8 Ways to Enjoy Fall Colors in Montana’s Yellowstone Country
Montana’s Yellowstone Country has a surprising amount of beautiful fall foliage and many ways to experience it. You’ll find scenic drives in every direction, an enjoyable activity on cooler days. Couple it with lunch or dinner in one of the eateries tucked away off the beaten path for a real treat. Or, if getting out and experiencing the cooler temperatures is more your style, try a horseback ride, a hike, or a bike ride. Finally, don’t forget your camera; Mother Nature puts on quite a show in this neck of the woods!
YC is scenic no matter where you go. Majestic mountain ranges, meandering rivers, and bright foliage make impressive backdrops. Of course, there’s the iconic Beartooth Highway, but a few of our other favorites include Paradise Valley, Bridger Canyon to the Shield’s Valley, Hyalite Canyon, and Gallatin Canyon.
The stretch between Livingston, and Gardiner, Montana, is called Paradise Valley. With mountain ranges on either side and the Yellowstone River flowing through, the scenery leaves you in awe. Cottonwood trees line the banks and provide bursts of deep yellows. The snowcapped peaks make for striking photos if you’re lucky enough to get there after the first snow.
Getting there: From I-90 in Livingston, take US-Hwy 89 S. The road ends in Gardiner, at the North entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
From Bozeman, driving through Bridger Canyon and over to the Shield’s Valley is another spectacular drive. Sprawling ranches sit under the canopy of the Bridger Mountains, and once you drop over into the Shield’s Valley, the stunning Crazy Mountain Range welcomes you. From here, make a stop in Wilsall or Clyde Park for a bite or a refreshment, then head over to Livingston for some shopping and dinner at one of their excellent restaurants.
Getting there: From Bozeman, take Bridger Canyon Drive, on Montana Highway 86, then continue on to Highway 89 to Clyde Park.
Just 18 miles from downtown Bozeman, Hyalite Canyon is phenomenal in the fall. Hyalite Creek runs along the road, and the trees turn several shades of red, orange, and yellow. So bring a picnic and enjoy the lake during this quiet time of year.
Getting there: From downtown Bozeman, take S. 19th Ave to the Hyalite Canyon turnoff, which will be on your left. If you’re coming from Hwy 191, take S. Cottonwood Road to S. 19th, then on to the turnoff on your right.
Towering rock walls and the infamous Gallatin River meander through Gallatin Canyon. The reflections, water, and fall colors give this canyon a golden glow in the fall. Next, drive up to Big Sky, where you’ll find many hiking trails and beautiful trees. Or, continue to West Yellowstone, home of the West entrance to Yellowstone, which also has lovely fall colors.
Getting there: MT Highway 191 runs the length of the canyon, although you will cross through a section of Yellowstone National Park, and the speed limit drops, so be aware!
Exploring on horseback is lovely any time, but in the fall, it’s especially nice to get deep into the woods and high up on a mountaintop to experience the display of color. Several outfitters in YC offer day, half-day, or several-day trips.
One of our favorite places to ride is Big Timber. The rolling hills and wide-open spaces are perfect for riding, and the Boulder Valley is gorgeous during the fall when all the fields turn to cast a golden hue over everything.
Outfitters in Big Timber
Yellow Bus Tours
One of the more unique ways to sightsee is in one of the 1937 Model 706 Yellowstone Park Buses. Located in Red Lodge, where they are preserved as part of a more extensive collection of Park vehicles, these buses can be rented out for tours over the Beartooth Highway. If the weather is warm enough, you can take the top down!
Buses of Yellowstone
Adventuring by Foot
Fall is a fantastic time to be in the mountains; the air cools, trees turn, and it’s generally quieter. If you take a scenic drive out to the Nye area, there are a couple of great hikes that are easy enough for any ability. Sioux Charley Lake is a longer hike, approximately 3 hours round trip, but Woodbine Falls is just 45 minutes for a shorter excursion.
Getting out on 2 Wheels
Biking is another favorite sport in this region, mountain biking in particular. Paradise Valley has numerous trails, or if you’re starting, rent bikes from Chico Hot Springs, which has five miles of trails adjacent to the resort. Or, Big Sky E-bike Tours and Rentals are great for those who want the experience but aren’t as proficient on a mountain bike. Either way, a soak at Chico or Yellowstone Hot Springs is the perfect way to end your day!
Relaxing in a Canoe
As we mentioned, Hyalite Canyon is spectacular in the fall. Aside from the drive, take a canoe (or another non-motorized boat) and explore the reservoir. While you’re there, check out the Palisades Falls trail; it’s a short, paved, easily accessible hike to a beautiful waterfall. Hyalite is also home to some great rock (and ice) climbing, and both Blackmore and Hyalite Peaks are great day hikes with lots of foliage.
Motorcyclists love Montana’s Yellowstone Country for its vast spaces and miles of the open road. But the crown jewel of a ride is the Beartooth Highway. With good reason, motorcyclists from across the country have this at the top of their bucket list. It’s not only a beautiful ride, but the hairpin turns, and steep drop-offs are challenging for even expert riders! But, don’t worry; there are plenty of pull-offs to stop and enjoy the breathtaking scenery.
Hyalite Canyon is also known for its incredible rock (and ice) climbing. Whether a skilled climber or just starting, several sport and traditional routes range from top roping opportunities for beginners to challenging lead routes for experts.