Enjoy Montana with these 10 fall hikes

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From snow covered mountains to wide open plains, Montana is known for its diverse terrain. When it comes to hiking, Montana has something for everyone. Whether you’re a beginner looking for an easy hike or an experienced hiker backpacking in the mountains, you’ll find it in Big Sky Country. Hiking in the fall is perfect for experiencing the unique colors in the trees and the increased wildlife activity.

Here are 10 Montana hikes for you to try out this fall!

1. Avalanche Lake, Glacier National Park

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One of the most popular hikes in Glacier National Park, the Avalanche Lake trail is a scenic 6-mile out-and-back hike with great views of the lake’s stunning blue water. This hike is popular for a reason, with great views of the mountains reflected in the lake as well as waterfalls and dense forests. With only 750 feet of elevation gain, the Avalanche Lake trail is challenging but doable for most hikers.

The trailhead is easy to access along the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road. The 50-mile-long drive along the famous road is one of the highlights of any trip to Glacier National Park, with great views of mountain goats and glaciers without having to step foot out of your vehicle. However, snow can impact road conditions, as the road reaches a maximum elevation of over 6,600 feet. Before heading to the park, keep a close eye on the road conditions and consider bringing a 4-wheel-drive vehicle.

2. Rocky Point Nature Trail, Glacier National Park

Hiking in Glacier National Park is beautiful in the fall, but the weather at high elevations can mean road closures. The best way to ensure a great trip to Glacier in the fall is to stick to lower elevation hikes. The Rocky Point Nature Trail is a 2-mile-long hike that takes you to Lake McDonald, the largest lake in the park. With a maximum elevation of only 3,300 feet, this is one of the lowest spots in the park. The short trail will give you great lake views with the Mountains in the background. The trailhead can be reached from the Going-to-the-Sun Road near Apgar, by the West Entrance to the park. The entrance to Glacier National Park is a 2-and-a-half-hour drive from Missoula, so make sure to bring plenty of snacks for the trip.

3. Beehive Basin Trail, Big Sky

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If you’re looking for a challenging hike in southern Montana’s Big Sky area, look no further than the Beehive Basin Trail. This 7-mile-long hike takes you to a lake surrounded by mountains and a beautiful green basin. This trail is one of the most popular hikes in Montana during the summer, but it’s much less busy during the cooler months. With a maximum elevation of over 9,200 feet, there is a good chance of encountering snow on the trail. Even at a high elevation, the trail is open year-round as long as the roads stay open. Keep an eye on road and weather conditions before heading to the trail and consider bringing a truck or SUV.

4. Swan River Trail, Bigfork

Take a relaxing 2-mile-long walk along the Swan River Nature Trail and enjoy the fall colors. The trail was built over 100 years ago as a country road but was converted into a trail in 1995. The trail is perfect for an easy hike with the family, a leisurely bike ride, or a stroll with your dog. This short hike proves that you don’t have to go on a grueling trek to be rewarded with a great view.

Bigfork is a two-hour drive from Missoula, which in Montana is pretty short (it’s called Big Sky Country for a reason).

5. Bozeman Creek Trail, Custer Gallatin National Forest

If you want a longer hike, the Bozeman Creek Trail in the Custer Gallatin National Forest is a popular hike in southwestern Montana. The 16-mile-long hike takes you up 1,771 feet to Mystic Lake for some great views of the lake and the surrounding Beartooth Mountains.

Along with the beautiful scenery, the Bozeman Creek Trail is popular due to its convenient location. A quick 15-minute drive from downtown Bozeman will have you right at the trailhead, making it the perfect Saturday morning hike.

6. Sypes Canyon, Custer Gallatin National Forest

For another great hike near Bozeman, check out the Sypes Canyon Trail. This 6-mile-long out-and-back trail gives you a great view of Bozeman from below. If you’re looking to shorten the hike, you can turn around after you reach an overlook of the Gallatin Valley after 2 miles. For those looking to get the full experience, you can continue past the overlook for another mile. Depending on your experience level, this hike will leave your legs burning after climbing up over 1,600 feet of elevation.

7. Palisade Falls, Hyalite Recreation Area

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For a quick, easy hike with a massive payoff at the end, check out the Palisade Falls Trail in the Hyalite Recreation Area 45-minutes south of Bozeman. This 1-mile-long trail takes you to the base of Palisade Falls, where you can see the water streaming down the rock 80 feet above you. This hike won’t require any special gear or hiking experience; just make sure to bring a camera!

8. Blodgett Canyon to Waterfall, Bitterroot National Forest

The Bitterroot National Forest has plenty to offer hikers, including waterfalls and canyons that were carved by glaciers. The Blodgett Canyon Trail is one of many great hikes in the forest for you to explore. The 9-mile-long trail takes you through the canyon and to the waterfall.

If you’re looking for gorgeous scenery near Missoula, the Bitterroot National Forest in western Montana is a great spot. Located only an hour’s drive from Missoula, the Blodgett Canyon trailhead is perfect if you’re looking for a day hike.

9. The “M” Trail, Missoula

The iconic “M” on Mount Sentinel is an iconic landmark in Missoula. Originally built my students at the University of Montana in 1908, the “M” has gone through many changes over the years but has continued to represent more than just the university, but the city of Missoula as a whole. The hike up to the “M” is only 1 mile out-and-back but does include over 600 feet of elevation gain.

As you reach the “M”, you get a great view of Missoula, including the Washington-Grizzly Stadium. If you want to continue up to the top of Mount Sentinel, you can continue following the trail.

10. Danny On National Recreation Trail, Flathead National Forest

While it’s too late in the season to pick huckleberries, the Danny on National Recreation Trail is still a great fall hike. The 9-mile-long hike is challenging but rewards you with great views of Whitefish Lake, the Flathead Valley and Glacier National Park. You can ride the chairlift up to the top if you want to avoid the 2,000 feet of elevation climb.

Time to hit the trails!

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Hopefully, this list has you ready to hit the trails this fall. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, Montana has plenty of great trails ready to be explored. If you’re planning to hit some higher-elevation hikes this fall, make sure you’re prepared for snow on the roads and the trails. Having a 4-wheel drive truck or SUV is always a good idea if you’re heading to the mountains. Don’t let any early-season snow slow you down; grab some snowshoes and hop in your truck!