Welcome to Missoula, Montana, a vibrant city nestled in the heart of the Northern Rockies. Known for its scenic beauty, thriving arts scene, and outdoor recreation opportunities, Missoula is the perfect destination for those seeking a mix of culture and adventure. This travel guide will help you plan your visit and make the most of your time in this picturesque city.
Discover Missoula’s Historical Sites and Attractions:
Missoula, Montana, is a vibrant city with a rich history, offering visitors an array of historical sites and attractions to explore. Here are some popular historical sites and attractions to discover in Missoula:
- Fort Missoula: Established in 1877, this historic fort played a significant role in the settlement of the region. Today, the fort houses the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, which offers exhibits, historical buildings, and interactive displays showcasing the area’s history.
- A Carousel for Missoula: Located in Caras Park, this beautifully restored and hand-carved carousel is a testament to the city’s community spirit. It was built by local volunteers and features 38 horses and two chariots, offering a charming ride for all ages.
- Garnet Ghost Town: Just a short drive from Missoula, Garnet Ghost Town offers a glimpse into the region’s gold mining past. Explore the well-preserved buildings, learn about the town’s history, and enjoy the surrounding scenery on the network of hiking trails.
- The Missoula Art Museum: Housed in a historic Carnegie Library building, the Missoula Art Museum features contemporary art exhibits that highlight the work of regional artists, as well as a collection of historical art pieces.
- St. Francis Xavier Church: This historic church, built in 1891, features beautiful stained-glass windows and an impressive Gothic Revival architectural style. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Historic Downtown Missoula: Take a stroll through the city’s historic downtown area, where you’ll find beautifully preserved buildings, unique shops, and restaurants. The Missoula Downtown Association offers guided walking tours that delve into the area’s history and architecture.
- The Wilma: This historic theater, built in 1921, is an iconic landmark in downtown Missoula. Today, it hosts a variety of events, including film screenings, concerts, and performing arts.
- Smokejumper Visitor Center: Learn about the history and heroic efforts of smokejumpers, elite firefighters who parachute into remote areas to combat wildfires. The visitor center offers guided tours, exhibits, and a chance to see the training facilities.
- Montana’s Museum of Mountain Flying: Located at the Missoula International Airport, this museum showcases the history of mountain flying in the region, with vintage aircraft, exhibits, and artifacts that tell the story of aviation in the rugged Montana wilderness.
By discovering Missoula’s historical sites and attractions, visitors can gain a deeper understanding of the city’s rich history and appreciate its unique cultural heritage.
Experience Missoula’s Museums and Cultural Institutions:
Missoula, Montana, boasts a vibrant arts and culture scene, offering visitors a variety of museums and cultural institutions to explore. Here are some popular museums and cultural institutions to experience in Missoula:
- Missoula Art Museum: This contemporary art museum is dedicated to showcasing the work of regional artists, with a focus on contemporary art and Native American culture. The museum, housed in a historic Carnegie Library building, features rotating exhibits and offers free admission.
- Montana Museum of Art and Culture: Located on the University of Montana campus, this museum holds a diverse collection of art, ranging from European and American masters to contemporary regional artists. The museum offers rotating exhibits, lectures, and special events.
- The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula: This museum, situated within the grounds of historic Fort Missoula, offers exhibits and interactive displays that tell the story of the region’s history, from Native American tribes to early settlers and military history.
- The Roxy Theater: This historic theater has been restored and now serves as a community cinema and cultural center, showcasing independent, foreign, and classic films, as well as hosting live events and educational programs.
- Zootown Arts Community Center: Known as the ZACC, this community center promotes local arts through classes, workshops, and events. The center features a gallery showcasing local artists and offers creative opportunities for all ages.
- The Clay Studio of Missoula: This nonprofit ceramics center offers classes, workshops, and exhibitions in the ceramic arts. Visit the gallery to view rotating exhibits featuring local and national ceramic artists.
- Children’s Museum Missoula: A perfect destination for families with young children, this museum offers interactive exhibits and hands-on learning experiences that encourage creativity, exploration, and learning through play.
- Montana Natural History Center: This educational center is dedicated to promoting the understanding and appreciation of the region’s natural history. It offers exhibits, educational programs, and nature walks that explore the flora, fauna, and ecosystems of Western Montana.
