As Montana’s landscape transforms with the vibrant colors of autumn – from red and orange to shimmering gold – it’s the perfect time to dive into the captivating beauty of fall in the Treasure State.
But here’s the scoop—fall in Montana is a hidden gem, known to those who simply enjoy nature’s beauty without any fuss.
Don’t worry, in this article, I will guide you through essential activities that will let you fully enjoy the charm of this enchanting time of year.
Whether you’re going on scenic drives through autumn landscapes or exploring golden forests through hikes or if you’re the person who wants to savor warm beverages at cozy cafes, Montana has got you covered!
- Related article: When to Explore Montana
So get ready, pack your hiking boots, grab your camera, and prepare for a journey that’ll turn even the most devoted summer enthusiast into a fall fanatic!
Fall in Montana: What Makes It Great?
Montana’s fall season offers a delightful blend of natural beauty, wildlife encounters, pleasant weather, and a serene escape from crowds.
Let’s explore why this season is truly exceptional.
When you think of fall, picture rolling hills adorned with vibrant reds, oranges, and gold. These colors are not just a backdrop; they’re a compelling reason to visit Montana.
As leaves fall from the trees, you’re more likely to see the abundant wildlife. When hiking in Montana during the fall, you might come across majestic animals like elk and bighorn sheep.
They blend well with the autumn scenery due to their brown and russet coats, creating memorable wildlife encounters.
Montana’s fall weather is just right – not too hot, not too cold. This mild climate is the ideal time for your planned outdoor activities without dealing with extreme temperatures.
And with the added charms of less-crowded outings and mild weather to boot, this season is simply too good to miss.
Things You Should Do During the Fall Season
Need some guide for your autumnal adventure? Don’t worry, I got you!
Here are 11 things you must do that will help you create that memorable autumn adventure you’ve been dreaming of.
So grab your flannel, polish your hiking boots, and let’s dive into the ultimate Montana fall bucket list!
1. Explore Glacier National Park
First stop, Glacier National Park!
Fall in Glacier National Park paints a stunning picture with its beautiful fall foliage, peaceful atmosphere, and the chance to witness the remaining glaciers.
You may ask, why is this season an ideal time for a visit? well, I can tell you many great reasons.
The changing of colors is a must-see experience during fall. Immerse yourself in the incredible fall colors as the tamarack trees radiate their golden glow.
If you are into wildlife spotting then your chances of spotting an array of wildlife are significantly higher during the fall shoulder season.
Fall is considered a quiet season in Glacier National Park, meaning fewer crowds, shorter lines, and lower-priced accommodations. You can have that pristine lake or scenic trail almost to yourself.
I also want to include that park roads remain open well into the autumn months, providing easy access to picturesque spots like Two Medicine and Lake McDonald.
If you’re asking, my personal recommendation is going to Two Medicine, it is often overlooked but its fall foliage and tranquil beauty are mesmerizing.
And if you want the classic West Glacier experience, make time to also visit Lake McDonald.
Fall is a transformative season in Glacier National Park, it is a place you shouldn’t miss if you’re opting for a perfect fall vacation.
2. Tour Around Yellowstone National Park
Touring around Yellowstone National Park is an essential stop for your Montana fall trip!
Yellowstone National Park during fall is a slice of wilderness heaven. Picture a vast landscape of orange and gold covering 2.2 million acres with geothermal wonders and wildlife sightings.
So why then explore Yellowstone National Park during fall, you wonder? Allow me to enlighten you.
From a camera’s perspective, the fall is hands down the perfect time to capture Yellowstone National Park’s geothermal masterpieces and wildlife sightings in all their autumnal glory.
Here are notable hydrothermal areas you should not miss:
- Old Faithful Geyser – Nestled in the Upper Geyser Basin, its iconic eruptions are something you’ll want to scratch off any travel bucket list.
- Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces – Tucked in the northwest corner, the terraces in Mammoth Hot Springs boast otherworldly beauty and intricate geological structures.
- West Thumb Geyser Basin – On the shores of Yellowstone Lake, it offers some of the most picturesque geophysical features around.
There’s also an opportunity to safely observe black bears and wolves (yes, from a safe distance), the wildlife populates Yellowstone like a veritable ballet.
For outdoor adventurers, this is a prime moment to immerse ourselves in Western Montana’s scenic natural wonders—before the park begins its gentle slumber leading up to winter closure.
So, as an invitation, an experience, and a memory waiting to be made—don’t let fall slip past without making time for Yellowstone National Park. The only mistake here would be missing it.
3. Take a Scenic Chairlift Ride in Big Sky
Big Sky isn’t just a catchy name; it’s an actual place where you can experience the majestic Montana sky by riding their chairlift.
If you’re itching to soak for a southwest Montana fall with a little bit of adrenaline, a scenic chairlift ride in Big Sky might just be your fix.
