Local’s Guide to the Fall Activities and Experiences You Can’t Miss in Montana
Montana may not be as well known for fall foliage as other destinations in the US, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t incredible autumn beauty to behold. Montana is also home to many fun and exciting fall activities and other autumn-specific things to do.
From the larch firs of the west to the aspens in Central Montana and onto the gleaming fields of gold in Eastern Montana, autumn colors awash the state in a cozy fall atmosphere.
We cover some of the best spots to see fall colors in Montana here.
BUT, here’s the thing to know about fall foliage in Montana. It tends to hit earlier than in other parts of the country.
By late September, most of the leaves have fallen in the mountains, and even at lower altitudes, cold fronts can come and quickly change the fall landscapes. An early rain/snow/wind storm can also knock all the leaves off the trees.
So, depending on the year, don’t be disappointed if the fall colors are done when you’re there. Fall foliage season lasted about a week in Bozeman last year because of an early snowfall!
Luckily, though, there are plenty of other things to do in the fall in Montana. Read on for our favorites.
Fall Festivals with Corn Mazes in Montana
Where there are fields of corn, there are…corn mazes!
In Montana, you’ll find that each autumn, there are some farmers who choose to turn one of their towering fields of corn stalks into a fun and festive maze that visitors can find their way through. Typically, followed by some festival activities and a local pint of beer or an apple cider depending on the maze’s location.
What are the Best Corn Mazes in Montana?
Here are our top picks for corn maze festivals to check out in Montana:
Montana Corn Maze
This aptly named corn maze is located 25 minutes northeast of Bozeman in the smaller city of Manhattan (yup, there’s a Manhattan, Montana), just off I-90.
The corn maze covers five acres and consists of three different levels of difficulty depending on how much of a challenge you want to have getting through the maze.
Montana Corn Maze is located on a farm and has a hay ride that takes to the maze entrance.
There is also a barrel train for kids. Check before arriving if other amenities will be operating this year such as a little farmers market, concession stands, fire pits, and a kiddie playground.
The Montana Corn Maze has a different theme each year and the aerial shot of it is always so cool looking! You can see past year’s themes here.
The Maize at Grandpa’s Farm
My family members that live in Billings have a blast at this farm festival of fall fun. In addition to the massive corn maze, there are games, rides, a petting zoo, a pumpkin patch, pig races, hay slides, and so much more.
In addition, you’ll find concession stands selling treats like hot chocolate, kettle corn, candy, and other yummy snacks.
The Maize at Grandpa’s Farm typically opens up in early to mid September and is open through October 30. Check the schedule since it’s usually closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and costs extra on Fridays and Saturdays in October.
Fridays and Saturdays in October are also when the haunted maze part of the farm is open – some spooky excitement for the days leading up to Halloween!
For both corn mazes, it’s wise to make reservations online before showing up, especially if you’re planning to attend on a weekend.
What’s Autumn Like in the National Parks of Montana?
Of course, two of the biggest draws for visitors in Montana are Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park. Fall is an excellent time to visit these parks, with a few caveats.
Yellowstone National Park in Fall
Yellowstone National Park is mesmerizing during autumn. The crowds are gone and the aspens and cottonwood trees are glimmering in shades of gold.
The wildlife of Yellowstone also makes fall an exciting time to visit there.
The elk rut is underway starting in September and when driving through the Lamar Valley and Mammoth Hot Springs you might be lucky enough to hear the mating call of the elk — keep your car windows down if the weather permits, or at least turn your music and electronics down so you can just hear the sounds of nature and possibly that impressive elk bugle.
Bison are also rutting, which can make them more active, but also much more aggressive, so keep your distance!
With fall weather also comes the chance of snow, so if going to Yellowstone in the fall, be sure to keep an eye on the weather and be prepared to change up your plans if snowy weather causes road closures.
Glacier National Park in the Fall
Glacier National Park is lovely in the fall. The weather is cooler after the usually sweltering summer, the late summer forest fire haze (that is unfortunately all too common lately) has usually dissipated, and the massive summer crowds have departed.
Visit Glacier at the right time in the fall and you’ll see the deciduous larch pines spotting the sides of the mountains in orange and yellow.
So what’s the biggest downfall of visiting Glacier in autumn? If you go later in the fall, there is a good chance Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed.
While Glacier National Park is much more than this famed road, many visitors want to do the famous Going-to-the-Sun drive, especially if it’s your first time in Glacier National Park.
Wondering how late is too late for visiting Glacier in the fall and finding Going-to-the-Sun Road closed? This handy chart lists the opening and closing dates for the road going all the way back to 1933, though the dates on the second page of the document that are for 2000 through 2020 are probably most helpful to review.
And if the road closes earlier than expected? Plan on spending some extra time beyond the park’s borders. Here are some fun things to do in the fall in Montana near Glacier National Park:
Whitefish in Fall
Whitefish is just 20 minutes from the west entrance of Glacier. It is known for Whitefish Resort up the mountain, which offers hiking and biking in summer and epic skiing and snowboarding in the winter.
Fall is that in between stage at the resort. Early dustings of snow can put a damper on outdoor activities, so you also might want to direct your attention down the mountain to the cute little downtown area of Whitefish, which has a wonderfully artsy side and delicious restaurants. It’s much quieter in fall after the majority of the tourists go home.
