Discovering Montana’s Golden Season With These Fall Hikes

Hiking Across Little Blackfoot River

Montana is a place you have to see to believe and autumn in the Treasure State is no exception. With fewer crowds in the fall, it’s almost like you have the place to yourself. Combined with the crisp autumn air, pleasant daytime temperatures and the changing colors of fall, it’s no surprise that this time of year is perfect for experiencing the Big Sky state. One of the best ways to discover Montana is on foot. With over 15,000 miles of trails ready to be explored, Montana is a hiker’s paradise. Discover the unspoiled beauty this state has to offer and bask in the red and gold hues around every bend.

State Parks
With vibrant foliage, fall is the perfect season to explore one of Montana’s state parks. Sluice Boxes State Park, located just outside of Great Falls, leads hikers through the soaring cliffs of Belt Creek Canyon while showcasing autumn foliage against the light rock of the cliffs.

Family Hiking Near Absaroka Mountain Range, Paradise Valley
Family Hiking Near Absaroka Mountain Range, Paradise Valley

Montana’s first and best-known state park, Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park west of Bozeman, offers incredible views above and below ground. While the expansive limestone caverns are a favorite, you won’t want to miss the above-ground opportunities to explore trails that offer something for the leisure to avid hiker. The nearby historic Jefferson River offers fishing with incredible views of limestone bluffs dotted with green pine and gold aspen forests as a backdrop. It’s a great place to enjoy a picnic and the scenery during your hike.

View of Rocky Mountain Front Near Choteau
View of Rocky Mountain Front Near Choteau

Wild Horse Island State Park in the fall offers the perfect opportunity to enjoy jaw-dropping landscapes and abundant wildlife viewing while hiking. This 2,100 acre island park is surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, and is only accessible by water.

National Forests
Imagine standing in the towering presence of ancient Western Red Cedars – some of which are 12 feet in diameter and 175 feet tall. The Ross Creek Cedar Grove Scenic Area, located in the Kootenai National Forest just outside of Libby, offers a self-guided interpretive nature trail through a unique forest ecosystem. The hike is short but you’ll find it hard to leave the area and its peaceful, cathedral atmosphere; where the immense 1,000 year-old cedar trees make you feel like you’re in the presence of giants.

Ross Creek Cedar Grove Scenic Area, Kootenai National Forest
Ross Creek Cedar Grove Scenic Area, Kootenai National Forest

Known for its rugged mountains and sub-alpine tundra plateaus, Custer Gallatin National Forest Beartooth District near Red Lodge is home to stunning scenery and fantastic trails like the Stillwater River Trail #24. This day hike follows the Stillwater River, ascending through fragrant pine and aspen trees to reach a breathtaking view of Sioux Charley Lake.

National Parks

Yellowstone National Park
An Autumn Overlook in Yellowstone National Park
Photo Credit: Yellowstone NPS

As the busy summer season for Yellowstone National Park winds down, fall is a great time to visit the park and hike routes like Elephant Back Mountain Trail. Or, if you time it just right, Glacier National Park offers a plethora of trails such as Grinnell Glacier Trail, as well as the iconic Going-to-the-sun-Road.

Going-To-The-Sun Road, Glacier National Park Photo Credit: Glacier NPS
Going-To-The-Sun Road, Glacier National Park
Photo Credit: Glacier NPS
Sunrise Hike at Bowman Lake Campground, Glacier National Park
Sunrise Hike at Bowman Lake Campground, Glacier National Park
Grinnell Glacier Trail Hike
Grinnell Glacier Trail

This uphill loop climbs to a stunning overlook, and is the perfect spot to enjoy panoramic views of Yellowstone Lake. The beautiful yellow and red hues of surrounding deciduous trees create an incredible contrast against the dark green conifers.

Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone Lake

Photography and Wildlife Viewing

Fall is the perfect season to admire Montana’s wildlife at national parks, state parks and other public lands. Home to many species of birds and mammals, Yellowstone National Park is a great place to wildlife watch. Listen for the bugle of an elk, watch bison roam and be on the lookout for black bears as this is the prime season to watch them gear up for hibernation. You’ll also find plentiful wildlife to watch at Glacier National Park. Bring your binoculars to look for animals like bighorn sheep, mountain goats and moose.

Montana is a place of unspoiled beauty year-round with views that are vast and vibrant, but paired with colorful bursts of foliage, fall in the Big Sky state is something you have to experience. The yellow leaves of aspen trees shimmer in the cool breeze creating a stark contrast against their pale bark and the dark shadows of the surrounding mountains. Grazing mule deer raise their heads in unison from their peaceful meal as they hear the nearby bugling call of a bull elk to his herd. With the unforgettable sights and sounds of the season all around you, you’ll fall in love with Montana’s undiscovered season.

Don’t forget a camera! Not only is hiking rejuvenating and relaxing, but it’s the perfect way to capture the experience with photography. Autumn is an active season for Montana wildlife and an ideal time to catch sight of:

Elk

Bull Elk Bugling, Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park Photo Credit: Yellowstone NPS
Bull Elk Bugling, Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park
Photo Credit: Yellowstone NPS

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep Ewes and Lambs along Gardiner River Photo Credit: Yellowstone NPS
Bighorn Sheep Ewes and Lambs along Gardiner River
Photo Credit: Yellowstone NPS

Bears

Black Bear Sow with Cub in Yellowstone National Park Photo Credit: Yellowstone NPS
Black Bear Sow with Cub in Yellowstone National Park
Photo Credit: Yellowstone NPS
Grizzly Bear, Glacier National Park Photo Credit: Glacier NPS
Grizzly Bear, Glacier National Park
Photo Credit: Glacier NPS

Bison

Bison in Yellowstone National Park
Bison in Yellowstone National Park

Lodging
While Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park can be your basecamp for outdoor adventure, pairing the perfect accommodations can help set the ambiance for your experience. If you’re looking for a rustic mountain escape like the friends in Uncovering Yellowstone, a ranch like B Bar Ranch makes a cozy home away from home during your stay. From western lodges to charming log cabins, the perfect retreat is waiting in Montana.

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