The hike to Virginia Falls might be too long, and the hike to Baring Falls might be too short. If so, then St. Mary Falls could be your Goldilocks hiking destination. And I suppose there’s even a chance you’ll see a bear or three along the way.
Baring, St. Mary’s, and Virginia Falls are located on Glacier National Park’s East Side. You can access the trail to all three waterfalls at Sunrift Gorge, or at another access point just to the west of Sunpoint Gorge. If you’re willing to skip Baring Falls, and only hike to the other two, you can use that second trailhead, and avoid a small amount of elevation loss and gain.
The hike to St. Mary Falls via Baring Falls is about 2 miles, one way. If you start at the St. Mary Falls Trailhead, further up the road, and hike directly to St. Mary Falls, the hike will only be about 8/10 of a mile, one-way.
Baring Falls isn’t very far from the road, and I had plenty of time on my hands during my third full day at Glacier National Park. I decided to continue on to St. Mary Falls, and maybe on to Virginia Falls, if my feet were up to the trip (I had done a lot of damage to them during my hike along the Highline-Loop Trail, two days earlier).
Once you leave Baring Falls, you’ll have to hike uphill a bit, but it doesn’t last long, and then the trail levels out. Most of the rest of the trip to St. Mary Falls and on to Virginia Falls is pretty easy. You’ll be hiking through an area that burned in 2015…
… but that’s not the worst thing in the world, because it allows you to see more of the surrounding mountains.
You’ll also enjoy some nice views of St. Mary Lake on your way up to the falls.
When you get there…
… you’ll cross a footbridge, where you’ll get a nice view upstream towards the falls…
… and downstream, towards the lake. Again, those burned trees don’t look great, but they do improve the view.
St. Mary Falls
I found a spot on the huge rock directly in front of the falls, and chilled out for a while. It was seriously a long while — maybe a half-hour or so. The sound of the rushing water drowned out the chatter of visitors. Even though I wasn’t alone, I had the place all to myself.
This spot had changed quite a bit, since I visited in 2006. Back then…
… I captured a photo that I’ve always liked, which included a couple of trees on the rock where I had been sitting. Now…
… it appears that those trees did not survive the wildfires of 2015. And aside from that, the whole scene wasn’t as beautiful as it was on my previous visit. That day was cloudy — the perfect weather for taking photos of a waterfall. This day was bright and sunny, with half the scene in the shadows.
As I finally prepared to leave…
… I heard a crowd counting down, and managed to snap this photo just as someone cliff-dived into the water below the bridge. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to do this. The water is moving pretty quickly through this slot, and that water has to be pretty darned cold. But, these jumpers survived.
I decided to stay dry, and move on to Virginia Falls.
Here’s a look at the drive along Going-to-the-Sun road, on the east side of Glacier National Park:
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St. Mary Falls is a beautiful waterfall, especially on a cloudy day. The various hiking options allow you to make this part of a short hike or a longer hike, and you can continue on to Virginia Falls, if you’d like.