Category Archives: Heron

Discover Fall in Glacier Country

We’re sweet on every season here, but we’re especially smitten with autumn. The tapestry of golden hues and hillsides dusted with the first snow complemented by the impossibly blue sky gets us every time, and fall brings a few of our favorite things: flannels, festivals, scenic road trips, seasonal microbrews and farmers markets brimming with pumpkins, heritage apples, ciders and more of our favorite harvest flavors.

Not to brag, but our fall look is pretty spectacular.

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The crisp mountain air beckons, so we get out and about for fall frolic, and then we cozy up fireside. Autumn is our golden season—it’s vibrant, it’s quiet, it’s not to be missed. Traffic is lighter and shoulder season prices kick in. It’s a wonderful time to hop in the car and take a road trip around Glacier Country.

Here’s where and how we like to spend beloved fall days in our corner of Montana.

INTERSTATE 90 CORRIDOR – MISSOULA

The thing about Missoula is that you can explore one of Glacier Country’s hippest cultural hot spots, which bustles all year long, and then pretty much take off in any direction to add a scenic fall drive into the mix. While in town, explore the “Best of the West” outdoor market scene, visit one of 10 breweries, three distilleries and two wineries, pick out a pumpkin and conquer the corn maze, or hike any one of several trails; we love the Rattlesnake Wilderness in the fall.

Fall Bonus: Montana Cider Week (September 29 – October 7) hosts events throughout Montana, with multiple festivities taking place in Glacier Country communities. See what’s happening where and when, and prioritize a stop at Missoula’s new (and first ever) cidery—Western Cider—for a tour and a taste.

We love dining out during all our seasons, but fall cuisine has some extra special flavor. Photo: Top Hat Lounge

Trip Tip: A Missoula favorite, the Top Hat serves up mouthwatering cuisine—like chicken spaghetti squash—amid live music and friendly community vibes. Plan your visit around one of their Tunes & Taste music-infused dinner theme nights.

BITTERROOT VALLEY

This lush forested valley nestled between the Bitterroot and Sapphire mountain ranges is prime for leaf peeping, and the fall rut makes it a spectacular time for watching wildlife at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. Begin in Missoula, and take U.S. Highway 93 south toward Hamilton, stopping along the way in some of Glacier Country’s most charming towns.

Hamilton’s Daly Mansion boasts 50 kinds of trees—all gorgeous this time of year—and offers haunted hayrides at the end of October. Top off your tour at Backroad Cider or betterRoot Cidery for some fresh-pressed deliciousness—the core of fall flavor.

It doesn’t get much more festive than Stevensville’s Scarecrow Festival. Photo: Donnie Sexton

Fall Bonus: Plan your trip around a Ravalli County Museum Ghost Tour, Victor’s Field of Screams, Stevensville’s famous Scarecrow Festival or Hamilton’s McIntosh Apple Day—hailed as one of Montana’s Best Fall Festivals.

Trip Tip: Bike “The Root” instead! The Bitterroot Trail is a 50-mile-long paved bike path following the same route mentioned above, perfect for a vibrant autumn cycling adventure.

TOUR 200

Montana Tour 200 in Sanders County from Dixon to Heron travels along scenic riverbanks (bursting with fall color), active wildlife and ample outdoor recreation opportunities. Stop for a soak in the mineral waters at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort, nestled in Paradise along the Clark Fork River. Afterwards, stop in Thompson Falls for a home-cooked meal at Minnie’s Montana Café, or enjoy a drink and exceptional fall views from the deck Big Eddy’s.

Fall greets winter in Thompson Falls. Photo: Kate Baxter

Trip Tip: Lace up your hiking boots near Trout Creek and hike to the beautiful Vermilion Falls or Graves Creek Falls.

SEELEY-SWAN CORRIDOR

Between the stunning Swan and majestic Mission mountain ranges, the Seeley-Swan Valley boasts hundreds of pristine alpine lakes and beautiful hiking spots. Kayak around picturesque Holland Lake, canoe the Clearwater Canoe Trail or hike Morrell Falls, all spectacular ways to take in the fall spectacle. This exceptionally scenic valley is known for its large population of tamaracks—unique pine trees that lose their needles in the fall, setting Montana’s hillsides aflame with vivid shades of yellow and orange.

