Would you like to hike to one waterfall, or two, or how about three? No matter what you’re in the mood for, there’s a great trail on Glacier’s East Side, just off Going-to-the-Sun Road, that will satisfy your search for a crashing cascade. Best of all, it’s not difficult to reach any of these waterfalls, and the first one — Baring Falls — isn’t far from the road.
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.
My feet were still aching from an extremely long hike on the Highline-Loop Trail two days earlier, so I wasn’t looking for a big challenge on this particular day. Because I had scrapped my plans to hike some of Glacier’s longer, more challenging trails, I really didn’t care what I did, or where I went, so long as I was seeing something nice. With that attitude, I set out to see Baring Falls, then keep going, in no particular hurry.
The trail to Baring Falls starts at the Sunrift Gorge parking area. There aren’t a lot of spots here, but there are some other parking areas along the road, west of Sunrift Gorge. If you start your hike here, you’ll immediately head down the path and underneath a beautiful stone bridge.
It’s only about 4/10 of a mile to Baring Falls, but it is downhill, so keep that in mind if you’re planning a round-trip. Once you get to this bridge, you’re there.
Divert slightly from the trail and find a good spot to enjoy the waterfall. I’ve read that you can actually walk behind the falls, however, I didn’t find my way over there.
Baring Falls drops about 40 feet. It’s not a huge waterfall, but it is surprisingly visually pleasing, especially as Baring Creek curves away from the waterfall, below the cascade.
Not far beyond Baring Falls, there’s a spot where you can access Saint Mary Lake — including a floating dock. I enjoyed this spot for just a few minutes, until an entire Boy Scout troop converged on the area, and I decided to move on. It was much more peaceful a few hours later, on my return trip.
After you visit Baring Falls and the lakeshore, the trail heads uphill again. You’ll be passing through an area that was devastated by the Reynolds Creek Fire in 2015. More than 4,800 acres were scorched by this wildfire, and the skeletons of burned trees are a visible reminder of what was lost.
Surprisingly, though, the forest is already making a comeback. As of my visit in 2017, it was too soon to see any tall trees, but there was a lot of ground vegetation growing around the charred tree trunks. Much of the ground was covered by wildflowers — making this a strange combination of ugly and beautiful.
In this area, a side-trail connects back to Going-to-the-Sun Road. If you parked in the alternate parking areas, you could use this trail to access Baring Falls with a slightly longer walk. Or, you could skip Baring Falls and avoid the steep parts of the trail, and head on out to St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls from here.
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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The Bottom Line
Hiking to the trio of waterfalls on Glacier’s east side is a nice alternative to the hikes at the pass, and in other parts of the park. You should be able to reach this part of Going-to-the-Sun Road much earlier in the year before the entire road has opened. You can just hike to Baring Falls or continue on if you’re in the mood for a longer hike.