Another fun activity to do in Whitefish in the fall is to rent a boat and spend the day on Whitefish Lake to see the changing colors of the trees along the shoreline.
Bigfork in Fall
Bigfork is located on the northeast corner of Flathead Lake. In addition to its adorable Main Town that is full of artistic boutiques, farm to table eateries, and bars selling local brews, you can also head just a short drive away to find some pretty excellent orchards.
Most of these orchards specialize in cherries, but some — like Getman’s Orchard and Vineyards and the Orchard at Flathead Lakes — also have apples in the fall. Yum!
Kootenai Falls and Swinging Bridge
Located near the town of Libby, about an hour west of Glacier, is Kootenai Falls and the nearby Kootenai Swinging Bridge. Both are accessible from the same trailhead right off Hwy-2.
Kootenai Swinging Bridge is a narrow pedestrian suspension bridge that stretches over the Kootenai River. Head left when you come to the “T” in the trail and you’ll soon be at the bridge.
In fall, you can walk across the bridge and along the rock ledge overlooking the falls to see pops of yellow mixed in amongst the pines.
To the other side of the “T” in the Kootenai Falls trail is the actual view of Kootenai Falls, also worth a visit in autumn for the chance to see some fall colors among the pines.
Beet Harvest in Southeast Montana
Fall is a busy time of year for many farmers in eastern Montana since beet harvest time is in October.
My siblings and I still fondly remember autumns spent at the farm, riding in a tractor or truck with our grandpa and uncles (and great-uncles) as we accompanied them from the fields where a tractor pulled up the sugar beets and deposited them into the bed of a truck; and then onto the beet processing plant, where the beets would be transferred from the trucks via a tube that deposited them in a holding tank.
Travel around the roads of Treasure County in Southeast Montana in mid-October and you’re likely to witness some of these beet harvesting scenes from afar.
Fall Colors at Daly Mansion in Hamilton
I’m itching to get back to Hamilton and Daly Mansion in the fall. I’ve heard Daly Mansion is absolutely breathtaking in the fall months, with all the trees lining the long drive suddenly highlighted in yellow and orange.
Daly Mansion was built by one Montana’s “copper kings” who made their riches off the mining industry at the turn of the 19th century. The interior of the mansion is available to see by guided tour, while the expansive grounds can be walked around during open hours with no ticket necessary.
Montana’s Best Cideries and Breweries
There’s nothing like a good hard cider or Oktoberfest-inspired craft beer to put you in the mood for fall (well, besides pumpkin spice!).
Montana has a burgeoning craft beer scene and you’ll find a local brewery in most towns and cities in the state. Missoula and Billings both stand out for their craft beer scene, and Billings even has a walkable beer trail that includes a cidery (Last Chance Pub and Cider Mill).
Montana Hot Springs Perfect for Fall
As the weather starts to cool, the allure of local hot springs in Montana heats up. You can find hot springs all around Central and Western Montana, some of which are connected to resorts and others that are simply a series of relaxing, naturally heated pools you can visit just for the day.
Fall Fishing in Montana
Another fun water adventure to be had in Montana in the fall is fishing. During the autumn months, the brown trout are especially active as the temps drop and they begin to spawn.
Gallatin River, Madison River, and Yellowstone River are all popular fishing spots in the fall.
Makoshika State Park
Eastern Montana usually doesn’t get snow as early as western Montana. Fall in Eastern Montana is also usually milder compared to the hot summer and frigid winter.
(Interestingly though, eastern Montana doesn’t get as much snow, but it is usually colder than western Montana. You can read more about that in our best time to visit Montana article here.)
This milder weather makes eastern Montana ideal for a fall visit, even if you won’t encounter quite as much of the fall colors as you would in western Montana. Of all the incredible things to see and do on the eastern side of the state, the unique rock formations of Makoshika State Park stand out.
Makoshika State Park is located just outside of Glendive, Montana and is known for its rustic, rocky beauty and for being one of the predominant places in the world to find dinosaur bones.
The city of Glendive also has some great museums about the prehistoric age of the area.
Indoor Fall Fun in Montana
So you may have noticed a theme going on during fall in Montana: the weather can be unpredictable.
Luckily, there are plenty of indoor things to do in Montana that are open in the fall (some attractions close in the winter) and are a great rainy day (or snow day) activity.
Here are our top picks for indoor things to do in Montana in the fall:
Museum of the Rockies
This is an epic dinosaur museum located in Bozeman. Museum of the Rockies also has exhibits on Montana and frontier history and some rotating temporary exhibits.
But really, it’s the large triceratops and T-Rex skeletons that steal the show at this top thing to do in Bozeman.
Butte Museums and Carousel
Butte is one of the most underrated cities in Montana. There is so much history and so much to do in Butte, Montana!
One of my family’s favorite things to do in Butte is visit the Spirit of Columbia Gardens Carousel (located inside a historic building) and adjacent mining-inspired playground.
The mansion museums of Butte, like the Clark Chateau and the Copper Kings Mansion, are also lovely places to wander around on a rainy day. Or get something to eat at Metals Sports Bar & Grill, a cool restaurant located inside an old bank complete with a vault.
Whether you’re looking for fall colors or just fun things to do without the crowds, there is something for everyone in Montana during autumn!