Montana is beautiful every season, but fall is when it really starts to show off!
1) See the changing colors
No list of things to do in the fall would be complete without going to see the foliage! Montana is a large state offering a variety of landscapes to enjoy during the fall. Southwest and Central Montana are where you'll find large aspen groves and deciduous trees turning bright gold. Missoula is the place to take in the spectacular maple tree colors. Western Montana is also where you'll find larch trees which are coniferous trees that change color and lose their needles. If you have never seen this, it is beautiful to see these pine trees turn golden on a mountainside. Northern and eastern Montana is much flatter with fewer trees but the endless miles of wheatfields are lovely especially during sunrise and sunset in the fall.
2) Visit a National Park
For the last two summers both Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks have seen a record number of visitors, making summer a tough time for locals to want to visit. This makes the shoulder season the perfect time to go! The parks are beautiful this time of year and the animals are more active. It's easier to find accommodations and overall everything is less crowded than the busy summer months.
3) Kayak or paddle one of the many lakes or rivers
Wherever you are in Montana, a lake, reservoir or river is sure to be nearby! While it's too chilly to jump in, you can grab your canoe or kayak and enjoy the crisp, clear air on the water. Which after a smokey summer like the one we had is a welcome treat. Western Montana is well known for the number of lakes-Flathead, Seeley, Swan are just a few of the ones that are perfect for taking in the changing larch pine trees we mentioned before. Hyalite Reservoir near Bozeman is amazing this time of year, especially when the mountains get early snow and the tops are white. Georgetown Lake is another great option, just make sure to take the drive through the Pintler Scenic Byway! Any of the rivers are nice this time of year as they have all slowed down. The Yellowstone River in the Paradise Valley is particularly stunning in the fall.
4) Take a scenic drive
Speaking of the Pintler Byway, there are a number of great roads in Montana for a scenic drive. The Beartooth Highway is one of the most well-known drives. At 11,000 feet, this 68-mile drive in the Absaroka Mountain Range offers views for miles. It is arguably one of the most beautiful drives in America. Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park is also a popular scenic drive. There are equally beautiful and less well-known drives all over Montana. The Paradise Valley outside of Livingston is in full fall glory this time of year. Right in the center of the state, the Judith Basin has some great scenic drives with island mountain ranges like the Highwoods and the Snowys in the background. There is no better time for a Montana road trip than in the fall!
5) Find a fall festival
There are a lot of them in Montana! Pretty much every town has an Oktoberfest or two this time of year. A big one is the Great Northwest Oktoberfest in Whitefish. Fall festivals are also popular events in small towns throughout the state, Belgrade and Townsend are two notable ones. HarvestFest is a larger festival that takes place in downtown Billings and is a finale of the summer's Farmers' Market along with kid's activities, food, and live music. In the cute town of Hamilton in the Bitterroot Valley is McIntosh Apple Day, the biggest bake sale under the Big Sky. This one has been named one of the best fall festivals both locally and nationally.
6) Visit a brewery, winery, or cider mill
There is no lack of breweries in Montana! Regardless of where you are in the state, there is sure to be one nearby. Bozeman and Missoula are both well known for this with Bozeman Brewing, one of Montana's first breweries, and Big Sky Brewing, one of the largest. It's not just the cities that are in the brewery scene, Harvest Moon Brewing is found in the tiny town of Belt, Montana, or 2 Basset Brewery in White Sulpher Springs. While Montana is not known as wine country, there is a handful! The Mission Mountain Winery is the oldest in the state in the northwestern part of the state near Flathead Lake. Head to the eastern side and you'll find the Tongue River Winery in Miles City Montana. Cider Mills are harder to come by but one that is worth checking out is Montana Ciderworks in Sula, Montana!
7) Go to a pumpkin patch or corn maze
Pumpkin patches and corn mazes can be found throughout Montana and are a great way to celebrate fall and get excited for Halloween. Bozeman has a corn maze and a hay maze, plus a pumpkin patch at Rocky Creek Farm. The Maize at Grandpa's Farm in Billings has a maze, haunting nights, and axe throwing, plus a pumpkin patch. For small-town fun, Craig Montana has a 10-acre corn maze, farm animals, a cow train, and hay jumps. Sweet Pickins' Pumpkin Patch is a lovely place to spend a fall afternoon in Kalispel.
8) Montana Football
Fall and football go hand in hand. This is the time of year to go cheer on your favorite Montana team...Go Bobcats (sorry Griz fans)! High school football is huge in Montana across all the divisions so whether you're in the small stands at a game in Lewistown or a stadium in Billings Friday nights are for high school ball.
9) Take a hike
It's hard to think of a better way to soak up the fall colors than on a trail in the mountains. Bozeman has many hikes in and around town that are perfect this time of year, click here for our ten favorites. The Crazy Mountains outside of Big Timber have many hiking opportunities. Missoula might not have the large mountains, but the fall foliage there is tough to beat and there are several trails near town. North of Missoula in the Swan Valley are endless hiking, biking, and camping spots. Just make sure to take bear spray because they are extra active this time of year!
10) Go fly fishing
Spring and summer are typically the most popular fly fishing times, but fall should not be overlooked! It's a great time to have the most action on lower elevation rivers that are too hot in the summer months. You'll find the big rivers like the Missouri and Yellowstone to be quieter and a good time for potentially catching some big fish. Even if you don't catch anything, it's a gorgeous time to be on the rivers around Montana.