Between the colorful foliage, an uptick in wildlife sightings, and the crisp, fresh air, fall is the perfect time to plan a trip to one of Montana’s national parks.
From the snowy peaks and glistening lakes of Glacier National Park in Montana’s north, to the hot springs, geysers, and canyons of Yellowstone National Park in the south, there are a multitude of landscapes and outdoor adventures for you to experience in Montana this autumn.
10 Fall Trip Ideas For Montana’s National Parks
Yellowstone National Park
Founded in 1872, Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the United States and covers almost 3500 square miles of land. This vast park is home to hot springs, geysers, canyons, rivers, forests, and so much more.
For excellent dining and accommodation options around Yellowstone National Park, consider staying in Big Sky, Gardiner and West Yellowstone.
Fall Trip Ideas For Yellowstone National Park
Whether you spend the night in a campervan, a tent, or an RV, the best way to truly experience Yellowstone National Park is to camp.
Norris Campground is great if you’re keen to be close to Yellowstone’s famous geysers, Slough Creek Campground is away from the crowds and therefore a little quieter, and Canyon Campground is great for those wanting to explore Canyon Village.
Keep in mind that if you plan on staying at a backcountry campsite in Yellowstone, you’ll require a backcountry permit. This can be acquired either online before your trip, or in person at any backcountry office at least two days before your stay.
Get up close and personal with the beautiful fall foliage and go hiking in Yellowstone! The park hosts some amazing day hikes of all lengths and difficulties such as Lava Creek Trail (8.4 miles), Mystic Falls Trail (2.4 miles), Elephant Back Mountain Trail (3.5 miles), Bunsen Peak Trail (4.6 miles) and Observation Point Trail (1.6 miles).
Remember that Yellowstone National Park is home to many species of wildlife, including grizzly bears, so take safety precautions when hiking. Always be prepared with bear spray while hiking, and keep a safe distance between yourself and any wildlife.
Kayaking & Canoeing
Whether you’re on a self-guided tour or with a group, there is really nothing like taking in the beauty of Yellowstone from the water. Yellowstone allows paddling on most of its larger lakes, such as Yellowstone Lake. Paddling Yellowstone Lake will give you a direct route to view West Thumb Geyser, one of Yellowstone’s most famous hydrothermal basins.
Guided Wildlife Tour
Fall is the perfect time of year for wildlife viewing in Montana. The best way to safely view the animals up close is by going on a guided wildlife tour. Local tour companies provide professional biologists to guide and educate you on regional wildlife, cultural history and natural history in an eco-friendly way.
The autumn season is a great time to bike some of the roads in Yellowstone National Park. You can enjoy less traffic in this season while you take in the landscape and spot wildlife along the way. Take a scenic ride and follow routes from locations like Mammoth Hot Springs or Old Faithful. These and a few other locations have roads that are restricted to bike and foot traffic. If you’re not traveling with bikes, Yellowstone National Park Lodges rents them at Old Faithful.
Check out this video for more inspiration to plan your trip to Yellowstone National Park this fall:
Glacier National Park
Spanning just over one million acres, Glacier National Park in northern Montana is home to Rocky Mountain peaks, lush valleys, more than 700 miles of trails and a diverse array of wildlife.
For excellent accommodations and dining around Glacier National Park, consider staying in Whitefish, Kalispell or West Glacier.
Fall Trip Ideas For Glacier National Park
Horseback Riding in Glacier National Park’s autumn season is an incomparable experience. Trekking through this region will take you through some gorgeous alpine views, turquoise glacial lakes, and snow-capped mountains. Horseback riding tours in this area come with many options (some customizable), and are geared towards both solo travelers and groups.
With different single-day, overnight and multi-day options, llama trekking is one of the most fun and unique ways to see Glacier National Park. Not only do these treks involve seeing those colorful fall landscapes and hanging out with llamas, but they also involve learning about local ecosystems.
Glacier National Park is home to 13 designated campgrounds; most notably Apgar Campground, Bowman Lake Campground, Kintla Lake Campground and Many Glacier Campground.
While most are first-come, first-served, keep in mind that reservations for some of the campgrounds must be made in advance. Depending on the time of your visit, several campgrounds move into their primitive season in the fall, so plan to bring your own drinking water if you’re staying outside of the summer season.
Many wildlife species, including grizzly bears, mountain goats, moose, black bears, bighorn sheep and lynx all reside in Glacier National Park. Follow the same safety precautions as mentioned for Yellowstone, and carry bear spray with you when you venture out on the trails.
You’ll want to stay alert to spot wildlife during your time in Glacier and have a phone or camera with you to capture the experience. To increase your chance of sighting wildlife, bring a pair of binoculars on your adventures.
Canoeing & Kayaking
The most popular place for a paddling expedition in Glacier National Park is on the calm waters of either Two Medicine Lake or Lake McDonald. While both of these options will give you awesome views of the mountains, note that Lake McDonald is the larger of the two in case you’re hoping for a longer journey on the water.
Read more: The Ultimate Packing Checklist for Campers
This post was part of a branded campaign with Visit Montana. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.