- University of Montana: The campus of the University of Montana is home to several cultural institutions, including the Montana Museum of Art and Culture, the Montana Repertory Theatre, and the School of Theatre & Dance, which offer performances, exhibits, and events throughout the year.
By experiencing Missoula’s museums and cultural institutions, visitors can gain a deeper understanding of the region’s arts, history, and natural beauty, while also enjoying engaging and educational experiences.
Unwind in Missoula’s Parks and Outdoor Spaces:
Missoula, Montana, offers an abundance of parks and outdoor spaces where visitors can unwind, relax, and enjoy the area’s natural beauty. Here are some popular parks and outdoor spaces to explore in Missoula:
- Caras Park: Located in the heart of downtown Missoula, Caras Park offers beautiful views of the Clark Fork River and hosts various events, including outdoor concerts, festivals, and the popular Missoula Farmers Market.
- Greenough Park: This picturesque park along Rattlesnake Creek features walking trails, picnic areas, and abundant birdwatching opportunities. The park’s lush greenery and serene atmosphere make it an ideal spot for a peaceful stroll or a family picnic.
- Missoula Memorial Rose Garden: Situated in the Playfair Park complex, this beautifully landscaped garden features over 2,000 rose bushes and offers a tranquil setting for a leisurely walk or quiet reflection.
- McCormick Park: This popular park features a variety of recreational facilities, including a playground, sports courts, a skate park, and access to the Clark Fork River for fishing and river activities.
- Mount Sentinel: Dominating the Missoula skyline, Mount Sentinel offers a network of hiking and mountain biking trails, including the iconic “M” trail that leads to a large concrete “M” on the mountainside, offering stunning views of Missoula and the surrounding valleys.
- Mount Jumbo: Another prominent Missoula landmark, Mount Jumbo offers hiking trails, wildlife viewing opportunities, and panoramic views of the city and the surrounding landscape.
- The Riverfront Trail System: This extensive network of trails follows the Clark Fork River and provides opportunities for walking, jogging, and biking while enjoying the scenic river views.
- Splash Montana: Located in Playfair Park, Splash Montana is a seasonal water park featuring water slides, a lazy river, and a wave pool, offering a fun way to cool off during the warm summer months.
- Blue Mountain Recreation Area: Just a short drive from Missoula, Blue Mountain Recreation Area offers miles of hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails, as well as scenic picnic areas and stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
By unwinding in Missoula’s parks and outdoor spaces, visitors can connect with nature, enjoy recreational activities, and experience the city’s beautiful landscapes and outdoor offerings.
Learn at Missoula’s Universities and Colleges:
Missoula is home to several universities and colleges, providing opportunities for learning, research, and cultural experiences. Here are some of the educational institutions in Missoula:
- University of Montana (UM): The University of Montana, established in 1893, is a public research university and the flagship campus of the Montana University System. UM offers a wide range of undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs, with notable strengths in environmental and natural sciences, humanities, and the arts. The campus is home to various cultural institutions, such as the Montana Museum of Art and Culture and the Montana Repertory Theatre, offering performances, exhibits, and events throughout the year.
- Missoula College: Missoula College, a part of the University of Montana, is a two-year community college offering associate degrees and certificate programs in various fields, including health professions, applied sciences, and liberal arts. Missoula College focuses on workforce development, providing students with the skills and training needed for regional industries and careers.
- University of Montana Western: Located in nearby Dillon, the University of Montana Western is a four-year public university offering undergraduate degree programs in education, business, liberal arts, and sciences. The university is known for its innovative “Experience One” program, which allows students to take one course at a time for an immersive, focused learning experience.
- Montana Tech: Although located in Butte, about two hours away from Missoula, Montana Tech is another educational institution affiliated with the University of Montana. Montana Tech specializes in engineering, applied and health sciences, and offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs in various fields, with a strong emphasis on practical, hands-on learning experiences.
By visiting or attending these universities and colleges in Missoula, students and visitors can engage in learning opportunities, explore diverse academic fields, and participate in a vibrant campus community.
