Beautiful Sun Point Nature Trail in Glacier National Park
The Sun Point Nature Trail may be the shortest hike in Glacier National Park, but it leads to stunning views. Some of the best in the park, in fact! This guide breaks down all the details of this short, sweet, and criminally underrated hike, including how to connect to THREE waterfalls.
In a national park renowned for its epic full-day and backcountry hikes, the Sun Point Nature Trail is a genuine surprise.
It offers near-300-degree views and overlooks Saint Mary Lake, surrounded by craggy, glacier-shaped mountains and with deep turquoise blue water that looks more like it belongs in the Caribbean than Montana.
Sun Point is also easily accessible and has one of the largest parking lots along Going-to-the-Sun Road—an anomaly in Glacier National Park. As if all that weren’t enough, you can reach a whopping three waterfalls from here!
All this in a super easy, super short “hike,” with several options to extend it into a bigger challenge. Keep reading, because we explore all of them in this guide.
Tip: In addition to details about hiking Sun Point Nature Trail itself, we included a ton of extra info. How to get vehicle reservations, best time of year for the hike, what to bring, and more! Use the Table of Contents below to jump directly to (or skip!) any specific section.
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Jump ahead to:
- Sun Point Nature Trail Highlights
- Sun Point Nature Trail Hike Details
- Know Before You Go
- 2024 Glacier National Park Vehicle Reservations
- Getting to Sun Point Glacier National Park
- Going-to-the-Sun Road Shuttle Service
- Best Time to Hike The Sun Point Nature Trail
- How Difficult is The Sun Point Nature Trail?
- How Long Does the Sun Point Hike Take?
- Cell Service
- Using AllTrails in Glacier National Park
- Sun Point Nature Trail Parking
- The Bathroom Situation
- Wildlife on the Trail
- Tips for Hiking the Sun Point Nature Trail
- What to Bring on Your Sun Point Nature Trail Hike
Sun Point Nature Trail Highlights
- Location: Rising Sun area of Glacier National Park, 9 miles west of the St. Mary Visitor Center on Going-to-the-Sun Road
- Distance: Officially 1.9 miles out-and-back, but as short as 0.2 miles and up to 6.3 miles
- Elevation gain: 200 feet
- Difficulty: Easy peasy up to easy-moderate, depending on which route you hike
- Pets allowed? No
- Detailed trail notes + directions
In a lot of mountainous national parks, the best views require serious effort. The Sun Point Nature Trail challenges that, serving up jaw-dropping panoramic views after just a short walk on the trail.
Sun Point itself is a rocky peninsula perched 100 feet above the water on the western end of St. Mary Lake. There’s no question about how it got its name—thanks to its ideal position, Sun Point is THE perfect place for sunrise and sunset.
It also serves as the ideal jumping-off point to explore three popular, fairly easy waterfall hikes: Baring Falls, St. Mary Falls, and Virginia Falls. Even better, there are multiple access points and route options, starting at just 0.2 miles round-trip.
In addition to being gorgeous and rather conveniently located, Sun Point Glacier National Park holds some interesting history. It was the site of the Going to the Sun Chalets, built by the Great Northern Railway between 1912-1915.
This was well before Going-to-the-Sun Road was completed in 1933, so the only way to reach the chalets was via boat or pack horse. It was a serious, expensive undertaking, especially back then, so that should tell you that Sun Point truly has some of the best views in Glacier.
Outstanding views, multiple spectacular waterfalls, (relatively) easy parking with nice facilities, and the option to jump in a glacier-fed lake? Let’s go!
Love easy, short trails that lead to waterfalls? Check out Running Eagle Falls, in Two Medicine Valley!
Sun Point Nature Trail Hike Details
One of the really nice things about hiking around Sun Point Glacier National Park is that you have options. Whether you just want to see the incredible views from Sun Point itself or you plan to do the ‘Three Falls’ hike (or something in between!), you can do it from this spot.
Quick note: the official AllTrails route for the Sun Point Nature Trail inexplicably starts and ends at the Sunrift Gorge parking area. We can find zero reasons why this is the case, so we focus on (and recommend!) starting from Sun Point.
Starting From the Sun Point Parking Lot
You’ll find signs for the Sun Point Nature Trail at both the southeast and southwest corners of the parking lot (on either side of the bathrooms).
It’s only a very short distance of 0.2 miles round trip from either approach, so if you’re here strictly to walk out to Sun Point and back, it makes no difference which way you go.
We highly recommend starting from the southeast (left as you’re facing the bathrooms) and making a clockwise loop. This is the BLUE trail in the map above.
