When fall arrives in Montana, parts of the state brighten with the vibrant colors of the larches. Larch trees are a unique conifer species that yellow and lose their needles each winter. We saw our first changing larches during a visit to Seeley Lake and were in awe as we walked through Girard Grove and explored the valley. Even if you aren’t here in the autumn to experience this phenomenon, a stroll through this grove is still unique as it is home to Gus, one of the world’s largest larch trees.
Getting to Girard Grove
Girard Grove sits on the west side of Seeley Lake. From MT-83 that runs through the town of Seeley Lake, head west onto Boy Scout Road. This road loops around the lake and back to MT-83, so you can reach the trailhead from both the north and south. If coming from the south side of the lake, the trailhead parking area is only a few miles down Boy Scout Road. You’ll see a pull off to the right just past the turn for Camp Paxson.
Girard Grove is located within a national forest. There are no fees to park here and visit the grove.
Exploring Girard Grove
Girard Grove stretches over 60 acres. There are a couple trails to wander that offer a great way to see some of the larches. The mile of dirt path through the grove is flat, making this a great option for all skill levels. Along the trail, there are also some signs providing information on the history of the area, the trees, and fires. Walking through Girard Grove is a quick activity – we paired it with a hike to Holland Falls.
Gus sits within a five minute walk from the parking area. Though it has not been confirmed, it is thought that Gus is the largest larch in North America, and one of the largest the world. This tree measures 153 feet tall and over 7 feet in diameter at the base. Experts estimate that it’s over 1000 years old.
While visitors who have seen Sequoia and Redwood forests and other gigantic trees of the western US may not be blown away by the larches in this grove, it’s still hard not to be impressed by their size and longevity. The yellow colors we experienced in October made it even more impressive. There is a wooden platform that wraps around the base of Gus so viewers can get up close to the thick bark and huge trunk.
Best Time to See the Larches Change Colors
The larch trees in the Seeley Lake area begin to change colors in October. Predicting the best time to visit to see the trees at their peak is not an exact science since the change depends on weather variables, elevation, etc.
When we visited Seeley Lake the second week of October, the trees had begun to change. However, many were still more on the green side. If you want to go during peak change, we recommend trying mid-October. But if you have the opportunity to reach out to a local (forest service or accommodation staff for example) near the time you plan to visit, asking them would be your best bet.