Virginia Falls Hiking Adventure Session in Glacier National Park | Christina Adele Photo
Updated: Apr 20
(Photos optimized for desktop viewing) -When Sarah and Troy reached out to me about they had a specific vision in mind -they wanted to exchange private vows below a waterfall prior to their larger wedding with family and friends at home. With their wedding being in June, for them the best time to make it happen would be Memorial Day Weekend and so we got to work on making their dreams come true.
The first step was making sure what locations it was permitted to exchange vows. Glacier National Park has very strict permitting regulations and we wanted to do everything by the book, so we reached out the permit office and asked if a Vow Exchange would be allowed if they weren't actually getting married until a later date. Much to our delight, at the time we were told that they could exchange vows anywhere they wanted -as long as they were not getting married. (Note: Please keep in mind that permit regulations change frequently and if you have a nuanced question like this it is best to reach out to the permit office directly and get their response in writing in case anything changes). We then moved full steam ahead with planning, knowing that we had the entire park to work with and were not limited as far as locations go.
May is not the most popular month to visit Glacier National Park for a few reasons -but mainly because the Alpine section of the Going to the Sun Road is still closed and many higher elevation hikes are still covered in snow. Message boards and Facebook groups will tell you that "Spring in Glacier doesn't start until July, May and June are still very much winter." Well I am not sure how often those folks have been to Glacier, but with temperatures pushing 100 degrees on some days in May and June in the past couple of years -I would say that May and June are definitely nowhere close to "winter", at least not a Montana winter. And one thing that May does better than any other month? Waterfalls. The warmer temperatures and melting snowpack make May the best time to see waterfalls in their most raging and full state. So Memorial Day weekend was the perfect timeframe for Sara and Troy to accomplish their dream of exchanging vows beneath a rushing waterfall.
I gave them several options of where this could take place, and the location that stood out to them the most was Virginia Falls. The hike to this location is extremely popular and parking can often be difficult to find. The first mile of it is also completely exposed as you hike through a burn area, which can make it miserable hike in the middle of the day. For these reasons, Sara and Troy opted for an early morning hike after they watched sunrise together. And it came together like an absolute dream.
After getting ready at their campsite, Sara and Troy met us at the Wild Goose Island viewpoint to watch as the sun rose over St. Mary Lake. This spot is typically extremely popular with landscape photographers and is coined as "the most photographed spot in Montana". However, on this morning in May we had it completely to ourselves.
Following sunrise, we drove the 5ish minutes to the trailhead and started our hike as the sun began to crest over the horizon and fill in the valley with light and the moon disappeared behind Little Chief mountain.
The first mile of the hike takes you through remnants of the 2015 Reynolds Creek Fire which burned over 4,800 acres. While the burned trees can feel devastating to walk through, there are now open views of the mountains and St. Mary Lake which were not there previously. After about a mile, you reach St. Mary Falls. This is an excellent place to see moose so keep your eyes peeled!
I would argue that the next half mile of the trail between St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls takes you through some of the most beautiful scenery in Glacier National Park (of course all of Glacier is stunning so it is extremely difficult to chose). It winds through forests and along cascades until you finally reach your destination -the majestic Virginia Falls.
There are a couple spots to stand beneath Virginia Falls, one that is bit farther back (close to the outhouse -yes there ARE restrooms here) where you can see the waterfall more at a distance, and one that is directly beneath the falls -close enough to get completely soaked by the spray. While we took photos at both locations, Troy and Sarah wanted the full saying-vows-below-a-waterfall experience -including getting soaked by the spray. So they opted to exchange vows at the location directly below the upper fall.
They exchanged their vows and promises to love and cherish each other forever as the waterfall rushed behind them. At times, the roar of the falls was so loud that they had to read the written words off the paper instead of hearing them aloud. It was an intimate moment filled with genuine laughter and love. and of course lots of water.
After they exchanged vows, we took a handful of photos and we were all completely soaked by the end. The full sun on the hike back felt amazing after we had cooled off. And for a hike as popular as this one, we didn't see a single other soul until we reached St. Mary Falls on the way out. The whole experience felt extremely private and intimate. We arrived back at the car exactly three hours after the session had begun, making this the absolute perfect adventure session. As of 2023, my adventure sessions start at $1200 and Six hour elopement packages start at $2500. Inquire here if interested! Read further for tips/lessons from Sara and Troy's vow exchange.
Tips from Sara & Troy's Virginia Falls Adventure session for future clients.
-You can fit a lot into a 3 hour session in Glacier, dream big and let me help make those dreams come true.
- May is both a great time of year for waterfalls in Glacier National Park and a great time to avoid the crowds on one of the most popular trails in the park.
- If you are planning to hike during your session, try to plan that hike for either sunrise or sunset to make it as intimate as possible in a busy national park, I am happy to offer advice on which time of day would work better for particular hikes.
-Make sure check the current permit regulations for the area you want to be in, if you are unclear -check directly with the permit office. This is something the we are happy to handle for clients as well.
- A veil can be great for adding a dramatic effect to photos -if you don't want to wear it the entire day even just putting it on for a few minutes can lead to great photos.
-Even an inexpensive dress can be beautiful. In this case, Sara got her dress for $30 from Windsor because she knew that it was going to get dirty. She used another dress entirely for their wedding back home.
-In 2023 you can access this area without a vehicle reservation until July 1st. From July 1st-September 10th 2023 vehicle reservations are required between 6 AM and 3 PM.