This quickly takes you up to Sun Point, then you’ll walk west alongside St. Mary Lake and directly into epic views on the way back, returning to the parking lot from the opposite end.
Even if you seriously take your time, this short loop to Sun Point Nature Trail shouldn’t take any longer than 20 minutes or so.
Continuing to Baring, St. Mary, or Virginia Falls
Instead of coming right back to the parking lot, the loop option we suggest lets you explore Sun Point and then connect to other trails for Baring Falls, St. Mary Falls, and Virginia Falls.
- Sun Point to Baring Falls: 0.6 miles one way
- Sun Point to Sunrift Gorge (with a stop at Baring Falls): 0.9 miles one way
- Sun Point to Saint Mary Falls: 2.2 miles one way
- Sun Point to Virginia Falls: 3.1 miles one way
The hike to Baring Falls from the Sun Point Nature Trail (GREEN on the map above) is short and sweet. Unless you’re extremely short on time, there’s no reason whatsoever not to see this beautiful waterfall. Even taking our time at Sun Point and Baring Falls, we were back to the car in 45 minutes.
You walk along the lake almost the entire way, and it’s one of the shortest, easiest waterfall hikes in Glacier. In fact, aside from roadside cascades and Running Eagle Falls in Two Medicine, it may be THE shortest and easiest waterfall hike in the park.
On this route, you’ll walk along the Piegan Pass Trail, right through a large area burned by the 2015 Reynolds Creek Fire. Please be especially mindful of staying on the trail here, to protect fragile new growth.
St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls (‘Three Falls’)
Hiking to St. Mary Falls and/or Virginia Falls is a bit more of a time commitment, but still relatively short and very easy-going.
As a quick reminder, you can also take the shuttle back to Sun Point from Sunrift Gorge or St. Mary Falls, rather than doing a round-trip hike. Just keep an eye on the time! In the summer, the last shuttle is at 7:00 pm.
For those wondering, yes, there’s a shorter route to St. Mary and Virginia Falls—it’s three miles round-trip from the St. Mary Falls trailhead/shuttle stop to both cascades. However, we actually (strongly!) prefer this option!
The hike from Sun Point to St. Mary Falls or Virginia Falls is more scenic, since you walk alongside the north shore of the lake. After Baring Falls, the trail also isn’t nearly as crowded as the ‘main’ St. Mary Falls trail.
Best of all, though, you have several opportunities to jump in the lake on a hot day!
Just like our recommendation on Baring Falls, if you hike to St. Mary Falls, you really should continue on to Virginia Falls. It’s less than one mile further, and not at all technical. Plus, you can say you hiked over the Continental Divide!
Starting From Sunrift Gorge
As we mentioned, starting at the Sun Point parking lot makes far more sense for the Sun Point Nature Trail. However, we realize that some people will start at Sunrift Gorge (likely because they were lucky enough to snag a coveted parking space on Going-to-the-Sun Road!).
This option, in PURPLE on the trail map, is also a good one if you want to see both Sun Point and Baring Falls.
Whether you drive or take the shuttle, look for the crosswalk across GTTSR and take the stairs on either side of the road down to the trail. We recommend taking the stairs on the north side, so you get a nice view of Sunrift Gorge.
As you descend down toward the lake, Siyeh Pass Trail is fairly steep. Luckily, it’s only 0.3 miles.
When you reach the trail junction sign, take a left toward Sun Point (Baring Falls is just around the bend to your right). This 0.6-mile route takes you along St. Mary Lake the entire way, connecting to the Sun Point Nature Trail at the end.
After taking in the beautiful views, retrace your steps back to your vehicle. Of course, you can also continue in the opposite direction to St Mary Falls or Virginia Falls.
WANT MORE GLACIER (and MONTANA) CONTENT?
Know Before You Go
Hikes don’t get much easier than the Sun Point Nature Trail, but this is still a wild, natural mountain environment. Here are a few important things to consider before your hike.
2024 Glacier National Park Vehicle Reservations
In 2024, you do NOT need a vehicle reservation to enter Glacier National Park at the St. Mary entrance station, the closest one to the Sun Point Nature Trail.
However, if you’re coming from the west side, driving east on Going-to-the-Sun Road, you DO need a reservation. Rather, you need one for certain dates and times. Confused yet?
To clarify, vehicle reservations are required to enter GTTSR from the west entrance (West Glacier/Apgar) from May 24 through September 8, between 6:00 am and 3:00 pm. If you enter the park from St. Mary, you do NOT need to make a reservation at all in 2024.