Nestled in the heart of Big Sky, Montana, lies the Big Sky Resort, offering breathtaking alpine views of the surrounding mountains and lush valleys.
The scenic chairlift ride takes you from an elevation of 7,500 feet to a dizzying 8,800 feet at the peak of Andesite Mountain.
There’s no better way to describe it than a bird’s-eye view of the whole dang circus: the mountains, the valleys, the vibrant colors transforming from green to gold before your very eyes.
The chair lift ride in Big Sky isn’t the only thing worth marveling at. Once you’ve reached the top, there’s an inviting little hiking trail loop that you can hike during fall providing an excellent opportunity to explore the alpine terrain.
On clear days, lucky visitors can even catch glimpses of the nearby Bighorn Canyon and, on the most pristine days, see all the way to West Yellowstone.
Bighorn Canyon offers captivating views of towering cliffs and the meandering Bighorn River.
Riding a chairlift in Bigsky is a tourist classic, sure, but in the fall? It’s like peeking into a top-secret chapter of Montana’s beauty. And let me tell you, it’s a chapter you don’t want to miss.
4. Hike at the Avalanche Lake Trail
Hiking the Avalanche Lake Trail during fall offers a scenic autumn outdoor adventure like no other in Glacier Country, a gem nestled in Rocky Mountain wonderland.
This moderately challenging outdoor activity, located just 5.5 miles east of the Lake McDonald Lodge, is nothing short of an outdoor alpine dream.
During fall, the foliage takes on a stunning transformation, donning vibrant hues of yellow, orange, and red.
And here’s a little secret, while summer lures in more tourists, fall is your chance to revel in the sheer beauty of the Avalanche Lake Trail with smaller crowds.
Along this picturesque pathway, you’ll encounter everything from charming waterfalls to local wildlife.
But the grand finale is none other than the star of the show, Avalanche Lake itself. You can actually view this fairytale-esque lake, with its calm waters and mountainous backdrop, after a moderate hike.
It’s a never-miss activity for your Glacier National Park outdoor adventure, offering amazing panoramic views.
So, let the trail lead you, the leaves guide you, and autumn colors mesmerize you on the Avalanche Lake Trail—it’s a Montana experience not to be missed.
5. Canoe and Kayak in Lake McDonald
Nothing beats the crisp autumn air and a kaleidoscope of fall colors while paddling through Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park, Montana’s crown jewel.
Lake McDonald, the elder sibling of Glacier Country’s two big lakes, lies within the folds of Glacier National Park.
On this fall trip, Canoeing and Kayaking will treat you to stunning vistas of the nearby mountain ranges in Lake McDonald, akin to stepping into a picturesque Montana postcard scene.
Now, here’s what you need to know for your fall kayak or canoe trip on Lake McDonald:
- Location – We’re talking Montana’s most famous national park here, so along the southern reaches of Lake McDonald, you’ll find Apgar Village, your friendly kayak and canoe rental hub.
- Scenery – The emerald hue of the Glacial lake is a stunning mirror to the majestic mountains above. It’s like you’re paddling in a living oil painting.
- Rentals – You have many options where you can rent a kayak or a canoe such as Glacier Park Boats, Lake McDonald Boat Rentals, and Glacier Park Boat Co.
- Weather and Permits – Visitors should check the weather forecast before heading out. Don’t forget those permits and inspections, all watercraft launched within the lake must be inspected prior to launching.
- Distance – Lake McDonald has a length of 10 miles and is 472 feet deep.
If you’re aiming for a more challenging, daredevil Fall experience, this isn’t it.
Rather, imagine yourself as a wise traveler, seeking the best of Montana’s autumn in a calm environment. You will definitely fall in love with this tranquil boating adventure.
Whether you’re an expert paddler or a beginner, Lake McDonald is a watery playground with a view that just can’t be beaten.
6. Enjoy Fly Fishing at the Whitefish Lake
Just when you thought Montana couldn’t get any better, here’s a hot tip: Fall is prime fly fishing season at Whitefish Lake.
Located southwest of the Whitefish Mountain Resort, this lake is a must-try if you are into fishing.
I hooked a beauty last September, a rainbow trout that put up a fight like it had something to prove, and I won’t even mention the giant brown trout my buddy reeled in.
In Whitefish Lake, the diversity of species, from rainbow to cutthroat during fall, makes every cast worth your while.
The Lodge at Whitefish Lake rewards anglers with their luxurious amenities, perfect for unwinding after a day on the lake.
A cozy fireplace, and a hot tub with a stunning mountain view its the best things to have after a long day of fishing.
If you’re still wet behind the ears when it comes to fly fishing during your fall vacation in Montana, fear not. You can book a guided tour through one of the local outfitters in Whitefish.
