Saint Mary Lake

Saint Mary Lake is among many natural treasures in Glacier National Park.

While there are plenty of hiking opportunities in and around the Gallatin Valley, The Treasure State is chock full of outdoor adventure.

From Lewis and Clark Caverns to Yellowstone National Park, there are a plethora of activities for one to enjoy. But none really compare to splendor of Glacier National Park.

The park encompasses more than 1,500 square miles in the Rocky Mountains and features towering peaks, glaciers and dense wilderness. I visited two years ago and traveled the entire Going-to-the-Sun Road, but didn’t really have the opportunity to hike much of the more than 700 miles of trails.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic threw a slight monkey wrench into my plans, but I was still able to enjoy about half a dozen trails during a two-day trip last week.

Travel on Going-to-the-Sun Road had been limited and Logan Pass had only opened the day before my arrival. Visitors are still not allowed to drive the entire road and have to turn around at Rising Sun before reaching St. Mary where the east entrance is located.

That means visitors can only access the park through the west entrance, which led to congested traffic and limited parking. I wanted to hike Avalanche Lake on Day 1 of the trip, but there was no where to park.

St. Mary Falls

St. Mary Falls is the second of three waterfalls along the trail that parallels a long portion of Saint Mary Lake.

On to Logan Pass for my second choice, Highline Trail (turns out the trail was closed), but after circling the parking lot for 15 minutes without success, I headed down the less congested east side of the road.

It was there that I pulled into the Rising Sun Picnic Area and found plenty of available parking. I loaded up my backpack and then headed west on a trail adjacent to the picnic area.

The trail follows Saint Mary Lake for a mile or two and had plenty of traffic from other hikers. While the lake views were spectacular, it was the three waterfalls that I was most interested in viewing.

The first, Baring Falls, was the smallest of the three and features a small wooden bridge to cross the creek below the falls. The second, St. Mary Falls, was my favorite due to the aqua colored water and also features a wooden bridge.

Another mile further up the trail was Virginia Falls, a towering waterfall that could be seen in the distance on the way to St. Mary Falls. Visitors can walk right up to the base of the falls, although one will quickly get wet.

I would describe the trail as moderate — there were hikers and families of all ages and ability — and was 6.5 miles round trip if traveling all the way to Virginia Falls.

How to get there: From the west entrance of Glacier National Park, drive Going to the Sun Road east to the Rising Sun Picnic Area area towards St. Mary. Once there, the trail is easy to locate and travels southwest to Baring Falls, St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls.

— Dan Chesnet is the sports editor of the Belgrade News and can be reached at dchesnet@belgrade-news.com.