One Hike, Three Waterfalls

Glacier National Park

We find a space for our car at the Sunrift Gorge parking area and head across the Going-to-the-Sun Road to start the 5.4 mile out and back hike to Baring, St. Mary, and Virginia Falls. Actually, we find out later, we didn’t have to cross the street. A set of stairs leads down to the trail from the southern side of the road.

But I’m glad we did because we encounter the rushing waters of Baring Creek plunging down the steep and narrow canyon of Sunrift Gorge.

The gorge flattens out into shallow waters that polish the rocks with a brilliant shine.

Meanwhile, above the creek, gray clouds and the scorched remains of once-green trees dominate the landscape, the yellow-greens of the forest floor adding a welcome contrast.

Another sign reminds us that we are encroaching upon grizzly territory. This is no walk in the park.

Baring Creek guides us along the trail.

We arrive at the junction of Sun Point and Baring Falls Trails and veer to the right toward the falls.

Almost 1/3 mile later, we arrive at the footbridge crossing Baring Creek. Can you find it in the picture below?

We cross the narrow bridge over Baring Creek…

…And behold Baring Falls, a 25 foot high waterfall.

Baring Creek flows another 100 yards or so before spilling into St. Mary Lake.

We pass the small boat dock used by Glacier Park Boat Tours, a company that’s been running lake excursions on their wooden boats since 1938.

We continue walking along the southwestern bank of St. Mary Lake.

There has been a fire in Glacier National Park almost every year of its existence. The year with the most fires was 1936 with a total of 64. So far the only year with no fire on record was 1964. The summer of 2003 was the most significant fire season in the history of the park. Approximately 136,000 acres burned. (nps.gov)

It’s cloudy and gray but the colors surrounding us from the mountains, lake, and vegetation along the trail do not disappoint.

At the junction with the St. Mary Falls Shuttle Stop we keep left.

This plant with the spiky serrated leaves and cluster of blue berries looks like Oregon Grape.

Fire has painted this picture on a tree trunk. It reminds me of the surrealist style of Salvador Dali.

As we reach the St. Mary River, we hear the thunderous roar of water crashing down rocks.

The footbridge crosses the river where we stop for a view of St. Mary Falls in all directions.

St. Mary Falls drops a total of 35 feet in 3 separate tiers.

Once past the bridge, the trail continues for another 1.8 miles to Virginia Falls.

We follow Virginia Creek and encounter 2 more series of cascades. After hiking 1.2 miles from St. Mary Falls we reach the first series and discover 4 tiers of falling waters.

Back on the trail…

…We stop again after another .25 miles to enjoy the second series of cascades.

Ten minutes later we come to a side spur leading to a viewpoint for Virginia Falls. We decide to take the spur later, after heading up another 1/10th mile to the footbridge leading to the base of the 50 foot main fall.

Here’s a view looking down at the secondary chute that leads to a short cascade at the bottom…

…And a view of the landscape on top of Virginia Falls…

We cross the footbridge again and descend back down the trail to the side spur we missed before.

It’s time to retrace our steps and head back to our car tucked in the Sunrift Gorge parking area.

The trail in this direction offers more photo opts.

Do you see the tiny white streak in the middle of the picture below? That’s Virginia Falls!

I cannot identify this flower.

Aspen tree berries?…

My photo doesn’t capture the silver color of this tree trunk. I kid you not, these trunks look like they have been spray painted with silver!

An up-close look at charred trees, silver trunks, and scatters of slate rock shards…

A very yellow caterpillar…


Back at the car, we decide to continue east to St. Mary and take a different route back to Coram where our RV awaits us.

We take 89 South and 2 West along the southern boundaries of Glacier National Park.

Gray clouds crown the mountains overlooking the conifer forest as we drive away.

But then the traffic stops for 20 minutes for street rebuilding. After the construction area we travel unpaved roads for miles. Whose bright idea was it to take a different route home?

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