It’s prime time for fall colors in Northwest Montana

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A maple leaf glows in the evening sunlight along 4th Avenue East in Kalispell on Wednesday, Sept. 26. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

The fall colors are popping now in Northwest Montana and Flathead Valley, and finding the hot spots in the region takes little more than jumping in the vehicle and keeping an eye out.

Eric Trimble, a veteran forester with the Flathead National Forest, said it’s really difficult to narrow down a handful of places because there are so many areas offering differing varieties of fall colors.

“The huckleberry bushes in the Flathead Valley are at the peak right now and they are really colorful,” Trimble said. “Also, the aspen are starting to turn in the West Glacier and Apgar areas, so those are good places that aren’t hard to reach.”

But Trimble’s top pick for fall color is on the east side of Glacier National Park.

“The east side hardwoods will start to turn soon, and a lot of it depends on the elevation as well,” Trimble said. “And the Western larches will start to really show good color from early to mid-October.”

National Geographic’s Crown of the Continent travel guide rates Looking Glass Road, also known as Montana 49, as the best scenic drive along the east side of Glacier Park. The winding road features scenic views and is completely within the Blackfeet Reservation.

Heidi Van Everen, executive director of Whitefish Legacy Partners, said every section of the Whitefish Trail is beautiful right now.

“It’s crisp and bright and the understory is red, orange and yellow,” Van Everen said. “Beaver Lake is a good choice, as are Woods Lake and Dollar Lake. They give a nice contrast with the water and the colors and reflections.”

Van Everen also recommended Haskill Mountain and Big Mountain because the colors are further along at higher elevations.

She also offered a reminder of the Legacy Partners’ mushroom hike Sunday afternoon beginning from the Woods Lake Trailhead.

“That’s a great chance for people to enjoy the fall colors and crisp, cool weather,” Van Everen said.

Jodie Buechel, who works out of the Swan Lake Ranger District in Bigfork and spends a lot of time hiking in the valley, said the Flathead Lake Interpretive Trail is a good place because it’s an easy walk and has great views.

She also said the vine maple and ocean spray on the Foys to Blacktrail Trail are really looking good.

“It’s tough to narrow down, Cold Lakes Trail, the Swan River Nature Trail or even just taking a ride down Montana 83 through the Swan Valley is really beautiful right now,” she said.

In the North Fork region, Polebridge Mercantile’s Katerina Hammerquist said the fall colors are incredible now.

“The larches are turning and the huckleberry bushes are a bright red,” Hammerquist said. “The aspens and cottonwoods are a brilliant yellow and the morning fog in the valley makes it visually stunning.

“Just don’t forget a cozy hat, gloves and a good jacket!”

For those living in and around Kalispell, the best is yet to come in the city of 10,000 trees as the leaves will also be turning soon.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 406-758-4441 or

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