Savor Missoula’s Food and Dining:
Missoula, Montana, offers a diverse food scene with numerous restaurants, cafes, and breweries for visitors to enjoy. Here are some popular dining options in Missoula to savor the local flavors:
- The Pearl Cafe: This cozy, upscale eatery offers a menu inspired by French and European cuisine, featuring dishes made from fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. The Pearl Cafe is a perfect spot for a romantic dinner or a special occasion.
- Biga Pizza: Known for its handcrafted, artisan pizzas made with local ingredients, Biga Pizza is a popular dining destination in Missoula. The menu also features salads, sandwiches, and house-made desserts.
- Scotty’s Table: Located in the historic Wilma Building, Scotty’s Table offers farm-to-table cuisine with a focus on regional ingredients and flavors. The menu changes seasonally, showcasing the best of Montana’s produce, meats, and cheeses.
- The Catalyst Cafe & Espresso Bar: This popular downtown cafe serves breakfast and lunch, offering a wide variety of dishes, from creative omelets and breakfast burritos to gourmet sandwiches and salads.
- The Notorious P.I.G. BBQ: Enjoy authentic, slow-smoked barbecue at this popular Missoula eatery. The menu features classics like pulled pork, brisket, and ribs, along with delicious sides and house-made sauces.
- Caffe Dolce: This Italian-inspired cafe offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients. The menu includes pasta dishes, wood-fired pizzas, and a selection of delectable pastries and desserts.
- The Tamarack Brewing Company: With its casual atmosphere and extensive menu, this brewpub is a great spot for a laid-back meal. The Tamarack Brewing Company offers a selection of house-brewed beers, as well as a menu featuring pub fare, pizzas, and regional specialties.
- Bernice’s Bakery: A beloved Missoula institution, Bernice’s Bakery offers a variety of freshly baked goods, including bread, pastries, cookies, and cakes. Enjoy a treat with a cup of coffee or tea in the cozy cafe setting.
- Five on Black: This fast-casual restaurant serves Brazilian-inspired cuisine, with a focus on fresh, flavorful ingredients. Choose from a variety of proteins, grains, and toppings to create your own customized bowl.
These are just a few of the many dining options available in Missoula, where visitors can savor a diverse range of cuisines and flavors in a welcoming and vibrant food scene.
Shop in Missoula and Enjoy Local Services:
Missoula offers a variety of shopping experiences and local services, ranging from unique boutiques and specialty shops to larger retail centers. Here are some popular places to shop and enjoy local services in Missoula:
- Downtown Missoula: The city’s historic downtown area is filled with local shops, boutiques, galleries, and cafes. Stroll along the tree-lined streets and discover unique items, such as Montana-made products, clothing, jewelry, and gifts.
- Southgate Mall: This shopping center features a mix of national retail stores, local boutiques, and dining options. Southgate Mall is a great place to find clothing, accessories, electronics, and more.
- Hip Strip: Located just south of the Clark Fork River, the Hip Strip is a vibrant district with an eclectic mix of shops, including vintage clothing stores, record shops, and specialty boutiques.
- The Artists’ Shop: This cooperative gallery showcases the work of local artists, offering a wide selection of handmade items, including pottery, jewelry, paintings, and sculptures.
- The Book Exchange: A popular destination for book lovers, this locally-owned store offers a vast selection of new and used books, as well as games, puzzles, and gifts.
- Rockin Rudy’s: This iconic Missoula store features an extensive selection of CDs, vinyl records, and DVDs, as well as gifts, toys, and novelty items. The store is a must-visit for music lovers and those looking for unique souvenirs.
- Missoula Farmers Market: Held weekly from May through October, the Missoula Farmers Market is a great place to find fresh, locally-grown produce, baked goods, and artisanal products.
- Butterfly Herbs: Established in 1972, this unique shop offers a wide selection of herbs, teas, spices, and natural products. The store also features a cozy cafe serving coffee, tea, and light fare.
- Betty’s Divine: This trendy boutique offers a curated selection of vintage and new clothing, shoes, and accessories for both men and women.
- Runner’s Edge: Catering to the local running community, Runner’s Edge offers a wide selection of running shoes, apparel, and accessories, as well as expert advice and personalized fitting services.
Whether you’re searching for unique gifts, stylish clothing, or locally-made products, Missoula offers an array of shopping options and local services to suit every taste and need.