Regardless of which entrance you use, you still need to pay park admission ($35 per vehicle/$30 for motorcycles) or, better yet, have an America the Beautiful annual national parks pass.
Visiting other parts of Glacier? From May 24 through September 8, vehicle reservations are also required for the North Fork, and will be required for Many Glacier starting July 1.
Reservations are released daily at 8:00am MST on Recreation.gov starting January 25, 2024, for a rolling 120-day period. If you don’t get a vehicle reservation in advance, next-day reservations will be released every day starting May 23, 2024.
Check out Glacier’s official Vehicle Reservations page for the most up-to-date details.
Getting to Sun Point Glacier National Park
Despite how straightforward the Sun Point Nature Trail is, there’s quite a bit of confusion about where it actually starts. And that’s valid, since you have multiple options.
The best option is starting from the Sun Point parking lot, whether you drive or take the shuttle. This lot has a large parking area (it’s one of the biggest along Going-to-the-Sun Road), plus bathrooms, trash cans, and a very nice picnic area.
You can also start the Sun Point Nature Trail hike from Sunrift Gorge, right on GTTSR. There’s a small parking lot here that accommodates about 15 vehicles and a bit further down the road, there’s also a shuttle stop.
Keep in mind that if you use the shuttle, you don’t necessarily have to do a round-trip hike.
You can hop off and start at Sun Point, then get back on the shuttle at Sunrift Gorge. If you do ‘Three Falls,’ you can even thru-hike it, starting or finishing at St. Mary Falls. There’s a shuttle stop right at that trailhead, as well as a parking lot for about 20 vehicles.
Going-to-the-Sun Road Shuttle Service
From July 1st through Labor Day (the first Monday in September), Glacier National Park runs its summer shuttles. They operate seven days a week from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm on both the east and west sides of the park.
The west side is considered everything west of Logan Pass, and everything east is the east side. Generally, the shuttles start and endpoints are the Apgar Visitor Center on the west side and the St, Mary Visitor Center near the east entrance.
Although driving Going-to-the-Sun Road is an absolute must, we highly, HIGHLY recommend taking the shuttle specifically for hikes.
Parking in the summer is difficult (at times, near impossible!), and you don’t want to miss out on a bucket list hike because you couldn’t find a space. Trust us on this one!
Luckily, there are two convenient shuttle stops for Sun Point Glacier National Park. One is the Sun Point parking lot, right at the start of the Sun Point Nature Trail, and the other is at Sunrift Gorge, at the ‘official’ trailhead (closer to Baring Falls).
And again, if you plan to do the longer Three Falls hike that includes St. Mary and Virginia Falls, or even just St. Mary Falls, you can also get on and/or off the shuttle at the St. Mary Falls stop.
There’s ALSO a Hiker/Biker shuttle on weekends prior to Going-to-the-Sun Road fully opening for the season. On the east side, this is usually one of the last weekends of June.
Best Time to Hike The Sun Point Nature Trail
Because Sun Point is accessed via Going-to-the-Sun Road, you can only hike it in the summer and early fall. In other words, when GTTSR is open for the season—typically between early July and mid-October.
Thanks to Glacier’s Hiker/Biker shuttle service, you may be able to access the Sun Point Nature Trail and other nearby hikes a few weeks before, in early summer.
However, remember that Mother Nature is 100% in control. Going-to-the-Sun Road has opened as late as July 13 and as early as May 22.
How Difficult is The Sun Point Nature Trail?
Hiking the Sun Point Nature Trail itself is incredibly easy. Although it’s not suitable for wheelchairs or strollers, the trail is very short and not at all technical.
The hike to Baring Falls is also quite easy and short, suitable for even newbie hikers and families with young children.
We consider the extended hike to St. Mary Falls and/or Virginia Falls from either Sun Point trailhead moderate.
This is primarily because of the distance (about 6.5 miles round-trip from the Sun Point parking lot and just over 5 miles from Sunrift Gorge), but otherwise, this is still a relatively laid-back hike.
How Long Does the Sun Point Hike Take?
If you hike just the Sun Point Nature Trail, you can be finished in as little as 10 minutes (really).
We recommend doing at least the loop from one end of the parking lot to the other along the trail, which should take 15-20 minutes, including a few minutes for pictures at Sun Point.
Heading to Baring Falls? Give yourself about 45 minutes to get there and back to the Sun Point parking lot. It’s about the same if you do it as a thru-hike and finish at Sunrift Gorge.
