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LENGTH 3 mi + 2 mi
DIFFICULTY Easy, with a few blazing hot hills on the way out of the falls.
DATE July 6, 2017
MAIN FEATURES Two hikes in one day! The trail to the falls follows the path of a recent forest fire, 3 miles out and back. Several great spots for lunch and enjoying the spray of a HUGE waterfall on a hot day. The Highline trail is right off of the Logan Pass trail and offers vertigo-inducing views of the valley with the option on hanging onto a garden hose handrail. Definitely a must!
I’ve often thought of a forest as a living Cathedral, but this might diminish what it truly is. -Richard Nelson
Today’s adventure started at 7:30 am. Got to the Virginia Falls trailhead parking lot by 8:30 and it was already full and the sun blazing hot! This is a very popular trail, so if you are going during the busy season, earlier is better.
Loaded on another layer of sunscreen and grabbed my hiking poles. I wondered why I brought them on the way in since it was mostly downhill, and was glad to have them on the hot hike uphill on the way out.
The St Mary’s area was burned down in a forest fire a couple of years ago, it looked completely different from when we were there in 2013. The shady wooded hike I remembered was now an exposed field of lush green carpet, bright flowers and blazing sun. I just couldn’t get over how much the fire had changed the way the whole area felt. It’s worth noting that the forest seemed eager to rebuild itself with a lush bed of green and vibrant flowers taking all of the attention from the black toothpicks left for trees.
We stopped for a while at each of the falls and ate lunch at Virginia falls. The force of the spray soaked anyone who came near it and we were happy to cool off in the 90 degree heat.
We hung out here for at least an hour, goofing off, soaking our tired feet, enjoying the sun and lounging around a lot drinking up what we thought would be our last hike of the trip.
We didn’t see any bears this time, but our group saw a black bear cub near St Mary’s falls the last time we were here. I huffed and puffed up the last hill and made it back to the van with a magnificent layer of sweat and dirt covering my legs up to the knees. Dustiest 3 mile hike ever!
NEXT! We headed up the road to Logan pass to take a mandatory group photo next to the Continental Divide sign and see how the snow was melting. The Scouts had a snowball fight and climbed around on the piles of snow by the visitor center. We bumped into a couple from Australia that said that the Highline and Garden Wall had opened TODAY!! “Whaaaat?!” We jumped at the opportunity to squeeze in one more hike and hit the trail that we had heard so much about.
The Garden Wall had been one of the favorite hikes of the 2013 group and by the way the Scouts had described it, I expected it to be a lot more nerve wracking than it was. I was more cautious on the snow ridge overlooking Hidden Lake than this trail (mostly because I slid down it a couple of times). That being said, the steep drop was a little freaky for some of our hikers that aren’t crazy about heights. We walked through melting snow piles, snow fields, and grabbed amazing views of the heart of the park.
For weeks building up to the trip, my inner child told everyone that I was going to stick my tongue on a glacier to see if it would stick! Alas, all of our other trails leading to the glaciers were still closed… so I declared the ice formation hanging off the Garden wall a glacier and made my dream come true! Mother nature got me back, by scraping my tongue and it took about a week for it to feel normal again.
Dont lick glaciers. It’s a dumb idea.
One last chance at making the most of the Summer Snow, SNOW ANGELS on the Highline Trail!
Came back to the van sweatier, dirtier, and even happier with this bonus hike on our last day in the park.
Heard some hiker gossip when we got back to the Hostel. Hidden Lake was closed due to bear activity. Two hikers were allegedly chased by two grizzly bears for interrupting their fishing date! I can’t even imagine, I’m so glad we missed that! I felt so thankful that we were able to get down there before the trail closed and it remains my very favorite view from the trip.
Our next day would be spent saying goodbye to the good people of Brownie’s Hostel and getting ready for the long train ride.
John Muir advised wandering in Glacier National Park for a whole summer….or “Give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening it, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal. Nevermore will time seem short or long, and cares will never again fall heavily on you, but gently and kindly as gifts from heaven.” full quote here
Overall, the trip went pretty much as planned and as the trip leader I’m very happy everybody got to experience Glacier National Park and return home safe. I grew as a leader, mother and adventurer and can’t wait to return to this park to swoon again in it’s beauty.
I did take a little time on the train to reflect and jot down a few notes on what I learned or would do differently next time:
- The hostel was cool, but the scouts said they want a ‘no electricity’ trip next time (too many comforts of home). Consider combining a Hostel stay on the front and back end of the week to make catching the train easier with backpacking or camping in the middle.
- Daily reflection in the evening
- Daily patrol/troop time in the evening-game, etc.
- Pack less clothing. There’s a laundromat next door!
- Provide 2 meals on the train instead of 3. That was A LOT OF FOOD to haul around!
- Bring my hiking umbrella! The sun was blazing and I longed for it every day.
- The harder you hike, the more Huckleberry Ice Cream you can eat!
- Train more, hike farther, stand on an actual glacier!
- Bringing a hammock was awesome! I used it almost every day on and off trail.
- Always keep a journal, draw more pictures and slow down next time.
If you are a scout leader or just planning a trip out to Glacier and want to know other details about how our trip was planned, budget, etc. drop me a line and I’ll share the info I used to plan the trip and hopefully save you a little work.
Day 6 – Trail of the Cedars, Avalanche Lake and Paradise Point
Where to next?
2 thoughts on “Glacier National Park | St Mary, Virginia Falls, Garden Wall and Final Trip Thoughts”
Don’t lick glaciers.