Best Places to See When Visiting Montana in the Fall
Visiting Montana in the fall is a wonderful time to experience the state. Fewer crowds, the frigid temps haven’t set in yet, and you’re primed to be there right when the the fall colors in Montana are in full effect. Here are some of the best places to go for fall foliage in Montana.
Top 10 Places for Fall Colors in Montana
I’ll start with the national parks and what stands out for fall colors, then move onto some other standout areas in Montana. If you’re visiting Montana in the fall, make sure one of these fall foliage locations is on your travel itinerary.
Fall Colors in Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park may be a lot of pine trees, but it’s also home to deciduous trees that brilliantly change color in the fall. You’ll start to see fall colors on the west side of the park as early as mid-September, but many people like holding off on their leaf peeping until October in Montana when the deciduous larch pines begin to change from green to gold before losing their needles.
Another great way to see the larch trees without paying a park entrance fee is a road trip via Highway 2 around the southern perimeter of the park. But if Going-to-the-Sun road is still open (the majority of the road that connects the east and west sides of the park usually closes at some point in the fall), it’s well worth it to go into the park and do the drive to Logan Pass to see some brilliant mountaintop foliage!
Yellowstone National Park in Autumn
The other national park located in Montana, Yellowstone National Park, also is privy to beautiful fall colors come September and October. A great place to soak this in is Mammoth Hot Springs, where the steam from the hot springs bathe the autumn gold colors from the surrounding plains in a hazy glow.
Mammoth Hot Springs campground is also the only campsite open in the fall along the bicycle trail — and biking is an excellent way to immerse yourself in Yellowstone’s fall wonderland.
The aspen trees you’ll find around the park are also awash in glorious shades of gold in the fall, making a Yellowstone road trip a great way to experience Montana’s fall foliage.
The best time to go to Yellowstone for fall colors is the end of September through early October. Depending on temps, you may see fall colors as early as mid-September in higher elevations and as late as mid-October at lower elevations.
Kootenai Falls in Autumn
Kootenai Falls is a hike in northwestern Montana known for the long bridge that drapes over the Kootenai River. Walk along the swinging rope bridge for a suspended view of the fall foliage, then return to the hiking trail to take the other fork in the trail down to the Falls themselves for more autumn beauty.
Montana’s Bitterroot Valley in the Fall
The Bitterroot Valley in the southwest corner of the state is often overlooked by visitors who head straight for Yellowstone National Park to the east or Glacier National Park to the north. But if you’re visiting Montana in the fall, you want to take your time driving through the Bitterroot Valley so you can soak in all the fall colors.
On the banks of the section of the Bitterroot River that flows through the valley, you’ll find rushing water highlighted by fall colors.
Fall Colors in Lewis and Clark National Forest
Lewis and Clark National Forest is located in Central Montana. It’s known for its proximity to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, but you’ll want to be above ground if visiting in the fall so you can see the gorgeous fall colors that come into play among the rocks and pine trees.
Flathead Lake: Montana’s Autumn Lakefront Jewel
Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Flathead Lake has numerous activities that make it a Montana vacation draw no matter what time of year you’re visiting, but only fall finds the shoreline of the lake awash in crimson and gold — plus fewer crowds than the summer months!
Take a drive around the entire lake or down Hwy 35 on the east side of the lake and into Flathead National Forest and the Jewel Basin with its myriad of lakes and hiking trail.
Remote Fall Colors in Hungry Horse Reservoir
If you have a boat, the winding drive past Hungry Horse Dam and up the mountain to Hungry Horse Reservoir is well worth the drive. Located about an hour from West Glacier, this gorgeous reservoir covers nearly 24,000 acres, and in the fall months, much of its shoreline is bathed in honey and gold as the larch firs change color.
Find Fall Foliage at Missoula’s University of Montana
While the natural wonders in Montana are easy to focus your attention on in the fall, don’t forget about some of Montana’s cities that are surrounded by nature. Missoula in particular stands out in autumn, especially the University District, the area of Missoula so named because it’s home to the University of Montana.
Trees gleaming in shades of red and orange line the quaint streets leading from the University. In autumn, lucky students get to walk to class amidst those leaves, but visitors to Montana in the fall can also walk around the pretty tree-lined streets for some fall foliage ambiance or hike up to the “M” for a birds-eye view of the autumn colors.
Fall Colors in Beautiful Bozeman
Bozeman is lovely in the fall. Whether you spend your time walking the tree-lined streets in the city center or you prefer to get away to the city’s many parks that become marvelously colorful in the autumn months, you’re certain to find fall foliage in Bozeman if you time your trip to Montana right.
For a scenic drive or hike, head just south of Bozeman to Hyalite Canyon, which is stunning to behold in the fall.
Southeast Montana in the Fall
While western Montana often gets all the acclaim for fall colors, I think there is an understated beauty to be found in Southeast Montana in the fall.
Southeast Montana has miles upon miles of ranch and farmland, all spreading toward the horizon under Montana’s big sky. When the air gets crisp, the colors get dusty with pops of gold and I love doing backcountry drives during this time, looking for beet trucks and watching the fall crops get harvested.
Immerse Yourself in the Beauty of Fall in Montana
Ultimately, one of the best ways to experience the beauty of Montana is on a fall foliage drive: just fill up your tank, hit the backroads of Montana and be prepared to be astounded by the beauty of Montana’s autumn. But if you like some direction, hopefully these top 10 places to see fall colors in Montana will provide just that!