Montana fall foliage features brilliant hues and spectacular scenery. The changing colors of leaves in autumn is one of nature’s most beloved rites of passage -- and makes for one of the most popular and inexpensive getaways for families. As part of LeafQuest -- a MapQuest series helping leaf peepers across North America find easy and rewarding destinations -- here are three recommended spots for viewing Montana fall foliage. — Saira Bajwa
This engineering feat in the heart of Glacier National Park offers some of the best views of Montana -- period -- let alone Big Sky foliage. Sweeping vistas along Going-to-the-Sun Road's 50 scenic miles provide views of pristine lakes and vibrant mountainsides. But throw in fall colors -- golden aspen and yellow larch -- and the route truly earns its sun-bound name. The Flathead River adds darker hues to the palette -- “a gorgeous deep color of aqua teal.” Additionally, keep an eye out for grizzlies, lynx, wolves and bighorn sheep.
Going-To-The-Sun Road, St. Mary, MT 59916 | Get Directions
The Beartooth Highway conjures romantic images a little more rough and tugged than a jaunty fall-foliage trip. Rightly so, as this wild ride -- which goes past such attractions as Crazy Creek Cascade and Clay Butte Fire Lookout Tower, and passes through seriously high elevations and by bears and elk -- is not a leisurely Sunday drive. The winding, picturesque Montana route also has delightful foliage in the form of golden aspens and cottonwoods, as well as the deep greens of fir, pine and Engelmann spruce trees. If you're traveling end to end on this 83.5-mile route, note that you'll start and stop in Montana, but pass through a large swath of Wyoming.
U.S. Highway 212, Cooke City, MT 59020 | Get Directions
Missoula is a charmingly offbeat college town (University of Montana) that serves as Montana's cultural and outdoor haven. If you're looking for a gorgeous autumn setting but don't feel up for a macho excursion to the Beartooth Highway, Missoula offers the perfect alternative. Soothing oaks and maples on the university campus, glowing cottonwoods and aspens just outside of town. Bird-watchers: make sure to visit Greenough Park, to see screech owls, downy woodpeckers and black-chinned hummingbirds.
University of Montana, 32 Campus Drive, Missoula, MT 59812 | Get Directions
Stunning time-lapse video of colorful scenes from Glacier National Park.
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Want other great fall-foliage destinations? Check out more LeafQuest.