Five Ways to Enjoy Autumn in Northwest Montana

Autumn is an ideal time to revel in this place we call home

A chill is in the air, the leaves are starting to change and all of the visitors from out of town who have darkened your doorstep over the last three months have finally gone home.

Longtime residents of Northwest Montana know that autumn is often the best time of year to enjoy everything the region has to offer. Sure, summer is great, but there is nothing quite like the calm of autumn. To help you plan how to best enjoy these fleeting days of fall, we’ve made a list of some of our favorite activities.

One Final Drive on the Sun Road

The drive to Logan Pass is stunning any time of year, but one of the best opportunities to drive the 50 miles of Going-to-the-Sun Road between West Glacier and St. Mary comes in early October when the colors are peaking. Access to Logan Pass from the east and west will be available until Oct. 15, when it will be closed for seasonal maintenance. This year, there will also be a culvert project near Apgar, meaning the road will be temporarily closed between there and Lake McDonald. The closure will last from Oct. 15 to Oct. 19, when the road will reopen as far as Avalanche. Visit www.nps.gov/glac for the latest information.

Hit the Trail

Autumn’s glorious colors usually reach their peak during the first or second week of October here in Northwest Montana. However, thanks to our abundant population of western larch trees, the region usually gets a second showing of color in mid-October when the conifers turn yellow. One of the best ways to enjoy those colors is hitting some of the hundreds of miles of trail that crisscross Northwest Montana, including throughout Glacier National Park, the Flathead National Forest, and the Kootenai National Forest. After a summer of smoke, a favorite hike is the 4.8-mile round trip trek from Baring Falls to St. Mary Falls from the Sun Point Trailhead on the east side of Glacier. The hike goes through the scar of the 2015 Reynolds Creek Fire and lets visitors see how the landscape has begun to recover three years later.

Pickin’ Pumpkins and Gettin’ Lost in the Corn

If you’re looking for a fun fall activity that’s closer to home and perfect for kids, consider one of the Flathead Valley’s corn mazes or pumpkin patches. Whitefish Stage Organic Farms (www.whitefishstage.farm) just north of Kalispell has a 4,000-bale maze, a barn jungle gym, bouncing pillow, and barrel train ride. The maze is open every Saturday and Sunday. Fritz Corn Maze (www.fritzcornmaze.weebly.com) just south of Glacier Park International Airport has a maze, scavenger hunt and culvert slides. The maze is open on weekends through October, with a fall kickoff party on Oct. 6 and 7 featuring games, crafts, a coloring contest and hay bale decorating. Sweet Pickin’s Pumpkin Patch (www.sweetpickinspumpkinpatch.com) off Columbia Falls Stage Road east of Kalispell has rides, food, a giant jump pillow and a pumpkin patch where people can pick their own decorative gourd just in time for Halloween.

Final Race of the Season

Winter might be on the horizon, but don’t put those running shoes away just yet because there are still at least two more races to lace up for. The Whitefish Trail Legacy Run (whitefishlegacy.org/event/whitefish-trail-run/) is Oct. 7 and features a half marathon, 10K race, 5K race and 2-mile family fun run. The event is a fundraiser for Whitefish Legacy Partners, the nonprofit that helps support the Whitefish Trail.

A week later, the Le Griz 50-mile ultra marathon and relay (www.runlegrizz.com) takes places in Polebridge. The event started in 1982 and for more than 30 years was held along the South Fork Flathead River. Since 2015, it’s been held in the North Fork. The race starts and ends in front of the Polebridge Mercantile.

Looking at the Stars

Northwest Montana is home to some of the best stargazing in the Lower 48. On Oct. 6, the Big Sky Astronomy Club is hosting a star party at Lone Pine State Park in Kalispell from 6 to 9 p.m. Club members will be giving a presentation about space at the visitor’s center before heading out into the parking lot to look at the stars with some large telescopes. For more information, call the park visitor’s center at (406) 755-2706 extension 2.

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