Sunday, October 9th, 2022

Fall in Glacier National Park

Fall in Glacier National Park is hard to beat – the crowds die down, the temperature cools off, and it is hands down one of the best places to see Montana fall foliage. The different species of trees that make up the national park give off a variety of vibrant colors, making you feel like you are looking at a beautiful painting hanging in a high-end art gallery. We have put together more information more about our favorite tree species that make up Montana fall foliage to share with you, please enjoy.

Our favorite tree species that make fall in Glacier National Park spectacular:

1. Western Larch

2. Aspen

3. Cottonwoods

4. Birch

1. The Western Larch

glacier's western larch tree


Fun fact: cone-bearing trees are evergreen and do not shed all their needles in the fall. 

Another fun fact: The Western Larch is an exception to this rule. 

Also known as the “Tamarack”, the Western Larch is the largest of the North American larches.  Inside Glacier National Park, you will find the Western Larch at lower elevations and in the valleys throughout the western side of the park.  Mature Western Larch trees have yellowish-brown plates of bark.  Young trees have greyish, thin and scaly bark.  They can grow up to 200ft tall and have a diameter of 3-4 feet.  The needles grow 1-2 inches in length and in bundles of 15-30.  The larger mature Western larches can withstand the heat of forest fires and will seed heavily in the vicinity of the surviving trees. 

During the fall (late September or October), the needles will turn golden yellow – making one of the most beautiful Glacier National Park fall colors. After the Western Larches needles turn this amazing golden color, their needles will fall from the tree leaving this larch tree bare throughout the winter.  In the springtime, new soft needles will grow on the branches in a pale green color.

2. The Aspen Tree


apsen tree during the fall

The Aspen is a common tree throughout the United States and Canadian Rockies.  It is a smaller tree that is more commonly found on the eastern side of the park compared to the west.  You can find them throughout the lowlands bunched in dense thickets.  On the east side of the park, winters are more severe thus leaving the aspen unprotected from the elements.  They rarely grow over 25 feet tall but still create a great cover for wildlife.  On the west slope, you will find them mixed in with the evergreen forest.  During the fall season, the color of their leaves turns golden yellow.  

In protected places, this tree can grow 8-10 inches in diameter and heights up to 40-50 feet.  Their bark is smooth, hard, and unbroken with a greenish-white color that does not peel. The green and yellow leaves usually grow up to three inches in length with a rounded triangular shape. Aspen leaf stems are long and slender. Because of the stem, the slightest breeze will cause the leaves to twist and turn.  This is why the Aspen trees have their nickname, “quaking aspen.” 


3. The Cottonwood Tree

black cottonwood tree in the fall


As the fourth largest broadleaved tree in the park, the Black Cottonwood is one of the oldest trees in existence.  Their ancient origins date back to the Cretaceous period (145 to 66 million years ago) and evidence of their existence has been found in fossils.  The Black Cottonwood is also known as “poplar” or “cottonwood.”  They grow better on the western slopes of the park compared to the east due to the severe winters the east side endures.   

Mature trees have broad ovate leaves that are often about five inches long.  Their rough-furrowed grey bark is one of the easiest ways to identify this tree.  Young cottonwoods have chalky to a greenish-grey smooth bark.  The leaves are dark green above and whitish underneath.  As fall arrives, the leaves turn from green to golden yellow.  This ancient tree has incredible reproductive powers and produces rapid growth despite its vulnerability to fungus diseases.   During certain times of the year, you can see small fuzzy seeds being carried away by the wind across great distances.

4. The Birch Tree


The Northwestern Paper Birch is one of 4 birches found in the park.  Birches have white bark that peels off in layers like sheets of paper. Native Americans used the bark to make canoes by sewing pieces together to make a light and fast traveling water vessel.  

As one of the most easily recognizable broadleaf trees in the park, this birch is small and seldomly over 40-50 feet tall.  The oval leaves do not get much bigger than 3 inches long.  During one of the most beautiful times, fall in Glacier National Park, the leaves turn bright yellow in the forest.  Northwestern Paper Birch trees grow in the valleys on the western slopes at low and middle elevations.  The best place to find this tree is in the McDonald Valley along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.



If you haven’t already, visiting Glacier National Park during fall is picturesque. The striking contrast between coniferous and broadleaved trees with their green and golden yellow colors will take your breath away. While you are visiting the park, check out our Glacier National Park lodging and stay in one of our beautiful west glacier cabins where you can relax after a day of exploring and wake up refreshed for another adventure!


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