Ultimate St. Mary Guide: 8 Top Destinations in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park St. Mary Area | Introduction

Glacier National Park is divided into five areas: Lake McDonald, Many Glacier, North Fork and Goat Haunt, St. Mary, and Two Medicine. The St. Mary area refers to the vicinity of St. Mary Lake in the eastern half of the park, starting from the east entrance and extending along Going-to-the-Sun Road up to Logan Pass.

I really enjoy the natural scenery of St. Mary. Compared to the Lake McDonald area on the west side, St. Mary has fewer visitors and parking is not an issue. This might be because most people enter from the west entrance. The eastern part is relatively less commercialized. Excluding Logan Pass, there is only one visitor center, one store, a small lodge, a campground, and 12 hiking trails. If you don't plan to hike long trails, half a day to a full day should be enough. If you have more time, I recommend taking a boat tour on St. Mary Lake.

St. Mary Area | Transportation | Visitor Center

Upon entering the east entrance, you'll find the St. Mary Visitor Center. The visitor center originally had static exhibits about the local indigenous history, but currently, only the gift shop is open due to the pandemic, and you need to queue to enter. Rangers have set up an information desk outside. If you need to take a shuttle bus, you must reserve a ticket beforehand and collect it at the visitor center.

In 2021, the shuttle bus service stops included St. Mary Visitor Center, Rising Sun, Sun Point, and Jackson Glacier Overlook. However, after Sun Point, you need to transfer to a smaller vehicle, so if you plan to go to Logan Pass or Jackson Glacier Overlook, you will need to change buses.

Rising Sun

Another area with amenities is Rising Sun. The boat dock for lake tours is located here. Besides boating, there is a campground, the Rising Sun Motor Inn, and a store. However, there is no restaurant, so you will need to buy snacks from the small shop.

St. Mary | Lake Tour

The St. Mary Lake boat tour departs from the Rising Sun boat dock and offers two types of tours. Both tours stop at the west dock. If you choose the guided hike, the guide will lead a hike to Baring Falls and St. Mary Falls. The other tour, which is more common, gives about fifteen minutes of free time to walk to Baring Falls from the dock. If you choose to hike to St. Mary Falls on your own, be aware that you may have to wait for the next boat with available seats to return.

The westward boat ride offers a 360-degree view of the beautiful lake scenery. The guide provides commentary on the park's ecology and history during the trip. Observe the surrounding mountains and you'll see rocks of different colors, mainly Red Rock and Green Rock. Red Rock is red due to iron deposits from ancient shallow seas, while Green Rock, formed in deeper waters, lacks oxidized iron and instead reacts with other substances to appear green.

The boat circles around Wild Goose Island in the middle of the lake and on the return trip, you can still see a small remnant of Sexton Glacier.

St Mary | Attractions

Baring falls

We chose the regular boat tour, which allowed us fifteen minutes to visit Baring Falls after reaching the west dock. It only takes about three minutes to walk to Baring Falls, a small but beautiful waterfall.

Two dog flat

Two Dog Flat is essentially a meadow. If you visit around dusk, you might see many wild animals. We passed through St. Mary twice: once traveling east to Many Glacier and the other time heading west on our return trip. On our first visit, the wildfire smoke obscured the view across the lake. The second time, we realized the lake view here was actually quite beautiful.

Wildgoose Lookout

Wild Goose Lookout is right by the roadside, and I highly recommend stopping to take a look. We visited twice during our trip. The first time, the weather was bad, and we could barely see the lake, let alone the mountains. A few days later, we returned on a clear day, and it felt like we were seeing the place for the first time.

Sun Point

Sun Point Trailhead has a large parking lot. The trail is marked as 0.8 miles, but if you choose the right trailhead, a short and relatively flat walk will take you to Sun Point. This vantage point offers the best panoramic views of St. Mary Lake.

Sunrift gorge

Sunrift Gorge is a small roadside canyon. You can park and take a short walk. After passing a small waterfall, you'll see a narrow crevice, which is Sunrift Gorge. Our timing was not ideal, but with good lighting, it should be more beautiful. We didn't walk all the way down, but there are two routes from here: one leads directly to Siyeh Pass via the Siyeh Pass Trail (5.6 miles), and the other crosses the bridge to Baring Falls, connecting to St. Mary Falls.

St Mary Falls

We started hiking to St. Mary Falls from the St. Mary Falls Trailhead. This trail is 1.2 miles long and continues for another 0.7 miles to Virginia Falls. If you don't take the boat, you can hike 1 mile from St. Mary Falls to Baring Falls, allowing you to see all three major waterfalls in the St. Mary area in one go. Because we had the boat tour to Baring Falls, we only hiked to St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls. The air quality was terrible when we visited, so we even wore N95 masks while hiking, which made the scenery appear more hazy. Hiking with an N95 mask? It's... just hotter.

The first part of the trail goes through a forest that was affected by the 2015 Reynolds Fire, so there isn't much shade. The hike to St. Mary Falls isn't long, and you arrive fairly quickly. The waterfall, fed by snowmelt, is a striking blue-green color.

Virginia falls

After crossing the small bridge at St. Mary Falls, the trail starts to climb. This section is steeper than the path to St. Mary Falls, following the lower course of Virginia Falls upstream. Eventually, you reach Virginia Falls, the largest of the three waterfalls.

Jackson Glacier Overlook

Jackson Glacier is the easiest glacier to see in the park. You can park and view it from Jackson Glacier Overlook. Like other glaciers, it has been retreating and is now barely visible. It's hard to imagine that before 1910, Glacier National Park had 100 glaciers, reduced to 35 by 1966, and only 26 by 2015. It seems there are even fewer now.

Further reading

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