Things to See and Do in Missoula, Montana
Make Missoula, Montana your home base
Planning a trip to Missoula, Montana? I recently visited The Garden City for the first time and I plan to circle back in the summer for a second look – maybe a cattle drive?
Located approximately halfway between Glacier and Yellowstone, Missoula is the home base and the cultural capital of the state for experiencing the two best National Parks during the shoulder season. With five ski hills within 100 miles, thousands of miles of snowmobiling terrain and groomed cross country trails within ten minutes of town, you will love Missoula in the winter.
Like most other Western towns, Missoula has embraced the Microbrew culture. In the spring time, beer lovers will want to attend the Garden City BrewFest. With four breweries and two pub houses, along with multiple stores to get your own home brew set-up, you better show up early to sample over 30 local microbrews while listening to local bands at the BrewFest. Flathead Lake Brewing Company of Missoula is a good example of the local cuisine.
When the weather warms up, check out the Summer Concert Series at Big Sky Brewery which saw acts such as Ray LaMontagne with Brandi Carlile, Modest Mouse, and the Decemberists in 2011.
There is plenty of history to be uncovered in Missoula. Council Grove State Park is within 15 minutes of downtown Missoula. This historic area commemorates the signing of the Hellgate treaty of 1855 between the U.S. and confederated tribes of the Flathead, Kootenai, and Upper Pend d’Oreilles. It’s an ideal location for wildlife viewing, fishing and exploring the Clark Fork River.
While you are in Missoula, take a picture on the Blackfoot River – take your photo with a Cutthroat Trout, before you release it back into the water.
While folks know that Missoula excels in outdoor recreation activities, The Missoula Art Museum hosts more than 26 exhibitions from local and international artists every year. Currently it’s hosting over 130 gelatin silver prints by Ansel Adams. The museum also provides lectures, films and guided tours.
If you are a museum lover, Missoula’s best museum is The Historic Museum at Fort Missoula for western history. This fort is no longer active but has great exhibits such as “”The Road to Today: 250 Years of Missoula’s History” and “When The Mountains Roared: The Fire Of 1910.” Fort Missoula was also used by the Black Bicycle Cops of the 25th Infantry, and as an Alien Detention Center during WWII between 1941-1944 housing approximately 1200 people.
Chef-owned and inspired Scotty’s Table is an example of Missoula bistro dining in the historic Wilma theatre. For the best wine bar in town, stop by The Red Bird in the historic Florence Building. Looking for affordable dining? The Dinosaur Café in Charlie B’s has southern comfort food that is filling on a snowy day. Chicken in the Ruff from the Shack has been on the menu since the doors opened in 1949. Enjoy it with a local brew such as Cold Smoke scotch ale from the Kettle House Brewery.
Butterfly Herbs on Higgins Avenue is the place for whole bean coffee and a breakfast treat. Pizza on the Fly is a good choice for late night dining, the new late night spot is Philly West where the owner flies in sandwich rolls and has authentic WHIZ.
Thinking about a night out on the town? For a night of dancing, The Top Hat has more live music than any venue in town, often featuring musical talent out of Portland and Seattle. Stop by for a mid-week show.
Best Way to See Missoula
The best way to get around Missoula is to walk. The three farmers markets on Higgins Ave each highlight a different theme in raw foods, baked and homemade goods and handmade wares during the summer. Cross the Clark Fork River on the bridge while you watch kayakers and surfers on Brennan’s Wave. Then continue to the Hip Strip on South Higgins for restaurants and shopping.
Just outside of Missoula you can visit Clearwater River Canoe Trail, a 3.5 mile float through a unique river corridor where you will see Montana’s flora and fauna. After the float it’s only a 1.5 mile walk back to the put in. Enjoy lunch in Seely Lake at any of the local restaurants.
Don’t miss the Carousel in Caras Park if you have kids traveling with you. The carousel is hand-carved and hand-painted, with over 100,000 volunteer hours being given to this great community treasure. This place is a special spot for the young and old alike.
During the summer a must-see is the Smoke Jumper center to view their gear, firefighting planes and maybe even meet a smokejumper.
What To Do in Missoula
In Missoula, outdoor enthusiasts are able to hike, bike, horseback ride and kayak. Missoula has more biking trails than your average-sized city, along with ever increasing bike and walking paths to connect all of Missoula. The Rattlesnake National Recreation Area is perfect to horseback ride for days or until you explore all 60,000 acres including the wilderness area.
Numerous trails in the Pattee Canyon Recreation area will take you to the top of University Mountain. Pattee Canyon also boasts a Folf course, picnic tables and great wildlife viewing. If you get a chance, get your picture taken on the “M” trail. It’s a short ¼ mile uphill walk that gives you amazing views of the University District and the Missoula Valley.
The best vantage points are taken by walking to the top of Mt. Jumbo. View all three rivers that are around town along with two different mountain ranges and several national forests that surround Missoula.
This year will mark the 35th International Wildlife Film Festival which covers a week of wildlife and outdoor film screenings, art, and pre & post film events.
Missoula’s River City Roots Festival is a great place to watch people. It’s free and open to the public located in downtown Missoula. Fall is Grizzly Football season. Grizzly Football fans set up the tail gates by 10:00 a.m. for all 25,000 fans.
For local news, the daily newspaper is the Missoulian, and the Independent is a weekly paper of people, arts and culture.
Insider Tip: Check out the often over-looked Pioneer League Osprey Baseball team. Games happen during the months of June-September. Games feature family friendly and kids’ activities as well as a few great firework shows during the season. The stadium also hosts large concerts during the summer, this year Willy Nelson along with Lyle Lovett and his large band will visit Missoula.
What are your favorite things to do in Missoula?
Thanks to Troy Payton Destination Missoula for assistance with this post. Photo of Council Grove courtesy of Troy Payton. Photo of Farmers Market courtesy of Lisa A. Choo. Wildflowers photo courtesy of Jackie Corday. Article by Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown.