A visit to Glacier National Park and the surrounding region invites curious travelers year-round. But there’s something special to be said for fall. Western larch, cottonwood, quaking aspen, Rocky Mountain maple, and red osier dogwood form a colorful backdrop during the autumn season in Northwest Montana.
These color displays aren’t like the ones back east, where everything changes all at once, and you have to time your trip perfectly. Here, leaves (and needles) start to change at the end of September, with the colors continuing into mid-October. And once you’re here, there are plenty of places to explore.
Salmon Lake, just south of Seeley in the Seeley-Swan Valley, is an easy day trip from a home base near Glacier—and the views along the way are just as good as the destination. Once you get there, western larch dot the slopes above the peaceful lake. The day-use area of the park includes a boat launch, so you could bring your paddle board or kayak for an autumnal paddle. Or just enjoy the drive, set up a picnic lunch, and head back to your home base after some relaxing time along the lakeshore.
In Kalispell, Lone Pine’s easily accessible overlook is less than half a mile from the parking lot, and it serves views out over the entire Flathead Valley, from Big Mountain to Glacier and then all the way south to Flathead Lake.
If you’re not getting enough fall color from above, descend into the park on the appropriately named Western Larch Trail to get an up-close look at this unique deciduous conifer, famed for its flaming yellow needles that turn color in mid-October. Just remember that nonresident vehicles need to be prepared to pay the $8 use fee when entering the park.
Herron Park is another Kalispell favorite with a view. Take the Notch Trail to the top viewpoint for some elevation gain. But any of the trails will take you through mixed larch and Douglas fir forest for a green-and-yellow fall backdrop to your walk. This trail system is also a fan favorite with mountain bikers, so if you don’t mind the uphill grind, you can enjoy the fall colors with your foliage viewing as you make a speedy descent.
Along the western boundary of Glacier, the North Fork road is well known for leading the way to Polebridge’s renowned mercantile, featuring its famous huckleberry bear claws. Really, you don’t need any other excuse to head up the North Fork. But fall colors make an easy reason to add to your list. Cottonwood and aspen along the north fork of the Flathead change color. Late September to early October is a great time of year to make this dirt road drive with views into Glacier.
The southern boundary of Glacier is often overlooked by diehard fans of the Going-to-the-Sun Road inside the park. But don’t overlook the appeal of Highway 2 around the south end of the park, especially in autumn. This is another scenic river drive with plenty of leafy trees changing color along the water’s banks. And mountainsides rising up above the road are often thick with yellow larch.
Now that you have the south side of the park on your list, it doesn’t hurt to drive Glacier’s Going-to-the-Sun Road, too, especially since you don’t need a vehicle reservation for the park after mid-September. After all, mist-ringed mountains dappled with yellow larch, aspen, and cottonwoods in one of the most beautiful places on earth make for stunning fall views.
Make plans for an autumnal getaway to Glacier, and find accommodation that helps support the natural spaces you enjoy. Find regenerative lodging at one of Starry Night’s campgrounds or vacation rentals at the gateway to Glacier.