St. Mary’s Lake and Fall Trail


“Saint Mary Lake is the second-largest lake in Glacier National Park. The Wildlife conservations would say that GNP is a wildlife park. The Geologists would say it is a Geology Park. But it is neither a Wildlife park nor a Geology park, Glacier National Park in Montana is mainly a water park. Without water, this park would not be what it is today. Today we were hiking to the St. Mary’s Falls, where when on reaching there, we paused for a moment closing our eyes, and assimilating and finding meaning in all the sounds that we heard. I have had never felt a waterfall like that before with my eyes closed. It sounded like a thunderstorm sound with heavy downpour of rain with sounds of water gushing in like how water gushes in floods everywhere. It was intense”

St. Mary Lake is located on the east side of Glacier National Park. It was a walk away from the Rising Sun Campground. We took the 3.5-hour ranger led guided hike “Boat Tour and Hike to St. Mary Falls". We cruised St. Mary Lake and heard stories about how Glacial forces sculpted the landscape. We also did the optional 3-mile hike to St. Mary Fall. You have to get into a boat by Glacier Park Boat Company from the boat dock at Rising Sun (10:00,12:00,2:00,4:00,6:30).

Other Posts I really liked on St. Mary Falls:

My Previous Posts on Glacier National Park:
Iceberg Lake Trail
Logan Pass and Hidden Lake Trail
Glacier National Park First Come First Serve Camping
A week in Glacier National Park: 20 Tips to get you started!

The Turquoise Blue Lake

The park of being a Glacier in the park is their ability to move under their own depth. As these glaciers move, they pick up pieces of rock and move them against other pieces of rocks. Glaciers rub rocks together and creates really fine powdery dust called Glacial Flour. And this Glacial Flour is such a fine powder that as the Glaciers melts into rivers, streams, waterfalls and lakes, the Glacial Flour stays in the entire trajectory. The light reflects out of these Glacial Flour pieces and changes them into turquoise blue. Saint Mary Lake is fed by Saint Mary River at the western end of the lake. There are 5 Glaciers that feed Saint Mary Lake, one of them is Sexton Glacier.

Tip1: When on the hike to St. Mary falls. Rub the rocks and make your own flour. We did it on our hikes.

The Blackfeet Tribes

Historically the east side of the continental divide belonged to the Blackfeet tribes. This was the area where these tribes would come for hunting, gathering, fishing and spiritual journeys. In the 1800’s the US Governor came and bought the mountains from the Blackfeet and in 1920, it became a national park. Today, these native American programs run inside as well as outside the park. In the Rising Sun Amphitheater, members of the Blackfeet Tribe share their cultural histories and traditions with visitors. In the St. Mary Visitor Center Auditorium, you can also watch the Blackfeet Singers and Dancers perform and also provides insights on their contemporary and traditional Blackfeet history and culture.

Tip2: Visit the native tribes’ programs in amphitheaters.

Yesteryear’s Going to the Sun Chalet on St. Mary

People from all over the US came to see national park first time. People used to arrive at the East Glacier Train Station and be on the horsebacks riding from one Chalet to Another. Going-to-the-sun chalet was one such chalet that had great dining room, dormitories and facilities. It also had a great view. Part of the mystery of Going – To- The – Sun chalet was you could only arrive there by boat. When people could drive into the park, they got interested in the new motor inn more and hence, the Going-To-The-Sun chalet was torn down as lesser and lesser people started coming in. Today we may see many hikers in the area.

The Hike

As we got down from the boat, we were all told that we had a pickup time of 1 o’ clock as the boat leaves that time. Our ranger initially told us, if we wanted to do the hike to Barring Falls we could from where the starting point of our hike was – it’s simply in another direction. We chose to follow her instead.

She counted the number of people on the hike and there were 38 people! She told us, that we make sure that she is in front of us, and she had the bear spray. She also loudly shouted “Marco” to which we were supposed to shout back “Polo” just to keep the noise flowing within the group. She told us the Bears wait for us to go silent, so we shouldn’t go silent.

Tip3: Be Bear Safe.

As we started hiking, she said, the first thing that we are going to encounter was a major hill initially. After having done Iceberg Trail and Grinnell we were convinced this is not going to be massively big deal. And it wasn’t.

There was a sight of the turquoise lake on our left from the hill. She told us that is because of the Glacial Flour we have when the Glaciers rub the rocks.

Triple Divide Peak

Most people familiar with Glacier National Park are likely familiar with Triple Divide Peak. The significance of this mountain, near Cut Bank, is that it's the point where rainwater flowing down its slopes eventually ends up in the Pacific, Atlantic or Arctic Oceans. Also known as “hydrological apex”, there are just two like these in the world.

The type of water that we have in St. Mary is type “A1” which is the cleanest clearest water you can find anywhere. One of the reasons they still have the purest water is because, they are very careful here.

You will notice that St. Mary Lake does not have any random boats cruising. The only boat that cruises are the approved boats such as the one that we came in. 2 hours away from here, there is a reservoir where there are invasive mussels that changes the water quality and ecosystem of water. There are no boats here because they are trying to prevent zebra mussels. Each season, before the boats go into this lake, it is been thoroughly inspected. Only if its mussels free and approved, it is let in.

Fact 1: Due to the increased potential for both Quagga and Zebra mussels to become introduced into Park waters, both Waterton Lakes and Glacier National Parks have established strict regulations regarding boat inspections.

Reynolds Creek Fire

“As you would hike further, you would see a massive chunk of forests burnt by 2015 Reynolds Creek Fire. In fact, on most of your hike you would see fire-dead trees but that also gives us terrific views of the lake as the view had cleared up.

Reynolds Creek Fire was a human caused fire the cause of which is still not known – if it was cigarette or if it was campfire or if it was something completely different. It started at Reynolds Creek Backcountry and while one of the rangers was on the afternoon hike with fellow people like us, they got to see smoke around the corner. And they spotted smoke coming from the forests, through the waterfall. They headed back into the boat. It was very hot and dry when the fire had started and since St. Mary is usually very windy, the fire spread rapidly, and 2000 acres of forests were burned. People from nearby campgrounds – rising sun and St. Mary were evacuated, and people could not see/drive to this side of the fire because of the miserable situation. This lasted from July till November until Snow shut the fire off. People were only able to drive in this area, only till next year post last July.

Fires are very significant in the park. Fires are evolutionary and revolutionary. We can see the landscape emerging, but we can also see scars on the surface. The trees before the fire wasn’t in that great condition, as it was beetle infested, and this area was a creepy forest. The fires also effect Glaciers. Due to climate change, it is said that most Glaciers in the park would be gone by 2030.

Tip3: Fall in love with the park, for real. There are more than 83 rangers in this park, but there are 3 million visitors that visit the park. If we don’t take of the park and its resources, it will be gone before our own two eyes.

Tip 4: As you travel on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, watch for numerous pullouts that provide opportunities to see Jackson Glacier, hike to 100-foot Virginia Falls or photograph Wild Goose Island. You can also do this hike from one of the many pullouts on the Going to the Sun road.

Tip 5: Another great way to experience the lake is via a scenic boat cruise. Glacier Park Boat Company provides tours June through September. And you have got to buy tickets for the cruise like we did.

All in all, hike by road and by water is a different experience in itself. However, if I would suggest one, I would say do the boat + the hike simply because you will then understand the waterscape of the park more.

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