They’ll supply everything you need, including transportation and an experienced guide to show you the ropes.
But please remember that you need to check the local fishing regulations and make sure you have the required permits before casting your line.
So, when you reel in that trophy trout, take a moment to appreciate the surrounding beauty—maybe even pat yourself on the back for landing it.
If you find yourself in Bigfork however, Flathead Lake is also a solid choice for a fishing spot during the autumn season.
So, whether you’re staying at the Whitefish Mountain Resort or just stopping by, squeeze some fly fishing into your Montana autumn agenda. Seriously, don’t miss it!
7. Camp at the Apgar Campground
Looking for a peaceful fall escape in Glacier National Park? Say hello to Apgar Campground, your autumnal oasis.
Nestled within the Glacier Country, this campground is where you want to be when the autumn colors are ablaze.
My personal tip? Pitch your tent near the lake in the Apgar Campground, and you’re guaranteed to wake up to a mirror-like reflection of the colorful fall foliage.
Here’s some information on the amenities the campground provides:
|Apgar Campground Amenities
|Cell Phone Reception
|Food Storage Lockers
|Firewood for Sale
|Staff On Site
|Potable Water – Seasonal
Make sure to prepare and bring things that you might need during the camp.
The facility fee during fall costs $10.00 per night and gets you a primitive setup which is more than half the price compared to peak seasons.
Just be sure to plan ahead, reserve your spot, and don’t forget that trusty water bottle!
Trust me, you won’t regret this one. Waking up surrounded by the untouched beauty of the Montana wilderness is a moment you don’t want to miss!
8. Ride a Horse at the Ranch at Rock Creek
Now, this is not your average pony ride—no, sir!
If you’re planning a fall vacation in Montana and have a hankering for some horseback adventure, look no further than the Ranch at Rock Creek.
Nestled conveniently in Philipsburg, this location is accessible for travelers coming from various corners.
The best part is that you can saddle up and ride anytime during the fall season, but be sure to secure your spot ahead of time, especially for those popular dates.
Whether you’re an independent rider, part of a couple seeking a romantic escape, or in a group of friends, there’s something for everyone.
You’ll have a range of options for horsing around the Ranch at Rock Creek during fall, from privately-guided rides to customizable lessons and more.
And when it’s time to unwind, you’ll enjoy luxury lodging, all-inclusive amenities, and the added bonus of being able to bring along your furry companions – yes, pets are more than welcome here.
Sure, you could horseback ride anywhere. But here, surrounded by fall in all its splendor, you’re not just on a trail.
Definitely worth a spot on your “must-do” list this fall.
9. Attend the Great Northwest Oktoberfest in Whitefish
Bis zum letzten Schluck! That’s “cheers!” as you hoist your stein at the Great Northwest Oktoberfest, an unforgettable autumnal extravaganza in downtown Whitefish, Montana.
The Great Northwest Oktoberfest in Whitefish is a street-party-meets-beer-garden bash, as much a celebration of the fall season it is also a cultural homage.
Can you think of a more charming way to spend a fall day than clinking mugs with beer festival enthusiasts under Montana’s clear, crisp sky?
Here’s your ultimate insider’s Oktoberfest checklist you must know before attending:
- Grab a Beer – The first step to enjoying the Great Northwest Oktoberfest is always grabbing and savoring the flavor of a localized German beer.
- Embrace the Contests – Have you ever tried a stein-holding competition or beer stein slide? Now’s your chance to shine!
- Dance for Days – Dancing at the Great Northwest Oktoberfest immerses you in the vibrant culture and spirit of the event that will make you stay active, and make new friends.
- Support the Crafters – Bring home a keepsake from the local artisans and crafters lining the festival grounds.
And the best part? You don’t have to leave the party early.
Whitefish offers a variety of lodging and dining options during the fall season, ensuring you’ll be dancing rather than worrying about where to crash after a night of enjoyment.
Sure, you could go to Germany for the real deal, or you could let this German-infused shindig charm your lederhosen off right here in scenic Whitefish.
So, mark your calendars for the Great Northwest Oktoberfest.
10. Visit Bozeman’s Charming Town
Bozeman, located in southwest Montana, not only showcases stunning fall foliage but also evokes the charm of a bygone era.
When you’re in Bozeman During the fall, don’t forget to do a stroll at the Historic Downtown Area.
The historic downtown area! it will delight you in losing yourself among the well-preserved buildings, boutiques, and art galleries.
One place you can visit in the Bozeman downtown area is the Museum of the Rockies, they offer an opportunity where you can delve deep into the region’s fascinating natural and cultural heritage, an excellent addition to your fall trip.
As you wander the charming streets, be sure to take your time exploring the unique shops, galleries, and restaurants.
