well marked and includes the Saint Mary Falls Shuttle Stop.
Trailhead address: Going-To-The-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Browning, MT 59417
Trailhead coordinates: 48.674307, -113.60872 (48° 40′ 27.50″N 113° 36′ 31.38″W)
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This stunning trail presents hikes of several lengths from 7 miles to 15 miles, like an amazing 13.5-mile through-hike that includes a spur trail to an exceptional Glacier Overlook.
|Garden Wall Trail to Glacier Overlook
This extension off Highline Trail climbs a thousand feet in a mile to extraordinary views over Grinnell Glacier and a trio of subalpine lakes.
|Grinnell Lake Trail
This long but level 7.5-mile hike passes a triplet of beautiful turquoise glacier-fed lakes in the Many Glacier region of the park.
|Johns Lake Loop
This 2-mile loop visits a small lake in a mossy fores and then follows McDonald Creek past McDonald Falls to return to the trailhead.
|Crypt Lake Trail in Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada
This adventurous 10.8-mile hike is considered one of Canada's best, passing waterfalls, a natural tunnel, and a cable traverse to reach a pristine lake on the US border.
|Glacier National Park Campgrounds
Thirteen campgrounds with over 1,000 total sites are spread throughout the park in picturesque locations.