Within Glacier National Park there are several “must-do” hikes. Making the top list is the Three Falls Trail. As you may have already guessed, the Three Falls Hike will take you by some of the most spectacular waterfalls in the entire state including the famed St Mary Falls.
We know you can’t wait to check out the cascading waters for yourself, but you can’t start hiking down the trail with no preparation. How can you know where to go and what to bring before you make your way to the falls?
No need to be sweating bullets! Let us show you the way with our guide to conquering this hike that will show you the spectacular Baring Falls, St Mary Falls and Virginia Falls. We’ll let you know everything you need to know before you take the first steps in Glacier National Park.
Glacier National Park is a Shangri-La for all of the most breathtaking wonders of nature. From mystical snowy mountain tops to tranquil lakes reflecting jagged peaks, hikers have been captivated by Montana’s beauty for generations.
We hope you are ready for adventure, because your journey to Glacier National Park starts here.
Don’t leave home without your own: Lonely Planet USA’s National Parks (Travel Guide)
Three Falls Hike in Glacier National Park
Know Before You Go
As you may have already guessed, the Three Falls Hike includes three of Glacier National Parks’ most famous waterfalls, as well as several other unnamed waterfalls. The three waterfalls are the Baring Falls Virginia Falls and the famous St Mary Falls.
The Three Falls Hike is considered moderate, which means your average hiker will be able to push their way through to the end. This hike is on a there and back trail, with two possible start points for the complete trail and an additional start for a shortened version.
Three Falls Hike Options
- Start at Sun Point Parking Lot: (orange marker on map) This is the official trailhead for the Three Falls hike. This out and back trail is a total of 6 miles, 3 miles out to Virginia Falls and 3 miles back to the Sun Point parking lot.
- Start at Sunrift Gorge Shuttle Stop: (yellow marker on map)This out and back route is a total of 5 miles, 2.5 miles out to Virginia Falls and 2.5 miles back to the Sunrift Gorge shuttle stop.
- Start at St Mary Falls Shuttle Stop: (purple market on map) This shortened out and back route is a total of 3 miles, 1.5 miles out to Virginia Falls and 1.5 miles back to the St Mary Falls shuttle stop. It does not visit Baring Falls.
Depending on when you visit, there are plenty of options for shortening this hike by using the shuttle service that runs through the park. For example, you could park at Sun Point, hike to Virginia Falls and then out to the St Mary Falls shuttle stop to hitch a ride back to your car.
Regardless, if you plan to see all three of the waterfalls, you should give yourself at least 3 hours to complete the hike. This leaves time for photo taking, water/snack breaks and rests if needed.
Before you visit Glacier National Park make sure you have your days planned out to avoid disappointment. The park gets very busy for the short season that is open and parking is hard to come by.
Here are 16 amazing things to do in Glacier National Park that will make your trip epic.
Who Should Do the Three Falls Hike?
The Three Falls Hike is noted as being one of the most popular trails of Glacier National Park. Even though everyone wants to see the falls for themselves, this does not mean that the hike is for everyone.
The complete Three Falls Hike is considered moderate and may be too much for a novice hiker. The trail has an elevation change of about 800 feet, this means that hikers will have to tackle steep slopes while hiking to each of the falls.
Those who are unfit or unable to push through steep trails may want to rethink hiking the Three Falls trail. Know your limits and plan accordingly.
If you feel the whole trail could be a bit too much, consider some of the shorter options, namely the shortest from the St Mary Falls shuttle stop.
The Three Falls Hike, especially the St Mary section, is one of the most popular trails of Glacier National Park. If you’re an off the beaten path traveler or simply someone not wanting to deal with the crowds, you’ll want to be sure to arrive early or outside of the peak season.
This is just one of the many great hikes found in Glacier National Park. If you are looking for other great hikes check out: 15 Glacier National Park Hikes For All Skill Levels.
Location of the Hike
Located right off the Going to the Sun Road, the Three Fall Hike can be easily accessed without having to worry about long treks through the woods just to reach the trailhead.
