St Mary Falls and Virginia Falls are two impressive Montana waterfalls located within close proximity of each other. Glacier National Park is home to both of them along with numerous other falls and natural wonders.
The main access point to both of the falls is in the St. Mary region of the park where there are many iconic attractions.
St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls are commonly the highlights of many trips to the national park, and there is a popular and well-worn trail that allows visitors to see both falls.
Waterfalls are a popular sightseeing attraction generally in the park, but access to many of them is often quite limited.
This is not so much the case with St Mary Falls and Virginia Falls, which are both very easy to access and get right up close to in order to take a few decent snaps.
Needless to say, if you want to check out these prime Glacier National Park waterfalls you can expect plenty of other people to be around during the high season.
Saint Mary Falls
St. Mary Falls are very scenic and distinctive-looking waterfalls that drop approximately 35 feet down three separate tiers.
The two largest tiers are the most photographed, and it’s not hard to see why. There is also a smaller drop under a footbridge further along.
The water of the falls is a rather delightful, tropical-looking aqua-marine. Even in the pools beneath the falls, you can spot hints of it in the spray.
Apparently, the color comes from the glacial flour action that occurred further upstream. This was a process where glaciers scraped the surrounding surfaces, causing sediment to be mixed into the stream.
Undoubtedly this is also one of the factors that make St. Mary these falls so attractive. The rush of water causes a cooling breeze down the narrow gorge which is highly refreshing on a hot summer’s day.
Virginia Falls is another one of the national park’s multi-tiered waterfalls, with a 50-foot drop on the main fall. There is another reasonably-impressive secondary chute after the main drop, followed by a short cascade section at the bottom.
Virginia Falls is, along with the nearby St. Mary, arguably one of the top ‘must-see’ waterfalls in Glacier National Park.
With that in mind, it’s worth considering that parking is always limited anywhere close to the vicinity of these two falls.
Starting out on the hike early in the morning and/or utilizing the park’s shuttle system is a good plan. The hike to St. Mary and Virginia Falls is also one of the most popular day hikes in the park, so expect plenty of bodies during peak months.
Hiking to St. Mary and Virginia Falls
If you like waterfalls as much as you like a good hike, you’ll love the scenic St. Mary and Virginia Falls Trail.
The hike is short which obviously makes it a popular one, and some of the views from the ascent up the Virginia Creek Valley are more than impressive.
The entire round trip is approximately 3.5 miles in length and features St. Mary Falls firstly along with multiple smaller cascades before reaching Virginia Falls.
The elevation of the trailhead is 4,725-ft. at Trailhead and any other gains along the route are minimal.
The trail starts out from the St. Mary Falls Shuttle Bus stop along the Going-to-the-Sun Road If you decide to park at the falls’ parking area you’ll add almost an additional half-mile to the walk, after which you’ll reach a junction. This is the spot where you join the St. Mary Falls trail after descending from the parking area.
There is another junction with the Piegan Pass Trail a short distance further along. Hikers have to bear left here to stay on the St. Mary Falls Trail toward the two falls. From here walkers can enjoy easy grades for the descent to the north side of the St. Mary River at 0.6 miles.
The trail heads right from this point and leads through a wooded area north of the river where there is a bridge. It crosses the river just below St. Mary Falls at 0.8 miles.
The incredibly picturesque St. Mary Falls runs down three tiers into a large pool. A cool mist sprays across from the falls providing a cool and welcome respite for many visitors on a hot summer day.
After crossing the bridge the trail briefly leads along the river before climbing a gentle slope to an overlook above the west side of Virginia Creek at the 1-mile mark. The waterfall runs down several levels.
Rock ledges reach along these levels, and those with a keen eye may notice a spur trail leading to a large rock ledge. From here some excellent views of the tallest drop are available. This is a popular place for a break or even a spot of lunch, as you may imagine.
Once past the first set of falls the trail continues to climb up the west side of Virginia Creek. This section of the route passes a handful of pretty little cascades along the way then at 1.5 miles there is another junction.
The St. Mary Trail turns left here in an easterly direction, but if you keep to the right you’ll soon arrive at the stunning Virginia Falls. You can’t miss them as they rush over a rock ledge at the 1.6-mile stage of the route.
Anyone wanting to catch alternative angles of the falls can head back to the junction and turn east. After just a short distance you will cross a bridge with access to yet more great views of the falls.
When you have had your fill of the views of the scenic falls you can retrace your steps and return the way you came.
The Bottom Line
St. Mary Falls and the Virginia Falls form part of one of the most impressive and scenic outdoor experiences in the world. These falls are both undoubtedly among the most-visited within the national park, partly for the scenery but also for their ease of access.
On top of that, the falls and the route up to them can easily feature on the agendas of the majority of family visitors, allowing for hiking, scenery, and some incredibly picturesque falls all within half a day. The hike to the falls is short enough for most kids and the grade is very moderate.
The popularity of the falls means much more likelihood of crowds than you would encounter in some of the fewer tourist regions of the state.
That said, anyone who considers themselves a lover of waterfalls and the outdoors, in general, should experience the beauty of these falls if they find themselves anywhere near Glacier National Park on a trip to the Big Sky Country.