A guide to Flathead’s best fall foliage

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A fly fisherman casts into the Middle Fork of the Flathead River near the Blankenship Bridge recently. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)

Fall foliage has returned — but not for long.

Shorter days are turning Northwest Montana’s trees their usual red, orange, and golden hues, and hikers and cyclists can find ruddy trees in the Flathead Valley’s parks and forests for a few more weeks. Aspens, cottonwoods and maples are ripe with colors now and the Western larch will put on their golden coat in the coming weeks.

A few local recreation experts gave the Daily Inter Lake their preferred trails this time of year.

Margosia Jadkowski, program director with Whitefish Legacy Partners pointed to her favorite portions of the Whitefish Trail system around Whitefish Lake.

“One area that’s really beautiful this time of year is the Swift Creek and Smith Lake area,” Jadkowski said, explaining that both the 1.4-mile Swift Creek Loop and the 2.5-mile hike to Smith Lake pass under Western larch and aspen trees. She also recommends the loop trails in the Beaver Lake area, saying that “you can put together a hike from 2 miles to 10 miles out there.”

Access the Swift Creek trail off East Lakeshore Drive at the north end of Whitefish Lake. The Beaver Lakes area can be accessed off Beaver Lake Road west of Whitefish off U.S. 93. For more information and a trail map, visit online at www.whitefishlegacy.org.

Glacier National Park volunteer Chris Rost, who co-authored “Climb Glacier National Park” suggested hikers look to the Jewel Basin this time of year.

“Mt. Aeneas is a great hike with some great views into the Jewel Basin and Flathead Valley all at once,” Rost said. “It’s definitely high on the list.”

Access to this popular hiking area is off Montana 83.

Rost also suggests the short hike to Stanton Lake in the Great Bear Wilderness just south of Glacier National Park.

“That’s not arduous at all,” he added. This 4-mile out-and-back trail begins off U.S. 2, just past the Stanton Lake Lodge.

Inside Glacier, Rost recommends Apgar Lookout, a 6.6-mile round-trip to a fire lookout near West Glacier, and the Red Rock Falls and Grinnell Glacier hikes in East Glacier. Check with the park for possible road closures before heading out.

Willie Sykes, public information officer at the Kootenai National Forest, pointed to a pair of popular hikes in the Libby area.

“If people just get out and drive, there’s fall colors everywhere,” he said. Two of the area’s most popular — and accessible — trails are the 1-mile Ross Creek Nature Trail, accessible off Highway 56, and the Kootenai Falls Trail, which begins at U.S. 2 mile marker 21 just outside the forest.

Tyler Tourville, service manager at Glacier Cyclery in Whitefish offered a few ideas for appreciating fall foliage on two wheels.

Tourville and his Glacier Cyclery colleagues recommend riding the roads around the Hungry Horse Reservoir.

“It’s a nice little road right along the lake,” he says.

They also enjoy the Whitefish Trail system, and the Foys to Blacktail trails. For the latter, he cautions that it’s already, “a bit snowy up at the top.”

Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly@dailyinterlake.com, or at 758-4407.

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