Discover When Leaves Change Color in Montana (and 5 Beautiful Places to See Them)

Written by Heather Hall
Updated: October 28, 2023
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Key Points

  • The autumn season in Montana is one of the most beautiful times of the year, with vibrant colors of yellow, red, and orange.
  • Montana is home to a variety of trees that change color in the fall, including aspen, western larch, cottonwood, birch, maple, and chokecherry.
  • Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Kootenai Falls, Bitterroot Valley, and Lewis and Clark National Forest are great places to see the leaves change color in Montana.

As the days become shorter and cooler, the trees around Montana undergo a transformation. With the decrease in sunlight and the chill of the air, chlorophyll starts to break down, and the trees use their stored sugars to create beautiful hues of yellow, red, and orange. This scientific process results in the stunning autumnal colors that we love to admire. But when do leaves change color in Montana? Let’s find out!

When Do Leaves Change Color in Montana?

Fall colors coming out on Rock Creek River in Missoula Montana. The larch trees are in full golden.

The leaves change color in Montana starting in late September and peaking in mid-October.

©DCBoutte Photography/Shutterstock.com

The leaves in Montana change color in the fall when the temperatures begin to drop and the days become shorter. This usually occurs in late September or early October, when the leaves start to turn from their lush summer greens to a variety of oranges, reds, and yellows. It’s a beautiful sight to behold as the trees are transformed from their summer colors to vibrant autumn hues.

The autumn season in Montana is one of the most beautiful times of the year. The vibrant colors of the changing leaves create a stunning landscape and are a great way to celebrate the changing of the season. The colors usually last until mid-November, when the leaves eventually fall and the trees are left bare for the winter.

Types of Trees That Change Color in Montana

Montana is known for its mountainous topography and dense forests. The state is home to a variety of trees, including Douglas fir, western larch, ponderosa pine, and western white pine. The forests are lush and beautiful and provide a unique and wonderful atmosphere for visitors to explore. Be sure to visit when the leaves change color in Montana.

Aspen

Fall road during autumn at June Lake, California with yellow aspen trees, view of road, falling leaves

The beautiful golden fall colors of Aspen trees are a sight to behold.

©lauramorgan4242/Shutterstock.com

The aspen trees of Montana are a beautiful sight to behold. These trees grow in the mountains and valleys of the state, forming stunning groves of evergreen. In the fall, the aspen trees turn colors, ranging from bright yellow to deep gold. The sight is breathtaking and attracts tourists from all over the world.

Not only are the aspen trees of Montana beautiful, but they are also beneficial to wildlife. Birds, small mammals, and other animals rely on the aspen trees for food and shelter. These trees provide a safe place for animals to live and thrive.

Western Larch

Larch forest in autumn

In this forest, the larch leaves have changed color in Montana.

©PhilAugustavo/iStock via Getty Images

The Western Larch is a deciduous conifer native to the western United States and Canada. In Montana, these trees are especially abundant in the mountains and foothills. They are a unique conifer as they are the only species that sheds its needles in the fall.

Western Larch trees are large and can grow up to 150 feet tall, with a trunk diameter of up to 5 feet. They have a distinct pyramidal shape and are easily recognized by their scaly bark and flat needles. The needles are a light green color and turn a golden yellow in the fall.

These trees are very important to the ecosystem of Montana. They provide shelter and food for many species of animals and birds. They also act as an important source of timber and are an important component of the local economy.

Cottonwood

USA, Colorado. White River National Forest, Narrowleaf cottonwood with autumn foliage along Capitol Creek Road.

If you love golden fall trees with a hint of orange-yellow, consider planting cottonwoods.

©Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com

Cottonwood trees are a common sight in Montana, with their iconic white bark and vibrant green foliage. In the fall, the leaves of the cottonwood tree turn a beautiful golden-yellow color, adding a warm hue to the landscape. Not only do these trees look beautiful, they also provide essential resources for the local wildlife.

Birds, squirrels, and other mammals find shelter and food in the cottonwood trees. The seeds of the tree provide a tasty snack for many animals, and the branches offer a safe place to rest. Additionally, the shade of the cottonwood tree helps to keep the temperature cool, providing relief to animals in the heat of the summer.

Birch

yellow birch tree

One of the brightest yellow trees in Montana are the different species of birch.

©Malachi Jacobs/Shutterstock.com

Montana is home to many beautiful birch trees that provide shelter and nourishment to many of its wildlife. In the fall, the leaves of the birch trees turn a rich yellow color, adding to the beauty of the landscape.

These trees provide much-needed sustenance for many of Montana’s animals, such as deer, moose, and grouse. They feed on the buds, leaves, and bark of the tree, and they also find shelter in its branches. The trees also provide nesting sites for birds, and the bark is a food source for beavers.

Maple

Norway Maples.  Anchorage, Alaska

Norway maples turn a lovely yellow-orange in the fall when leaves change color in Montana.

©James Konig/iStock via Getty Images

The maple trees of Montana are a majestic sight, particularly in the fall when their leaves turn a vibrant yellow-orange and red. Many animals benefit from the maple trees, such as squirrels, chipmunks, bears, and birds. Squirrels love to feast on the maple tree’s seeds, while chipmunks use the tree for shelter. Bears rely on the maple tree’s sap for nourishment in the late winter, and birds use the tree’s branches to make their nests. The maple tree is integral to Montana’s wildlife, providing essential sustenance and shelter to many of its animals.

Chokecherry

Branch of black chokeberry with black fruits and red leaves

The red leaves and dark purple berries of chokecherry trees are sprinkled throughout Montana in the fall.