If you take U.S. Highway 83 from Seeley Lake all the way to Bigfork (as you should), this storybook village on the northeast shore of Flathead Lake, does not disappoint. Bigfork’s Whistling Andy Distilling serves up award-winning whiskeys and spirits made with Montana-grown grains and fruits. Savor some Harvest Select Whiskey, perfect for the season. From Bigfork, head south on State Highway 35 to The Raven Bar & Grill in Wood’s Bay for delicious waterfront dining, craft cocktails and some of the best views in the area.

A road trip to an event on Flathead Lake is always filled with incredible views.

Fall Bonus: Visit Seeley Lake mid-October and meet some of Montana’s finest artists, see their work and tour area studios, galleries and museums during the Alpine Artisans – Tour of the Arts, or land in Bigfork on October 13 for Tamarack Time!—an annual local’s-favorite amateur food competition akin to a county fair—and be sure you’re hungry.

Trip Tip: Make your Glacier Country getaway an overnight adventure with an authentic Montana lodging experience at the Double Arrow Resort in Seeley Lake, offering four-season recreation, cozy accommodations and incredibly warm hospitality.

FLATHEAD CORRIDOR

The west side of Flathead Lake is equally as scenic and charming as the east. If you’re coming from the south on U.S. Highway 93 or State Highway 200, stop in Moiese for wildlife watching at the National Bison Range. You may even get to experience bull elk bugling in the fall rut. Further north, in Charlo, visit Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana and Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge with stunning wide-open panoramas of the Mission Mountains. Then, on to Flathead Lake where jaw-dropping views await.

Fall Bonus: The Tamarack BrewFest take place in Lakeside, October 13. Enjoy live music, line dancing, canoe races, local vendors and evening bonfires, all taking place in this stunning fall Flathead Lake location.

HIGHWAY 2 CORRIDOR LIBBY TO KALISPELL

Running through Western Montana’s northern region, Highway 2 travels along some of the most scenic places in Glacier Country and introduces road-trippers to off-the-beaten-path treasures and well-known attractions. Begin in Libby, one of the region’s most scenic and quietest corners and end in Kalispell, the perfect mix of small-town Montana and old-west charm. Ghost chasers can head to the Conrad Mansion for a ghost tour.

Fall Bonus: Meander 4,000 bales of hay at Kalispell’s Whitefish Stage Organic Farm hay bale maze. This family-fun autumn activity also includes a barrel train ride, hay ride, super trampoline, petting zoo, pumpkins and more.

Get lost in Glacier Country. Photo: Whitefish Stage Organic Farm

Trip Tip: Linger in Kalispell for good food, shopping and museums, plus the whimsical autumn wonderland of Sweet Pickin’s Pumpkin Patch, where you’ll find plenty more than gourds.

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK SURROUNDING AREA

The park is absolutely breathtaking in autumn. Traffic is light, shoulder-season prices are in effect, and communities in and beyond the park are celebrating the season. Explore the outdoors by boat in Whitefish on Whitefish Lake, or take to the trails by bike or by foot on The Whitefish Trail or the Swift Creek Loop, and then stop in for delicious food at Casey’s Whitefish pub and grill, featuring rooftop dining options—especially scenic right about now.

Raise a glass to our amazing local brews at the Great Northwest Oktoberfest. Photo: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

A bit closer to the park, Columbia Falls offers the perfect place to swap adventure stories over burgers and craft beer at Backslope Brewing. Try one of their rotators on tap this fall: Chocolate Hazelnut Stout. When it’s time to turn in, Cedar Creek Lodge offers a truly exceptional Montana lodging experience, and their pool and hot tub are open year-round.

Fall Bonus: The Great Northwest Oktoberfest takes place in Whitefish, and, because one weekend is not enough, join us for two weekends of authentic German beer, food, music and fun with a Montana flair, September 27 – 29 and October 4 – 6.

