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Saint Mary Falls, Montana

The Saint Mary area of Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful parts of the Park. It is from the Saint Mary entrance that you start your drive along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, one of the most scenic drives in North America. The St. Mary area is also home to many beautiful lakes and plenty of waterfalls.

Saint Mary Falls is one of two waterfalls that can be accessed from the St. Mary Falls trailhead. From the shuttle stop where you’ll pick up the trail to St. Mary Falls, you can also hike a bit further on the same trail and enjoy views of Upper Virginia Falls.

The hike is a relatively easy 2.9 miles out and back. It takes most visitors about 90 minutes to complete the roundtrip hike to both St. Mary and Upper Virginia Falls.

St. Mary Falls is one of the most impressive and beautiful falls in Glacier National Park. St. Mary River cuts its path through the hard rock, creating a dramatic canyon.

The falls sit within the canyon and tumble over three separate benches. Even in the peak of summer visitors to St. Mary Falls can hear the roar of the water tumbling down the rock. 

St. Mary Falls is frequently photographed, and the trail is very popular. It is recommended that if you want a more peaceful experience you enjoy the hike early in the morning. This is a great time to enjoy the Park’s wildlife, easier parking, and fewer people on the trail. 

saint mary fall
Image: jb10okie

St. Mary Falls Statistics

  • Elevation: 4,580 feet 
  • Height: 35 feet
  • Trailhead: St. Mary and Upper Virginia Falls
  • Season (when can it be accessed): April to October

Recreational Activities Near St. Mary Falls

Hiking

hiking

There are numerous hiking trails around St. Mary Lake and St. Mary Falls. This part of Glacier National Park has many iconic trails and views, making it a great place to enjoy a hike and experience all that Glacier has to offer. 

The St. Mary entrance to Glacier is the east end of the Going-to-the-Sun Road which has many hiking trails just off the highway. Most trails around St. Mary Lake and Falls are relatively short and easy, making this a great area of the park to hike with younger children or for visitors that may not be experienced hikers.

When hiking in the St. Mary Lake Area of the Park, be aware of your surroundings, as this part of the park is home to black and Grizzly bears. You’ll also encounter moose around the lakes and along creek banks. 

All of these native animals are amazing to see but can be dangerous. Hikers in the Park are encouraged to carry bear spray for protection. Also, keep in mind that dogs or other pets are not allowed on trails within the Park.

Camping

St. Mary Lake is one of the more popular places in Glacier National Park to Camp. Visitors love to wake up in the morning surrounded by towering peaks and scenic vistas. 

There are a number of campgrounds along the Going-to-the-Sun Road in the area of St Mary Lake and Falls. Campgrounds operated by the National Park Service in the tourist areas of the Park require advance reservations and a fee.

If you want to enjoy camping without being stuck in a campground, there are a number of trails that will take you to remote camping sites that are far from the crowds you’ll see on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. 

Camping in backcountry campsites requires a permit from the park rangers. You can acquire a permit from any of the ranger stations in the Park. You will also have to provide an itinerary to the rangers when you receive your permit. 

Fishing

fishing river

Fly fishing is allowed in most of the lakes in Glacier National Park. St. Mary Lake is a very large lake, and though it is popular with anglers, you’ll find that if you follow the trail around the lake it is easy to find a quiet spot to fish.

Glacier National Park does have its own specific regulations about fishing within the park. Before you head out for a day of fly fishing, visit the NPS website where you can find all the information you need on fishing within Glacier National Park.

Fishing in Glacier National Park, like any other part of Montana does require a valid Montana fishing license. Information on fishing in Montana and purchasing your fishing license online can be found on the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks.

Trail Routes Near St. Mary Falls

St. Mary and Lower Virginia Falls

This is a moderate to easy trail that takes you past two waterfalls. The hike to St. Mary Falls is a 2.9-mile out and back hike. The trail ends at the base of Lower Virginia Falls, which is a 4-mile out and back hike. 

This trail is fairly busy, as the two waterfalls are some of the most beautiful in the Park. There is minimal elevation gain along the trail ( only 452 feet) and the hike is relatively flat with no dramatic climbs or changes in elevation until you get to the very end near Virginia Falls.

The trailhead is the St. Mary Cutoff Trail. There is a small parking area at the trailhead, which fills up quickly.

Additional parking can be found at a number of points along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and there is a free shuttle that will take you from parking lots to trailheads along the road.

 

St. Mary Lake Trail

This trail is one of the longer and more challenging in the St. Mary Lake Area. This 24.1-mile out and back trail follows along the shoreline of St. Mary Lake and offers outstanding views of Red Eagle Mountain, Goat Mountain, Little Chief Mountain, and Going-to-the-Sun Mountain. 

There is a decent amount of elevation gain along this trail, and most people only do a portion of the trail. If you are looking for a good multi-day hike, there are a number of trails that take off from the St. Mary Lake trail that offer backcountry hiking opportunities.

Sun Point Nature Trail

glacier county

This is an outstanding hike if you have small children with you, or if you just want to learn a bit more about the park, its geology, and nature. The Sun Point Nature Trail is an easy 1.7-mile out and back trail. 

This trail follows the shore of St. Mary Lake for a bit and has some really wonderful views of the peaks around the lake. The trail is quite flat, and there is only 213 feet of elevation change over the 1.7-miles.

There is a decent parking lot at this trailhead and many people use this parking area to access other trails in the St. Mary Lake area. 

Baring Falls from Sunrift Gorge

If you need a short hike to stretch your legs and want to reach a destination while you’re at it, this is a great hike. Park at the Sunrift Gorge, pull off from the Going-to-the-Sun Road and take the Siyeh Pass trail. 

When the trail meets with the Piegan Pass trail, turn right and continue until you reach Baring Creek. There is a footbridge over the Creek where you can observe the falls.

This hike is a short 0.7-mile out and back hike. It is quite easy and only has 108 feet of elevation gain.

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