For a round-trip hike to St. Mary Falls and/or Virginia Falls, give yourself roughly 4 hours. If you’re concerned about the timeframe or want to shorten the hike, do it as a one-way hike and take the shuttle back to your vehicle from the St. Mary Falls shuttle stop.
We’ve hiked in this area of the park many, many days across many, many summers, with multiple phone providers…and have never once had cell service here.
You MIGHT get a fleeting signal along Going-to-the-Sun Road or at a very small, specific spot in the Sun Point parking lot, but don’t plan on it.
Your best bet is to stop into the St. Mary Visitor Center before heading into the park. The visitor center has fairly reliable cell signal, and it’s a great place to use wi-fi. There are also a few gift shops here, if you want to pick up any Glacier souvenirs.
Using AllTrails in Glacier National Park
Since cell service is non-existent in the vast majority of Glacier as a whole, it’s really easy to get turned around — even on short hikes like the Sun Point Nature Trail or Baring Falls.
That’s exactly why we always download trail maps ahead of time on AllTrails+.
The free version of AllTrails is awesome, but if you often hike in cell phone dead zones like national parks, the ability to download and access trail maps offline is WELL worth the $2.99 a month.
AllTrails+ even lets you try it for a week before committing, so there’s really no reason not to. At the very least, sign up for the free account and level up your hiking game.
Sun Point Nature Trail Parking
The large Sun Point parking lot is your best bet for this hike if you’re not taking the shuttle. We prefer it over the Sunrift Gorge parking area, because it’s significantly bigger and has toilets, drinking water, trash cans, and picnic facilities.
For those reasons, we recommend parking here even if you’re doing a longer hike to St. Mary Falls or Virginia Falls.
If for whatever reason you can’t find a spot or simply prefer another option, there are a few turnout-style parking areas along Going-to-the-Sun Road between Sun Point and St. Mary Falls.
The Bathroom Situation
You’ll find restrooms with pit toilets in the Sun Point parking lot. If you hike to St. Mary Falls, there are also toilets at the St. Mary Falls shuttle stop.
Wildlife on the Trail
Although we personally have never seen them near the Sun Point Nature Trail, deer, moose, and bears are all common sightings.
Anywhere in Glacier, this part of the park included, we recommend hiking with bear spray and being extra aware of your surroundings. If the trail isn’t crowded, it’s also a good idea to make plenty of noise.
If you do encounter wildlife, give them plenty of space. A general rule of thumb is that if you hold your thumb up straight out in front of you, you should be able to cover the animal completely. If you can’t, you’re too close.
Tips for Hiking the Sun Point Nature Trail
- Hike at sunrise or sunset. It’s called Sun Point for a reason! The sun rises in the east, casting a gorgeous glow on the surrounding mountains, and sets in the west, behind those same mountains, making this the perfect spot to catch golden hour.
- Bring water shoes and a towel. There are several places to jump into St. Mary Lake and get up-close and personal with waterfalls on this hike.
- Leave No Trace. This is true of any hike, anywhere, but people tend to leave a LOT of food trash behind at Sun Point and Baring Falls. PLEASE remember to pack out everything you pack in.
- The closest restrooms are in the Sun Point parking lot.
- Stop at the St. Mary Visitor Center first. You’ll find wi-fi here, plus should have pretty solid cell service.
What to Bring on Your Sun Point Nature Trail Hike
In addition to hiking basics (snacks, sturdy hiking shoes, and a quality hydration pack with water bladder), here are a handful of items you may not necessarily think to bring along.
- Glacier National Park printed guides (you won’t have service in the park!). Highly recommend this one for day hikes and this one for Going-to-the-Sun Road.
- Light layers. We love lightweight long-sleeved tops with built-in UPF, like the Patagonia Tropic Comfort Natural Sun UPF Hoody or Mountain Hardwear Crater Lake Long Sleeve Hoody, and a packable rain jacket
- Bug spray
- Microfiber towel, if you plan to swim
- Headlamp and extra batteries – we LOVE both the BioLite HeadLamp 325 and Petzl Tactikka
- Navigation – again we HIGHLY recommend AllTrails+!
- Even if you’re not sure the premium subscription is for you, sign up for the free version at the very least. Use our link to TRY a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!
- Backup battery for your phone
- Garmin InReach Mini – satellite communicator for when you truly have no service. If you hike often, it’s well worth the cost. Also a great gift for outdoorsy folks!
- Waterproof cover for your hiking pack
- Dry bag (especially useful on waterfall hikes)
- Extra plastic bag for packing out trash (ALWAYS practice Leave No Trace!)