Missoula’s Fall Color: The Best Ever?

Editor’s note: Paul Queneau sent us so many gorgeous fall color photos for this post that we couldn’t resist putting them all in one big gallery for you to enjoy. Click on any of the photos below to see a bigger version.


I’m just going to say it: This might be the best fall color the Missoula Valley has ever seen. A bold statement, I know, but so are the colors. I tend to get a little hysterical about this kind of thing.

Every time I go outside, I catch myself uttering holy this and holy that, followed by the acute sensation that I have never seen it like this before. Like no living being has ever seen it like this before. Missoula is on fire.

The maples, the oaks, the aspens, the ashes—you name it—they are all in full strut, shamelessly showing off what’s possible in a proper Garden City autumn. This after a near-zero early October cold snap stole our fall away two years ago. Retribution!

Even the cottonwoods up Grant Creek where I work are going bananas. Every fall previous to this, those lovely pillars of frustration have taunted my camera lenses with hints of yellow before turning dark mustard. The same can be said for the clones of aspen up Butler Creek, biggest I’ve found in the valley—which are right now flaming orange, yellow, and even red. And I haven’t mentioned the Kim Williams Trail up Hellgate Canyon. Postcard perfect.

It doesn’t hurt that most every morning for the past two weeks awakened to steel-gray skies with ribbons of fog that comb their way across town, causing every leaf to sparkle that much brighter.

By noon most days, shafts of yellow light (“Jesus light,” as my friend PJ would say) begin working across the valley. These rays increase in number and intensity right up until sunset as Mount Jumbo and Sentinel trade off glowing as gold as the Norway maples themselves, framed by tumultuous skies of a hue Crayola once aptly named a crayon after: Purple Mountain Majesty.

Missoula’s Urban Forester Greg Howe credits this year’s vibrancy to the lavish moisture we’ve experienced in the spring, early summer, and fall, allowing trees to store copious sugars in their leaves. He added the key has also been the fact that we haven’t had a hard frost to kill the party.

That is, until this morning, when the thermometer at our house in East Missoula clocked in at 21. You can almost hear the leaves screaming “Eject! Eject!” Get out there and drink it in while the gettin’s good.


Paul’s writing sure does justice to our fall foliage! If you like this post, you might like his previous post about Missoula’s bucks getting ready to rumble or his first-hand report on a mama black bear that was recently hit on I-90.


Paul Queneau is an avid outdoor recreationist, naturalist, and hunter. He works as conservation editor of Bugle Magazine at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, where he writes about, photographs, edits, and films wildlife. See and read more of his work on the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s website and Paul’s photo portfolio.