Glacier National Park is known for its jaw-dropping mountain scenery, and the hike to Virginia Falls has no shortage of incredible and iconic views. Along the trail, you’ll see the beautiful St. Mary Lake, waterfalls, rugged peaks, and maybe even some wildlife. This trail can also be accessed from multiple points, allowing hikers to pick the distance they want to hike and allowing a bit more flexibility regarding the limited parking. Here are the details of hiking to Virginia Falls!
Getting to the Trailhead
The Virginia Falls trail sits off Going-to-the-Sun Road not too far from the St. Mary entrance. As mentioned above, there are multiple spots to park at along St. Mary Lake to access this trail: Sun Point, the Sunrift Gorge parking area, and the St. Mary Falls parking area. You can also tie into this trail from the Jackson Glacier Overlook further away from St. Mary Lake, which ties in at St. Mary Falls. We did not hike this portion of the trail because we chose to walk along the lake.
Multiple trail access points offer a bit more flexibility since there is limited parking and spaces can fill up quickly. Sun Point has the most parking available, but even there, you may need to circle a few times until a spot opens up. Check the road conditions before your visit to ensure that Going-to-the-Sun Road is open.
There is also a free shuttle that runs to these various points along St. Mary Lake. The shuttle is first-come, first-served. For more information and shuttle map, click here. There are restrooms at the St. Mary and Sun point parking areas.
A national park pass is required to hike to Virginia Falls. For a private vehicle, a seven-day pass costs USD$35 in the summer and $25 in the winter (November through April). You can purchase the various Glacier passes at the toll stations or self-registration booths at the park or beforehand online.
If you spend a lot of time outdoors at the national parks, monuments, recreation areas, etc., you may find it worth it to purchase an America the Beautiful annual parks pass. It costs $80 for a year. This pass covers the entrance to Glacier National Park.
Note that in addition to a parks pass, visitors must have a vehicle reservation to access the Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor and North Fork area between mid-May and mid-September between the hours of 6a.m. and 4p.m. For more info on the reservation system, click here.
Hiking to Virginia Falls
Hike Type: Easy out-and-back trail
Distance: 5.8 miles roundtrip from Sun Point, 5 miles roundtrip from Siyeh/Sunrift Gorge, 3.2 miles roundtrip from the St. Mary Falls parking area.
Duration: 1.5-3 hours, depending on your starting point.
Regulations: A pass is required to hike this trail. Pets and drones are not permitted.
The Trail to Virginia Falls
The hike to Virginia Falls was one of our first stops on this Glacier National Park excursion. We parked at Sun Point, eager to get on the trail. It was a weekday in mid-September, but the trailheads were already pretty busy by the time we arrived mid-morning.
We descended from the parking area, quickly arriving at the trail skirting above the shores of beautiful Saint Mary Lake. We were greeted by stunning views of the valley, surrounding rugged peaks, and wildflowers as we walked through the area burned by a wildfire in 2015.
After less than a mile, we arrived at Baring Falls. This short waterfall sits tucked in a little cove surrounded by pines. From the falls, we continued along the path, rounding our way around the west end of St. Mary Lake. Not too far upstream from where St. Mary Creek enters the lake, we came to St. Mary Falls. There was a bridge spanning over the blue water and hikers sat on the surrounding rocks to take in the views.
From there, the trail began to climb slightly, winding along Virginia Creek. The crowds thinned a bit as we left St. Mary Falls behind us. We were no longer hiking through the burn area and we enjoyed the shaded path through the woods.
Virginia Falls appeared through the trees. We stood below the tall ribbon of water on the rocks below. All of the falls we had seen along this trail that morning were beautiful, but this one was our favorite! After enjoying the scenery for a bit, we headed back the way we came, excited to continue our drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road.
What to Bring to Hike to Virginia Falls
Water: A hike essential.
Passes: You’ll need to present your parks pass and your reservation to access Going-to-the-Sun Road if it is required at the time of your visit.
Snacks: In case you want to refuel along the trail. Make sure to pack out all your trash!
Sturdy Walking Shoes: The trail is isn’t too rough, but there are some rocky sections and potentially slick areas by the water. It can also get muddy and icy during some parts of the year. Wear hiking shoes with good tread.
Mini First Aid Kit: An item we always like to have just in case.
Camera: To capture the views and the wildlife you may see.
Bear Spray: Bears frequent the area, so bring along your bear spray and know how to use it.
Layers: Even in the summer it can be chilly, so we recommend bringing light layers and/or a wind breaker.
Sun Protection: Some parts of the trail provide little shade. Bring sunglasses, a hat, and/or sunscreen to protect your skin while outdoors.