Allow yourself to explore the delightful atmosphere during fall, admiring local craft breweries, and savoring delicious meals in Bozeman’s welcoming eateries.
The weather can be cool and crisp, with temperatures ranging from 35°F (1.7°C) to 60°F (15.6°C) — so pack your flannel and a sense of adventure.
Also, make sure to join the community at Gallatin Valley Botanical’s Fall Festival and Montana State University’s Homecoming in late September as they showcase their local spirit and culture.
For outdoor enthusiasts who are into hiking and mountain biking, explore the vast hiking and biking trails there are in Bozeman. A perfect addition to any Southwest Montana trip
When you’ve had your fill of the town’s offerings, bed down in one of Bozeman’s cozy lodging options.
Whether you’re in the mood for a boutique hotel for a tasty glass of wine or a charming bed and breakfast, they’ve got it all.
After finding a place to stay in Bozeman, saddle up to the bar for some locally brewed ales, your taste buds will certainly be entertained during the fall.
Bozeman will never let your Montana fall adventure down!
11. Have a Scenic Drive at the Going-To-The-Sun Road
What’s a better way to end this list than a road trip along the majestic Going-to-the-Sun Road.
This iconic scenic drive is the jewel of the Glacier Country and a bucket list item for any nature enthusiast.
One must-stop spot during the fall season is Logan Pass, the highest point on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. When you step out of your car, the cool autumn breeze will hit you and you’ll be greeted by a view of the majestic mountain peaks.
This is where I advise you to leave the steering wheel behind and go on a short hike, if you’re up for it—trust me, the panoramic views are worth the effort.
Here are tips to make that trip worthwhile:
- Start early – The road can be very busy, and the parking lot at Logan Pass is usually full during rush hours.
- Pack a picnic – Pull over at scenic spots along the Going-to-the-Sun Road to enjoy a meal and take in breathtaking views.
- Take your time – The road is 50 miles long, and it’s recommended that you take at least 2 hours, if not more, to drive it. There are many pullouts where you can stop and take in the amazing views, so don’t rush.
- Check the weather – Fall weather can be unpredictable, so check the weather forecast before you go and be prepared for changing conditions.
- Bring warm clothing – Temperatures can drop quickly at higher elevations, so bring warm clothing and dress in layers.
- Plan ahead – If you’re planning to stay in the park, make sure to have reservations for lodging and guided tours.
Going-to-the-Sun Road is the gold standard for scenic drives in Montana (and, some might argue, in the entire United States).
The fall season and Going-to-the-Sun Road are a match made in highway heaven. Don’t miss the chance to experience it!
Montana Fall Vacation Final Thoughts
So, here you are, all set to close the chapter on your Montana fall vacation.
You’ve hiked, visited charming towns, and admired Montana’s stunning fall colors – it’s a masterpiece in its own right.
Contemplating a Montana fall vacation is an investment in making unforgettable moments, all the endless opportunities can surely make your stay worth it.
The moderate temperatures, with crisp days and cooler nights during the fall in Montana, will offer rest from the scorching summer heat, allowing you to explore the state’s natural wonders without the bustling summer crowds.
The sun still graces the daytime with its warm glow, the daytime temperature ensures that you can make the most of your outdoor adventures.
Road trips become enchanting journeys, especially along the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, where fiery tunnels of trees come to life.
Whether you opt for a cozy cabin or a luxurious resort, Montana offers a unique sense of place that’s truly unrivaled.
As summer tourists depart and the fall season begins, you’ll relish the serenity of Montana that welcomes everyone without overcrowding.
As the days grow shorter and nights longer, you’ll yearn for the cozy ambiance that only a Montana fall can provide.
More than just a social calendar highlight, this trip has the potential to be a transformative chapter in your wanderlust diary.
Montana Fall Vacation FAQs
1. How Cold Is Montana in October?
In Montana, the average temperature in October from 2015 to 2022 is 35°F to 48°F. In 2020, Potomac, Montana reported a low temperature of −29° — the coldest temperature recorded in the early season.3
The temperature can drop below freezing at night, so visitors should be prepared for cooler temperatures and pack accordingly.
2. When Can You See Fall Colors in Montana?
The best time to see fall colors in Montana is typically from late September to early October.
The peak season for fall colors can vary depending on the location in Montana, but central Montana and western Montana are popular areas to view fall foliage.
3. Does Montana Get Snow in October?
Yes, Montana can get snow in October, but the amount and frequency of snowfall can vary depending on the location.
Some areas in Montana, such as Big Sky and higher elevations, can expect snow to fall for several days during October.
Enjoyed this topic? Dive deeper into Montana with these recommended articles:
- Visit Montana in October
- Montana Christmas Vibes
- Montana’s December Landscape
- Montana’s July Sunshine
- Travel Montana in April
- Discover Montana in Spring