What makes the Three Falls Hike unique is that there are three different ways to start the trail. The most popular starting point is from the Sun Point parking lot.
Alternatively, you can also start the trail from Sunrift Gorge which is located near Baring Falls or at the St Mary Falls shuttle stop. Both of the points are serviced by the shuttle bus.
The shuttle buses on the eastern section of the Going to the Sun Road service stops between the St Mary Visitor Center and Logan Pass. Sunrift Gorge and St Mary Falls are the 4th and 5th stops from the visitor center.
The first service leaves Logan Pass at 9:00 am and the last one leaves at 5:00 pm. The shuttle runs from July 1st to Labor Day.
Best Time To Go
Since Glacier National Park is a place where hikers can explore remote patches of alpine ice and snowy mountain peaks, the winter season is a part of the year where much of the park is closed due to heavy snowfall.
With the winter season lasting from November to April, when is the best time of the year to hike the Three Falls Trail?
The most popular time of the year to visit Glacier National Park is during July and August. The only downside is that this is the high season for the park, which means you’ll have to deal with tons of crowds and lack of parking at St Mary Falls.
The best time of the year to visit Glacier National Park and visit the Three Falls is during the fall. During September and October, most of the park will still be open and you will be free to explore without hoards of other tourists breathing down your neck.
What To Bring on Your Hike
We know you can’t wait to head out on the trails. But the last thing you need to consider before you lace up your boots and head out is what you need to pack in your backpack.
In a place like Glacier National Park, the weather can be unpredictable. Especially in the higher altitudes, you can get snowfall any time of the year. Even if you are visiting the park in the middle of the summer, be sure to pack some warm clothing just in case the weather takes an unexpected turn.
On the other hand, higher altitudes also mean you’ll be closer to the sun. Although you may not feel hot, your skin can still burn. Be sure to bring along a shady hat and sunscreen to protect yourself on the trail.
Although it might sound scary, you’ll also want to bring along some bear spray. Glacier National Park is home to the largest concentration of Grizzly Bears in the United States. Although uncommon, it never hurts to be prepared for the unexpected.
Lastly, you should never set out on any length of hike without sufficient water and food. Yes, even in bear country. Make sure each hiker in your group is carrying a minimum of 2 liters of water. Also, pack high energy foods like Clif bars and trail mix to keep you fueled.
Do you have the right hiking gear? Discover 40 Hiking Essentials: The Ultimate Hiking Packing List.
Step by Step Guide to Hiking the Three Falls Hike
Start at the Sun Point Parking Lot
There are actually three places where you can start your hike along the Three Falls Hike. That said, the official start of this particular trail, which will take you to Baring Falls, St Mary Falls and Virginia Falls, begins at the Sun Point parking lot.
Unlike the other two start points I’ll mention below, this one has a large parking lot, public restrooms, picnic tables and water stations. Your chances of getting a parking spot, even during the peak of the high season are good.
If you are self driving in Glacier National Park, versus using the shuttle system, this should be your one and only plan if you want to do this hike.
If you are utilizing the shuttle system, you can still utilize the Sun Point start, or the next best option is to disembark and start hiking at the Sunrift Gorge shuttle stop, the 4th stop. There is a small parking lot here but it is often full early in the morning and stays that way all day.
If you manage to score a spot there though, you can enjoy a slightly shorter hike along the Three Falls trail with less backtracking. From this start, your first waterfall will still be Baring Falls before you continue to St Mary Falls and then Virginia Falls before returning.
If you’re short on time, taking the shuttle and are ok with missing Barring Falls, you can get off at the St Mary Falls Shuttle Stop and start hiking from there. On this abbreviated trail, you’ll see only St Mary Falls and Virginia Falls before backtracking back to the same shuttle stop.
St Mary Falls Shuttle Stop is located about 10.6 miles away from Mary Falls Visitor Center and is the 5th stop on the shuttle service.
If you’re starting from the Sun Point parking lot or the Sunrift Gorge shuttle stop, Baring Falls will be the first waterfall that the trail reaches. It’s not directly on the trail, so you’ll need to listen for the rushing water and follow the path from the creek to the falls.
