Last week, I left off at Logan Pass, an absolute highlight of Glacier National Park. Continuing on from here, Going-to-the-Sun Road drops down into the Saint Mary Valley in the eastern half of Glacier.
The Saint Mary section of the park is, in my mind, the land of waterfalls. There are still mountains and lakes and glaciers, just like the rest of the park. But there are quite a few waterfalls around Saint Mary Lake, most of which are fairly easy to visit.
Descending from Logan Pass, the first major feature is Siyeh (SEE-yuh) Bend, which is more a feature of the road than the landscape, but there is a somewhat concave shape to the mountains here as well. The road crosses over Siyeh Creek; this is a nice place to pull over and wander around a bit to take in the views.
Next is Jackson Glacier Overlook, with views of Jackson Peak and Jackson Glacier way off in the distance.
Also in this area is a 1.1 mile (1.8 km) trail with a 650 foot (200 m) descent to Deadwood Falls. The falls is not tall, but is very pretty. The trail is narrow and densely lined with thimbleberry bushes (AKA bear food). Not knowing this, my mom and I made the (not so) brilliant last-minute decision to hike to the falls at 6pm in early September. We quickly realized that walking amongst berry bushes in the evening in the fall wasn’t the smartest of plans.
Suffice it to say this was the fastest and noisiest 2.2 miles (3.6 km) we’ve ever hiked.
From here, Going-to-the-Sun Road parallels Saint Mary Lake for the entire 12 mile (19 km) length of shoreline, providing a stretch of fabulous scenery.
At the west end of the lake are pullouts for Sunrift Gorge and a bunch of waterfalls. Sunrift Gorge requires about a 500 foot (150 m) walk up from the north side of the road. On the south side is the short Sun Point Nature Trail out to the shores of the lake.
The Saint Mary Trail also leaves from this parking lot and traverses a scenic and colorful path along the shore of Saint Mary Lake to 5 waterfalls.
The first is Baring Falls, a quick 0.3 miles (0.5 km) from the road. Less than a mile beyond Baring Falls is Saint Mary Falls.
Just beyond Saint Mary Falls is an unnamed waterfall on Virginia Creek, with Almost-a-Dog Mountain rising in the background. And about 3/4 miles (1.1 km) from Saint Mary Falls is the towering Virginia Falls, which drops approximately 70 feet (21 m) and is probably one of the largest waterfalls in Glacier in terms of water volume.
Overall, the round-trip hike to these four waterfalls is about 3.6 miles (5.8 km) with a total elevation gain of around 550 feet (160 m). A relatively easy hike with a lot of bang for your buck! From Saint Mary Falls, you can also turn up the Gunsight Pass trail to Florence Falls. I only recently learned of this detour, so it’s still on my to-do list.
Beyond these trailheads, Going-to-the-Sun Road follows Saint Mary Lake to the two campgrounds on the east side of the park: Rising Sun and Saint Mary.
This is, sadly, the area that burned in 2015 in the Reynolds Creek Fire. I saw the area from a distance while the fire was still burning but I haven’t seen it up close.
I know that fire is a natural part of the ecosystem (when it’s not started by a dumbass with a cigarette or fireworks, that is), but it’s sad to know that this section of Glacier will never look the same again in my lifetime. On the other hand, without the dense tree cover my mom tells me that you can now see Virginia Falls from the road, way off in the distance!
Well, that concludes the Going-to-the-Sun Road section of the park. In the next post, we’ll head north. Stay tuned!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: Saint Mary is the eastern entrance to Glacier National Park, 45 minutes northwest of the town of Browning
- Fees & passes: $30 per car for a 7-day pass; Interagency Annual Pass accepted
- Camping: Rising Sun (84 sites, $20 per night, reservations NOT accepted) and Saint Mary (148 sites, $23 per night, reservations accepted) campgrounds are the only two options along the eastern half of Going-to-the-Sun Road
- Hiking: there are a ton of hikes in this area, and multiple routes to Saint Mary Falls, so this list would be very long. Instead, I’ll just send you here for more info.
- Other: bears, deer, and mountain lions – this is the short list of potential animals that may be wandering through the campgrounds at any given time, so following all camping rules and regulations is extremely important!