Top Fall Foliage Hikes Near Helena

Beautiful aspen tree turning fall colors, yellow orange and red

By Chelsea Paschall

There are numerous ways to enjoy the autumnal season, however venturing out on trail either via hiking or biking creates bountiful satisfaction. Helena has many entry points to relish vibrant fall hues. We gathered some of our favorite trails to indulge in the delights of the season.

All trails have their forest service trail numbers noted. It’s advisable to plan your way ahead of time and have a downloaded or classic paper map. The US Forest Service has a handy Map Finder.

Willard CreekJust a short drive outside of Clancy, the Willard Creek Trail (#347) is an easy 4-mile roundtrip out and back trail that is dog & kid friendly. The trail links to McClellan Creek Trail (#302) if you feel urge to go farther. A multitude of aspen groves color the trail including several canopies. Heads up, the dirt road in can be a bit ruddy in spots.

MacDonald Pass to Switchback Ridge Mac Pass is a part of the Continental Divide Trail 30 minutes from Helena. This section has astounding views and rock gardens, with golden trees that inspire exploring around the next corner. Following the trail (#337) 3.2 miles leads to the Switchback Ridge Trail (#348). There is the option to make it a shuttle hike and continue down Switchback Ridge Trail for 3.5 miles until reaching Rimini Road and the Ten Mile Picnic Area.

The pass is part of the CDT trail which boasts inspiring views from nearby trailheads including Stemple, Rogers and Flesher Pass check the Continental Divide Trail Coalition for more details.

Ten Mile Interpretive Trail Easily accessed from Helena, a 15–20-minute drive from Helena on Rimini Road. This loop hike (#375) is accessible for all skill levels, 2 miles with informative trail markers and dotted with aspen groves to ponder in. If you want to extend the hike, there are other trails that branch off.

Blackfoot Meadows Trail – On the other side of MacDonald Pass, just before the town of Elliston, is the turnoff for the Little Blackfoot River Rd. The Blackfoot Meadows Trail (#329) begins shortly past the Kading campground. This easy 10.3 out-and-back trail runs in close proximity to the river and makes you feel immersed in the woods with a multitude of color variations. Being that the trail is far back, be especially cautious of wildlife encounters. The Little Blackfoot River also has several prime fishing areas earlier on the road.

Trout Creek CanyonSo great it bears repeating! Worth making a day excursion, this trail (#270) is located near the town of York. The trailhead is located at the Vigilante Campground. The start of the trail is handicap and stroller accessible. Here you will experience foliage along with beautiful canyon views.

For more extensive details including a map, check out our Trout Creek Canyon blog. You can also learn more about the moderately challenging adjoining trail Hanging Valley (#247) in our Helena Area Hikes blog.

Beartrap Gulch In the same region as Trout Creek Canyon is this moderately challenging 8.9 out-and-back trail (#246) with the option to make a loop. Be ready for inclines and switchbacks that earn you immensely satisfying views. This trail is very popular with mountain bikers.

Insider tip: Post-hike, The Friendly York Bar has some of the best burgers around!

Photo Credit: Jacob J McEachern

Be bear aware in your exploring and always carry bear spray.

Fall is hunting season in Montana, it is advisable to stay on trails and wear bright colors.

Thank you to the team at Base Camp for collaborating on trail recommendations! A prime resource for guidance & gear.