©Evgeny Sergeev/iStock via Getty Images

Chokecherry trees are a beloved species of tree that grows in Montana, and they are especially valued for their beauty and benefits to wildlife. In the fall, the leaves of the chokecherry tree turn red, making them stand out against the landscape.

The chokecherry tree provides sustenance for a variety of animals in Montana. Elk, moose, deer, and birds such as the songbird, grouse, and meadowlark all partake in the berries of the chokecherry tree. Bears, squirrels, and other small mammals also benefit from the chokecherry tree. It is an integral part of the Montana wildlife’s diet.

Where to See Leaves Change Color in Montana

Montana is a great place to experience the beauty of fall colors. Leaf peeping and foliage tours are becoming increasingly popular in the Big Sky State. With its stunning mountain views and crisp autumn air, Montana is the perfect place to take in the majestic fall foliage. From hikes to scenic drives, there are plenty of ways to explore the changing colors of the season. Whether you’re looking for a day trip or a weekend getaway, consider visiting when the leaves change color in Montana.

Glacier National Park

Saint Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island in Glacier National Park, Montana

The fiery fall colors in Glacier National Park make it a great place to visit in October.

©Krishna.Wu/Shutterstock.com

Visiting Glacier National Park in Montana in the fall is a breathtaking experience. The changing leaves create a beautiful display of vibrant colors across the park, from red and orange to yellow and brown.

The crisp autumn air is perfect for hiking, and the trails are filled with stunning views of the mountains and valleys. If you’re lucky, you might even spot wildlife like elk, deer, and bighorn sheep.

The lakes and rivers are also perfect for kayaking and canoeing, and the star-filled night sky is a sight to behold. If you’re looking for an adventure, you can even try your hand at some rock climbing.

In addition to the outdoor activities, there are plenty of historical sites to explore. You can take a tour of the Many Glacier Hotel, built in 1915, and learn about the area’s rich past.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park in Autumn

In October, in Yellowstone National Park, the leaves change color in Montana.

©SNEHIT PHOTO/Shutterstock.com

Visiting Yellowstone National Park in October, when the leaves change color in Montana, is a great idea. The season brings crisp air, stunning views, and the amazing transformation of the foliage. As the trees turn to hues of oranges, reds, and yellows, the park takes on a new life.

The beauty of the park is unparalleled during the fall season. Walking through the woods, you can take in the sights of the changing leaves and appreciate the vibrant colors of fall. Not only is the natural scenery breathtaking, but the wildlife also puts on a show as they prepare for the coming winter months.

The cooler temperatures bring new energy to the park, making it a great spot for camping and outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and fishing. There are also opportunities to visit nearby towns for a day of shopping and dining.

Kootenai Falls

Autumn along Kootenai River.

Near Libby, Montana is a special place called Kootenai Falls, with lovely fall colors.

©gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images

Visiting Kootenai Falls in Montana during the fall season is truly special. The changing leaves of the surrounding trees create a picturesque backdrop for the majestic waterfall. The unique combination of yellows, oranges, and reds is something that can only be seen during this time of year.

The cool air is refreshing, and there is a peacefulness in the atmosphere. The sound of the rushing water is calming, and the view of the valley below is breathtaking. It truly is a sight to behold.

Even more enjoyable is the ability to take a leisurely stroll around the area, taking in the sights and sounds of nature. One can take the time to observe the wildlife that inhabits the area or take in the beauty of the changing foliage.

Bitterroot Valley

Bitteroot Fall 2

For a quiet place to see the fall leaves change color in Montana, visit the Bitterroot Valley.

©John_Farey/iStock via Getty Images

The Bitterroot Valley in Montana is a stunning destination, especially during the fall when the foliage turns vibrant shades of orange and red. Situated between the Bitterroot Mountains to the east and the Sapphire Mountains to the west, this valley is known for its beauty and its abundance of wildlife.

Hikers and campers alike can take in the sights of elk, bison, and deer that roam the area. The nearby rivers offer fishing opportunities for all levels of anglers. With the backdrop of the mountains and the vibrant foliage, this is a must-see destination. Whether you’re looking for a picturesque hike or a peaceful fishing spot, the Bitterroot Valley has something for everyone.

Lewis and Clark National Forest

Fall Comes Bringing Yellow Leaves to Lewis & Clark National Forest

Some of the most beautiful fall foliage drives are through the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

©ChrisBoswell/iStock via Getty Images

The Lewis and Clark National Forest is located in the center of Montana and is a great place to explore the great outdoors. In the fall, the colors of the foliage are breathtaking, with brilliant hues of yellow, orange, and red.

The forest is full of wildlife, including elk, deer, moose, birds, and more. Visitors can experience a range of activities, such as hiking, camping, fishing, and wildlife viewing.

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Summary Table

Tree TypeDescription
AspenAspen trees turn colors from bright yellow to deep gold in the fall. They provide food and shelter for birds, small mammals, and other animals.
Western LarchWestern Larch trees are large and can grow up to 150 feet tall. They turn a golden yellow in the fall and provide shelter and food for many species of animals and birds.
CottonwoodCottonwood trees turn a beautiful golden-yellow color in the fall. They provide essential resources for the local wildlife.
BirchBirch trees turn a rich yellow color in the fall. They provide sustenance for many of Montana’s animals, such as deer, moose, and grouse.
MapleMaple trees turn a vibrant yellow-orange and red in the fall. They provide essential sustenance and shelter to many of Montana’s animals.
ChokecherryChokecherry trees turn red in the fall. They provide sustenance for a variety of animals in Montana.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Heather Hall is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on plants and animals. Heather has been writing and editing since 2012 and holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, Heather enjoys hiking, gardening, and trail running through the mountains with her dogs.

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