Trip Tip: There’s still time to get on the green at Meadow Lakes Golf Course, open until mid to late October.

We packed quite a bit of autumn adventure in for you, and now it’s time for you to pack your bags and head to Western Montana’s Glacier Country for the perfect fall road-trip experience.

Scenic Drives + Small-Town Discovery: Meet Thompson Falls + Tour 200

Thompson Falls is stunning in every season. Photo: Kate Baxter

First things first: Let’s talk 200. Discovery is inevitable on this road less traveled. State Highway 200 offers access to a slice of Montana that may not be on your radar, but should be. This treasure trove of outdoor recreation in the northwest part of the state is also chock-full of small-town surprises for those who like to wander off the beaten path.

The section of Highway 200 from Dixon to Heron is so scenic it’s been designated “Montana Tour 200.” It humbly winds its way through the Cabinet and Coeur d’Alene mountain ranges, with diverse side trips, scenic drives and backroad adventures offered all along the route. Recreation and solitude abound here, and so does authentic western hospitality. Folks are friendly and the lodging is cozy.

Where to stop…

Milepost 50 is where it’s at. Touted as a town “where the weather is always better than the forecast,” Thompson Falls boasts the warmest climate in the state. But that’s not all that makes it a year-round outdoor recreation hotspot. Nestled between the Lolo and Kootenai national forests, public lands are plenty, and “getting away from it all” is easy as pie. (We’ll talk more about pie in a sec.)

Hunting for solitude along a trail near Thompson Falls. Photo: Thompson Falls Main Street

Finding solitude here is pretty simple. Thousands of miles of trails offer adventure in every direction. Fall and winter are especially good for hunting and fishing—Outdoor Life magazine listed Thompson Falls #16 of the 35 best hunting and fishing towns in the country. It’s also a haven for hikers that’s exceptionally beautiful in the golden hues of autumn, and winter offers a snow-globe setting that’s simply magical by snowshoe. Pro tip: Quinn’s Hot Springs is right down the road in Paradise, and a post-adventure soak in Paradise sounds pretty heavenly, if you ask us.

Steam rises from the pools at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort in Paradise, Montana.

Speaking of winter, one of our favorite winter activities is snowmobiling, and the Thompson Falls area offers a motorized mecca for powder hounds. There are plenty of winter recreation opportunities including snowshoeing and sledding, but make sure to bring your own gear with you when you come.

Snowshoeing with the best kind of companion. Photo: Thompson Falls Main Street

In short, Thompson Falls is pretty awesome and totally unassuming. It’s also so friendly it’ll knock your socks right off and then offer you a nice spot to put your feet up by a warm fireplace. Actually, you’ll find that’s pretty common in Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Come Tour 200 and see for yourself.

THOMPSON TIPS:

Christmas on Main Street
Get festive in the Falls the first full weekend in December. Shop Main Street’s BUY LOCAL! event with fun activities, including the Main Street Scavenger Hunt, topped off with an evening parade for the whole family. The weekend also includes a musical at the local theater, a gingerbread competition at the Old Jail Museum and a Christmas Craft Show.

Island Park
There’s a little island on the Clark Fork River, and that little island has a park on it where you can view the Thompson Falls dam, a fish ladder, the Clark Fork River and valley, powerhouses, two bridges (including the newly renovated Historic High Bridge) and an old substation. Take a stroll down one of many trails and enjoy a picnic lunch with an incredible view.

Built in 1915, the Thompson Falls Dam can be found on the Clark Fork River.

Minnie’s Montana Café
This mom-and-pop must-stop is a local favorite for homestyle cooking and comfort food, and, of course, that pie we mentioned earlier. The pie so good here you’ll be wondering if your grandmother is hiding in Minnie’s kitchen.

You must try Minnies Montana Cafe on Main Street.

Little Bear Ice Cream
Ice Cream in the winter? Yes please. Even after pie? Absolutely. When it’s some of the best ice cream in the state, you’ll be in the mood for Little Bear any time of year.

Save room for dessert at Little Bear.

See you on 200.