You can do this when you reach the bridge. This waterfall is a hidden gem, as the rocks that lie in the creek bed are a rainbow of colors that look absolutely gorgeous with the water rushing over them (see above!).
If you start your hike at the St Mary shuttle stop and have both the time and energy, you can still see Baring Falls after you hike to St Mary Falls and Virginia Falls. This will involve some backtracking.
From Virginia Falls you’ll have to head back to the Piegan Pass Trail Junction. The signpost will indicate that the trail leads to Sun Point, you’ll find Baring Falls on this route.
This section of the trail hugs the Going to the Sun Road, so don’t be surprised if you hear cars whizzing by. You’ll also be given several stunning views of St Mary Lake below. The trail continues towards the lake until you’re at the banks themselves. After another few hundred meters, you’ll reach the Baring Falls.
After relaxing by the secluded Baring Falls, all that is left is to cross the bridge over Baring Creek, reach Siyeh Pass Junction, and hop on the shuttle bus at Sunrift Gorge Shuttle Stop.
St Mary Falls
As you make your way down the Three Falls Hike, there are several junctions that you’ll have to be on the lookout for. The first one is just 0.25 miles down the trail; at Piegan Pass Junction hikers should take a right.
Before long hikers will come across another junction, you’ll need to make a left onto the St Mary Trail. Don’t worry though, this trail is well marked and easy to navigate once you are on the trail.
Following the St Mary River, you’ll hear the falls roaring in the distance. The waterfall has a drop of over 35 feet and cascades at 3 different levels. You’ll find this stop to be the most popular on the hike, as many people get off the shuttle, go straight here and then return to the bus.
That said, it is possible to find quiet places to enjoy the falls, eat some lunch/snacks, hydrate, take off your boots for a bit and just chill. You’ll also see plenty of people jumping off the cliffs into the river on a nice day, too.
After taking plenty of pictures and resting your feet, you can continue to the next leg of your journey towards Virginia Falls.
Leaving St Mary Falls behind, your next step will be to follow Virginia Creek which leads to no other than Virginia Falls. Along the way, you’ll pass a couple of other spectacular waterfalls that have not earned a name over all the years.
These cascade extensions of Virginia Falls are one of the highlights of this hike, so be sure to take your time climbing down to them for a look. The pools are bright teal and very refreshing on a nice day.
To reach Virginia Falls though, you will face, yet again, another junction called Virginia Falls Viewpoint Junction. In order to visit Virginia Falls, you’ll have to take a left, the right leads back towards St Mary Lake Trail.
This part of the trail can be confusing and plenty of people miss seeing Virginia Falls here! Which really isn’t that tragic since the other waterfalls are spectacular, but if you have the goal of getting there, watch the signs closely here.
The Virginia Falls stand a bit taller than St Mary Falls at 50 feet and is the perfect crown to the Three Falls Hike.
Retracing Your Steps Back
As the Three Falls Hike is along an out and back trail, it is at this point that you will have to turn around and retrace your steps along the route to complete your hike.
This will bring you to the St Mary Shuttle Stop, Sunrift Gorge Shuttle Stop or all the way back to Sun Point parking lot, depending on your plans.
Planning more hikes in Glacier National Park? Check out the Avalanche Lake Trail
|America's Canyonlands Express|
Las Vegas to Las Vegas
|Discover American Canyonlands|
Las Vegas to Las Vegas
|National Parks of the American West
Las Vegas to San Francisco
|Check Price||Check Price||Check Price|
More on USA Travel:
- Ultimate USA Travel Guide
- US National Parks Bucket List (All 62 Parks By State)
- 25 Best Things to do in Whitefish, Montana
- 6 Reasons to Stay at the Grouse Mountain Lodge When You Visit GNP
- Best Hikes in the USA: 15 Stunning Trails You Cannot Miss
- 15 Best Cities to Visit in the USA
- How to Plan A Road Trip in 10 Easy Steps