Fall Foliage

The leaves they are a-changin'.

It’s that time of year: the sunlight fades, the air chills, and the chlorophyll dissipates. The trees around Bozeman succumb to these forces and a physical alteration takes place in our woody surroundings. The golds, reds, and oranges come from a basic scientific reaction: the dwindling sunlight and colder temperatures result in the breakdown of chlorophyll—the ingredient that makes leaves green. In response, the trees build up the sugar stored in their leaves, resulting in the wide range of colors we all enjoy.

Among the trees affected, a handful of species take the spotlight. The leaves of aspens, larch, and cottonwoods become a splendid gold. Birch and maple change to a vibrant mix of orange and red. The chokecherry falls somewhere in between, boasting purple leaves as the seasons change.

The color-killing effects of winter may be felt as early as September, but the best time to observe fall foliage is usually early October to early November. Although Montana falls are short-lived, you won’t have to travel far to see the brilliant colors.

Aspen, birch, poplar, maple, and cottonwood groves are scattered throughout town, standing tall along boulevards and flourishing in parks. Take a walk through the neighborhoods south of Rose Park— the edges of Woodland Dr. and Brentwood Ave. boast vibrant populations of birch and maple. Stroll around the MSU Duck Pond and take in the larch (extremely rare in our area), or seek out the honey locusts along the streets just north of Bozeman High. South Cottonwood Creek Trail and Lindley Park are ideal places to see cottonwoods and birch trees, respectively.

For colors with a dramatic backdrop, drive through Hyalite Canyon or Bridger Canyon for world-class photo opportunities of mountainsides peppered with aspens. Navigate along the banks of the Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Madison rivers for exceptionally vibrant cottonwoods. And don’t overlook Yellowstone National Park—a fall drive through the Lamar Valley, with color bursting from the ridges, is the stuff of legend. These are just a few of the ways to enjoy this fantastic show that takes place during a truly special season.