As summer crowds thin out, many locals find they finally have time to breathe after the hustle and bustle that comes with peak tourist season in Montana. Those who have extended time off of work during the “shoulder season” often explore new parts of the country, and even the world.

Residents who can’t manage to take that much time off, however, find repose in the quieter months of fall. Hunters head into the forest; anglers take advantage of cool, still mornings on the water; and the rest of us try to pack in as many activities as possible before winter settles in.

Some people might say Montana only has two seasons – summer and winter – but they don’t know what they’re missing. Now is an ideal time to hit the road, explore your own backyard, and get a real feel for what other towns are like when they aren’t overloaded with visitors. Wander into a bar and meet the old man and his dog that come at the same time every day – maybe you’ll take home a piece of history no one else knows about.

Southwest Montana is a prime spot to live, but it’s also a convenient location for starting your next trip. No matter what direction you head in –whether its east towards Paradise Valley, south towards West Yellowstone, west towards Butte, or north towards Missoula and Whitefish – you can’t go wrong. No matter how small, each Montana town offers something special that keeps visitors returning time and again.

Maybe it’s a particular place’s atmosphere, an old bookstore, or just an appreciation for the fine masonry and woodwork characteristic of so many historic buildings that interests you. Seeing where and how other people live is always refreshing, helping to shed light on one’s own experience.

Enjoy some of the state’s finest fish and meat at Yellowstone Valley Lodge, rejuvenate in the natural hot waters of the Boiling River, and explore the beautiful scenery of Paradise Valley. From there, you can head northwest, exploring Montana’s rich mining history evident in towns like Butte, Anaconda and Philipsburg. Stop in Missoula on your way towards Glacier and revel in the city’s boisterous nightlife and abundant music scene. As you pass through the friendly town of Whitefish, don’t forget to take in the changing fall landscapes.

There’s no need to plan it all out, but we’ve provided a few recommended places to stop along the way, should you find yourself in any of these areas this fall. – Maria Wyllie

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Lodging:Yellowstone Valley Lodge

Located in the heart of Paradise Valley, Yellowstone Valley Lodge is a collection of ranch-style cabins and a fantastic farm-to-table restaurant. Located on the banks of the Yellowstone River with a backdrop of the stunning Absaroka Mountains, the lodge perfect for a fall vacation.

From there you can easily travel to Yellowstone National Park, the Gallatin National Forest, and many other jumping off points for outdoor fall adventures. With an expert fly-fishing outfitter, Montana Fly Fishing Guides, Yellowstone Valley Lodge can setup a remarkable fishing experience.

Be sure to visit the lodge’s Yellowstone Valley Grill, known to locals as the place to dine in the Paradise Valley and Livingston area. Specializing in locally sourced, farm-to-table cuisine, it is truly a dining experience not to be missed.

Plan your next fall getaway to Paradise Valley, and make the Yellowstone Valley Lodge your home away from home.

Music: Chico Hot Springs

The natural mineral hot springs at Chico Hot Springs Resort and Day Spa have been drawing visitors from around the region since the 1890s. In the early days, advertisements for Chico’s hot waters claimed curative powers for kidney troubles, blood disease and skin disorders. Most visitors today are attracted by a good soak after long adventures in Paradise Valley or nearby Yellowstone National Park.

Adjacent to the hot spring pools, the Chico Saloon is an ideal location to take in a show every Friday and Saturday night. With a hardwood dance floor, hearty bar fare and strong drinks – not to mention a relaxing soak just footsteps away – Chico is a great spot to heat up your fall nights in Paradise Valley.

Activity: The Boiling River

PHOTO BY MAX LOWE

PHOTO BY MAX LOWE

Located just a stone’s throw across the Montana border near the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park, the Boiling River offers a sublime soaking experience. Stone pools have been constructed where the 150-degree water from the Boiling River merges with cold water from the Gardner River, allowing you to move from hot to cold and back again.

A 15-minute hike will get you to the hot pools and it’s not unusual to see grazing elk, big horn sheep or other wildlife along the way. The Boiling River is a great getaway destination year-round – except when it’s closed during spring runoff – but fall is an ideal time to sit and soak when the temps are cooler and the rain or snow starts falling.

Drink: The Mint Bar and Grill

Livingston’s Mint Bar originally opened in the 1920s and has been lubricating locals ever since. The historic watering hole features local microbrews and domestic beers on tap and in the bottle, as well as fine spirits. The Mint isn’t just about the libations though, as its bar menu is one of the best in the region. The kitchen plates a juicy Wagyu beef burger topped with bacon/onion jam for under 10 bucks, served with its signature PBR-blanched fries and house-made ketchup.

Whether getting away to Livingston for the night, or passing through on your way to Paradise Valley, Yellowstone National Park or Cooke City, the Mint Bar should be on your itinerary.

Dining: Pine Creek Lodge and Café

Nestled into the foothills of the Absaroka Mountains, the Pine Creek Lodge & Café is well known for its year-round musical offerings. With its outdoor amphitheater that showcases nationally touring acts and regional favorites in the summer, and its intimate indoor shows throughout the winter, it pulls in travelers from near and far. It’s also a favorite dining spot for Paradise Valley locals and campers spending the night in the nearby Pine Creek Campground.

Open Wednesday through Sunday from 5:30-9 p.m. – and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekends – the café features reasonably priced fare in a cozy dining room. With a varied dinner menu including trout tacos, barbecue ribs and a New York strip steak, there’s something for every palette. The weekend brunch options are plentiful and include hearty portions of eggs benedict and huevos rancheros, as well as tall mimosas to wash it all down.