Glacier National Park is brimming with scenic wonders, and Virginia Falls is up there with the greatest of them. The multi-tiered waterfall drops around 50 feet, spraying visitors with its minty blast of cool air—a perfect treat for a scorching August day.
The trailhead, which is marked ‘St. Mary Falls’, begins at the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road that traverses the park. The trail leads to a bridge that crosses the St. Mary River and is also a wonderful vantage point for viewing the stunning St. Mary Falls.
From here, the trail continues to Virginia Creek and then to the powerful Virginia Falls. There’s a viewing platform over the bridge that crosses the creek where park guests can stop to admire the cascading falls in all their beauty.
Virginia Falls is one of the park’s most beloved waterfalls because it’s extremely accessible. Park guests can get close enough to the mighty cascade to feel the water and take incomparable photos.
The best time to view the falls is in spring after the snow has melted.
Virginia Falls Stats
- Height: 50 feet (15.2 meters)
- Season: Year round, though may close due to unforeseen weather
- Number of campsites and RV Parks: 13 in Glacier National Park
Things to do at Virginia Falls
Virginia Falls is a sight that’s worth the hike, and on a hot summer day, there’s nothing better than getting close enough to feel the spray on your skin.
Naturally, hiking and simply viewing the waterfall are the main activities at Virginia Falls. Note that the rocks near the base of the falls can be quite slippery, but witnessing the landmark up close is worth the adventure.
The trail to Virginia Falls boasts plenty of other exquisite sights, including the blue St. Mary Falls.
This two-tiered waterfall is shorter than Virginia Falls but is still one of the most photographed locations in Glacier National Park due to the unusual blue color of the plunge, created by the minerals in the water.
On the way to Virginia Falls, you’ll also get unrivaled views of Dusty Star Mountain, Almost-a-Dog Mountain, Little Chief Mountain, and Reynolds Mountain.
Beyond Virginia Falls, Glacier National Park is a gateway to an abundance of outdoor recreation, and is home to over 700 miles of hiking trails, 25 glaciers, and 71 species of mammals.
From hiking to cycling to observing natural landmarks and viewing roaming wildlife, Glacier National Park offers infinite things to see and do.
Can you swim in Virginia Falls?
One of the reasons Virginia Falls is so popular is that it’s easily accessible. Park guests can take photos right at the base of the waterfall and enjoy the spray from the downpour.
However, swimming in Virginia Falls is not common given the power of the plummeting water and the presence of rocks at the base.
The good news is there are a few other locations in Glacier National Park that make great swimming spots during the summer months.
The creek below St. Mary Falls, for example, features a gentler water flow and is better suited to swimming and wading. Meanwhile, Lake McDonald is one of the most popular swimming locations in the park.
Keep in mind that many of the rivers and lakes are fed by snowmelt, so the water in the park is colder than many visitors may be expecting.
Fishing at Virginia Falls
Montana is iconic for its fly fishing opportunities. While there are several premium fishing destinations in and around Glacier National Park, Virginia Falls is not one of them.
In the rivers and lakes of the park, there are 22 kinds of fish, including six species of trout. There’s also no need for a fishing license in the park, although in some locations anglers will be required to catch and release because of heavy fishing traffic.
Some of the best spots in the park for fishing include Hidden Lake (although there is a catch and release policy here), Bullhead Lake, Lake Josephine, Red Rock Lake, Snyder Lake, and the aptly named Trout Lake.
Camping at Virginia Falls
Glacier National Park is open 24 hours a day, and many visitors choose to revel in the outdoors experience by setting up camp.
The park offers 13 front country campgrounds in total, some of which park guests can reserve ahead of time. Others run on a first-come-first-served basis only, and some campgrounds have both systems available.
There is a campground in Glacier National Park for every kind of traveler, whether you prefer a primitive experience to push you out of your comfort zone, a communal-minded campsite where you can meet other travelers, or camping with a few extra amenities.
The campgrounds are scattered right around Glacier National Park, and those that are the closest to Virginia Falls are:
- Rising Sun Campground – First-come, first-served
- St. Mary Campground – Reservation only
- Cut Bank Campground – First-come, first-served
- Avalanche Creek Campground – First-come, first-served
- Sprague Creek Campground – Reservation only
For a full list of the campgrounds in Glacier National Park, please see the National Park Service website.
Is there cabin rental or hotels near Virginia Falls?
