Running Eagle Falls is also known as Trick Falls. Sometimes one, sometimes two.
The final day of accommodation at Swiftcurrent Inn provides a special gift. Clear skies and the rising sun allow witnessing the dynamic tapestry of light against Mount Wilbur and Mount Grinnell looming above. The Inn’s parking area is bathed in an orange glow.
After packing up and checking out very early, the journey begins to the next and final staging location at Rising Sun, west of St. Mary, on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Check-in will not occur until late afternoon so the day is free.
The morning sun is creating amazing light on Altyn Peak and Apikuni Mountain as the drive leaves Many Glacier. The two peaks are like trustworthy friends. Early morning light across Lake Sherburne provides amazing vistas of the lake, the dam and the rushing water of Swiftcurrent River along the road’s edge out of Many Glacier.
The turn right out from Many Glacier precedes the 8 mile (12.8 KM) drive south on Hwy 89, along the east shore of Lower St. Mary Lake. There are mirror images on the reflective, still water. Just inside the Glacier National Park entrance is a short, stone bridge over St. Mary River. Singleshot Mountain provides the backdrop.
The stop into Rising Sun confirms my reservation. A striking cloud formation temporarily blocks the sun before the return to Hwy 89 for a drive further south on the hilly, twisting road with views west to the mountains and prairie to my left. The Blackfeet Territory is remarkably similar to the foothills west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
The drive is relaxing and carefree with no particular objective in mind. This is the opportunity to enjoy the scenery on a glorious and long-awaited sunny, summer day. Passing by a very large roadside ranch with flowing fields of grain hosting a huge herd of grazing buffalo is an ethereal vision. At higher elevations along the highway, fall colors provide stunning foreground to sunlit mountains.
Passing Cut Bank, it is good to continue driving in the sun. The freedom of choice may be to simply drive for the entire day. At Kiowa and the junction of Mountain Road 49 south, Highway 89 turns east to Browning. At Browning, a turn west on Hwy. 2 which will soon arrive at the East Entrance of Glacier National Park which will allow access back into the mountains.
Within the realm of Glacier National Park, East Glacier is a bit of an orphan, isolated from the mainstream but well established early by the Great Northern Railway's completion of the transcontinental route over Marias Pass. The area is steeped in the history of development of the Western United States. The entrance to East Glacier is an old but colorful, concrete bridge where rail traffic travels across the top and vehicles enter Glacier National Park underneath.
An interesting little park and the East Glacier railway station are adjacent to the entrance. One side of the bridge is on the Blackfeet Reservation. The other side is in Glacier National Park. Both sides are well-developed for handling travelers.
Into the park, the drive continues north on Mountain Road 49. From this location it is only a short drive away from Two Medicine Road and the decision is easy to turn left into that area. The narrow, paved road twists and turns towards Two Medicine Lake and a force pulls the vehicle into the paved parking area for Running Eagle Falls.
The hike at Running Eagle Falls is a short, flat, ¹⁄₃ mile (0.5 KM) journey on excellent trail through lush forest to a very unique waterfall also known as Trick Falls. Running Eagle Falls is a magical place used by the Native People for vision quests over thousands of years.
In spring runoff, water pours over the top of the rock cliff. Year round the bottom half of the two-tier waterfall is fed through a cave system from Two Medicine Lake. Crystal clear water is framed by a large variety of towering trees and fall-colored underbrush.
A short alternative interpretive nature loop trail along the river returns to the parking area.
Running Eagle was a mortal who lived prior to the 1700s. Vision quests for many civilizations at that time, were limited to young men. She was the sole, young Pikuni woman to seize the initiative to suffer, dream and pray on her vision quest near Trick Falls.
Her Father died when she was a teenager and she raised her brothers and sisters in her Father’s painted lodge. The courage, bravery and skill of the tall, beautiful woman made her a great horse woman, an excellent hunter and fast runner. She was revered as a kind, thoughtful and generous person. In her last raid on the other side of the Continental Divide, she was killed by Flathead warriors.
Pikuni comrades brought her home and buried her on the side of a mountain above Upper Two Medicine Lake overlooking Running Eagle Falls which was ceremoniously renamed in 1981 to honor her legendary memory.
There is another trail-head along the way to the end of the road at the shoreline of Two Medicine Lake. The historic Two Medicine Camp Store remains open, which is unusual this late in the very short season. Wandering the shore of beautiful Two Medicine Lake provides the opportunity to appreciate large surrounding mountains including Rising Wolf Mountain, Pumpelly Pillar, Sinopah Mountain and Appistoki Peak.
It is easy to understand why this area has been, and remains, so important to the spiritual well-being of the native people. We have something to learn.