On this day, we decided to try our luck again at getting a parking spot for the St. Mary Falls trail head. We had considered using the shuttle that runs the Going to the Sun Road, but as we had heard it was not terribly frequent or reliable, we decided to give it a shot. We again did not find a spot when we arrived, but after waiting around for five to ten minutes, we were able to snag one as someone was leaving. So the keys to getting parking after 9 or 10am simply seem to be patience and assertiveness.
This trail was a 5 to 6 mile roundtrip hike with only slight changes in elevation. Having done the steep Apgar Lookout trail the day before, this seemed like the perfect amount of activity for us, though we considered going further to see Sunrift Gorge depending on how we felt afterwards.
The beginning of the trail was perhaps most fascinating and beautiful as it had experienced a forest fire the year prior. All of the trees were torched and bare, but the underbrush was an extremely vibrant, lush green complemented by the various colors of all of the wildflowers thriving there as well. It reminded us of how forest fires, though tragic when out of control, can be a healthy part of maintaining the ecosystem. It was also slightly disorienting and beautiful to see the bare trees – which reminded us of winter – with such colorful growth that so clearly showed it was summer.
St. Mary Falls was very pretty. Multi-tiered, there was a footbridge and several large rocky areas you could observe it from at different angles. The water rushing down bottom appeared to be a beautiful light turquoise color, which was perhaps the most endearing feature to me.
We then came upon the next waterfall, which we assumed to be Virginia Falls. Lucky for us, a woman who asked to see our map informed us otherwise (Glacier sells a set of four detailed trail maps for $1, by the way. If you visit, it will be the best dollar you spend!). We are still not sure if it was somehow connected to Virginia Falls or unnamed, but it was another pleaser nonetheless.
So we kept going on the trail to pursue Virginia Falls. We came upon a lookout near the bottom of the falls, which was a nice spot to eat our lunch on a log.
We then kept climbing as the woman we met told us that we should keep going until we are right on top of the falls. Not totally sure what we were looking for, we kept coming upon different viewpoints of the rushing water.
Once we came upon the lookout she referenced, there was no doubt in our minds we had reached it. Here, we could walk across a footbridge on a large piece of rock and walk within feet of the base of the largest and most powerful part of the falls. It was awesome to feel the power of the water rush past us and spray us with ice cold water.
The way back on was to retrace our steps but it was a still very pleasant and beautiful walk. I think it is impossible to have a boring walk in this park! Before reaching the parking lot, we headed East to see Sunrift Gorge, but turned back early on as we heard thunder to avert the impending downpour. We still got some fantastic views of St. Mary Lake in the process though, another turquoise body of water with gorgeous mountainous backdrops.
We both agreed this would be a great trail to bring our kids back to one day and returned to plan the next day’s adventure.