Of course, camping isn’t the only type of lodging available in Glacier National Park. For those who can’t or don’t want to camp, there are also several hotels, lodges, inns, and cabin rentals available.
In addition to those inside Glacier National Park itself, there are lodges in the communities surrounding the entrances, just outside the park. Those accommodation options outside the park tend to be more affordable and fill up less quickly.
Some of the closest cabin rentals to Virginia Falls include:
$ – Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and Cabins – Columbia Falls
$$ – Rising Sun Motor Inn and Cabins – St. Mary Lake
$$$ – East Glacier Motel & Cabins – East Glacier Park
$$$ – Traveler’s Rest Lodge – East Glacier Park
Some of the closest hotels, inns, and lodges to Virginia Falls include:
$$ – Montana’s Duck Lake Lodge – Babb
$$ – St. Mary Village – St. Mary
$$ – Lake McDonald Lodge – Lake McDonald
$$ – Granite Park Chalet – West Glacier
$$$ – Village Inn at Apgar – Lake McDonald
$$$ – Many Glacier Hotel – Browning
$$$ – Sperry Chalet – east of Lake McDonald
$$$ – Glacier Peaks Hotel – Browning
St Mary Falls/Virginia Falls
If seeing Virginia Falls is on your Glacier National Park bucket list, then this trail is naturally a must. The trail leaves from the Going-to-the-Sun Road and takes you past St Mary Falls before continuing on to Virginia Falls.
Stretching for 2.9 miles (4.7 km) near Siyeh Bend, the trail is an easy route that hikers of all fitness levels can complete. It’s also one of the most popular hikes in the park due to the famous sights of St Mary and Virginia Falls, so be prepared to encounter many other hikers on your way.
There’s a total elevation gain of 452 feet (138 meters) on this trail, and it takes most people an average of an hour and 20 minutes to complete. Though there are a few steep spots, most of the trail is steady and well maintained.
This is a great option for kids given the easiness of the trail and the exciting waterfalls along the way.
Sun Point Nature Trail
If you’re looking for an easy and short route near Virginia Falls, the Sun Point Nature Trail is a good choice.
At 1.6 miles (2.7 km), the trail takes around 45 minutes for most people to complete. It’s a popular route with park guests who use it for hiking, trail running, and even bird-watching
The elevation gain of this trail is a gentle 213 feet (65 meters) and it lies conveniently near East Glacier Park Village. To get the most out of the trail and enjoy the surrounding scenery, aim to visit between April and October.
Visitors can’t bring their dogs on this trail, even on a leash, but it’s renowned as a great spot for wildlife viewing. Along the route, you’ll also see wondrous views of the surrounding mountains and St. Mary Lake.
Glacier National Park is famous for its pristine alpine lakes, and the Otokomi Lake Trail will take you to one of the prettiest. The trail begins near East Glacier Park Village and is considered challenging because of the steep terrain in some areas.
The Otokomi Lake Trail runs for 10 miles (16.7 km) and takes about five and a half hours to complete. It’s a good option if you’re looking for a longer hike that will take half a day, or a hike that will take the whole day if you plan on many leisurely stops.
This is one of the less populated trails in Glacier, so it’s also ideal for those who don’t like to run into lots of traffic while hiking. With total elevation gains of 2303 feet (702 meters), it can be strenuous at points, but the views of the crystal-blue lake are worth it.
Red Eagle Lake
Beginning near East Glacier Park Village, the Red Eagle Lake Trail is ideal for those seeking an all-day out-and-back adventure. The route is considered moderately challenging, with most hikers able to complete it in around six and a half hours.
The Red Eagle Lake Trail extends for 17 miles (28.5 km) and meanders through areas with wide valley views. Sections of the trail also pass the river. Animal sightings are frequent on this trail, so be sure to look out for moose, black bears, and foxes
Many of the trees that once lined the path were cleared out in the 2006 wildfire, so the trail receives high sun exposure in certain stretches. Don’t forget your weather protection!
The Florence Falls Trail lies near Siyeh Bend. It stretches for 9 miles (14.8 km) and gains 1,174 feet (358 meters) of elevation along the way.
While it’s steeper in some parts, it’s generally considered a trail of moderate difficulty that most hikers can complete in just under four hours.
The views of wildflowers and the surrounding landscape are at their best in the warmer months between May and September. Of course, the highlight of this trail is the spellbinding Florence Falls at the end of the trail.
This is a great hike for those looking for something not too easy but also not too strenuous.