Explore Missoula’s Outdoor Activities:
Missoula, Montana, is surrounded by stunning natural landscapes, making it an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts. There is no shortage of activities to explore in and around Missoula. Here are some popular outdoor activities to experience:
- Hiking: Missoula offers numerous hiking trails suitable for various skill levels. Some popular trails include the “M” Trail on Mount Sentinel, the Kim Williams Nature Trail, and the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area.
- Biking: Missoula boasts an extensive network of bike lanes and trails, such as the Bitterroot Trail, which connects Missoula to Hamilton, and the scenic Clark Fork Riverfront Trail.
- Fishing: The rivers and streams around Missoula offer excellent opportunities for fishing. The nearby Bitterroot, Blackfoot, and Clark Fork rivers are popular destinations for fly fishing enthusiasts.
- Floating and Rafting: Float down the Clark Fork River on a warm summer day or enjoy a thrilling whitewater rafting adventure on the nearby Alberton Gorge.
- Skiing and Snowboarding: Missoula is within driving distance of several ski resorts, including Snowbowl, Discovery Ski Area, and Lost Trail Powder Mountain, offering winter sports enthusiasts a variety of slopes to explore.
- Golfing: The city is home to several golf courses, such as the Canyon River Golf Club and the University of Montana Golf Course, where you can enjoy a round of golf surrounded by picturesque mountain views.
- Wildlife Watching: Visit the nearby Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge or the National Bison Range to observe a variety of wildlife, including deer, elk, bison, and numerous bird species.
- Rock Climbing: The surrounding mountains and cliffs offer opportunities for rock climbing and bouldering, with popular spots like Kootenai Creek and Mill Creek catering to climbers of all skill levels.
- Horseback Riding: Several local outfitters offer guided horseback riding tours through the stunning Montana wilderness, providing a unique way to experience the area’s natural beauty.
- Missoula Parks: The city is home to numerous parks, such as Caras Park and Greenough Park, where you can relax, picnic, or enjoy outdoor activities like frisbee, soccer, or basketball.
With a diverse range of outdoor activities and stunning natural landscapes, Missoula is the perfect destination for those looking to explore the great outdoors in Montana.
Celebrate at Missoula’s Events and Festivals:
Missoula hosts a variety of events and festivals throughout the year, celebrating the city’s vibrant culture, arts, and community. Here are some popular events and festivals to enjoy while visiting Missoula:
- Missoula Marathon: Held annually in June, the Missoula Marathon is a weekend-long event featuring a full marathon, half marathon, and 5K race, drawing participants and spectators from all over the country.
- First Friday: On the first Friday of every month, downtown Missoula comes alive with art, music, and special events. Art galleries, shops, and cafes stay open late, and the streets are filled with live music and performances.
- River City Roots Festival: This annual two-day event in August celebrates Missoula’s unique culture with live music, art shows, food vendors, and family-friendly activities in the heart of downtown.
- Big Sky Documentary Film Festival: Held in February, this ten-day event showcases documentary films from around the world, with screenings, panel discussions, and workshops.
- Western Montana Fair: Taking place in August, the Western Montana Fair is a week-long celebration of Montana’s agricultural heritage, featuring rodeo events, carnival rides, livestock shows, and local food vendors.
- Garden City BrewFest: This annual May event showcases a wide selection of craft beers from local and regional breweries, along with live music and food vendors in Caras Park.
- Missoula Art Museum’s Benefit Art Auction: This annual fundraising event in February features a live and silent auction of artwork from local and regional artists, along with food, drinks, and entertainment.
- International Wildlife Film Festival: Held in April, this week-long event showcases films and documentaries highlighting wildlife and environmental conservation issues from around the world.
- Travelers’ Rest Festival: This two-day music festival in August takes place at the Big Sky Brewing Company Amphitheater and features an eclectic lineup of local and national bands.
- Out to Lunch and Downtown Tonight: From June through August, Caras Park hosts these weekly events featuring live music, food vendors, and family-friendly activities. Out to Lunch takes place on Wednesdays at lunchtime, while Downtown Tonight occurs on Thursday evenings.
These are just a few examples of the numerous events and festivals that take place in Missoula throughout the year, offering visitors a chance to experience the city’s vibrant culture and community spirit.
Navigate Missoula’s Transportation:
Navigating Missoula’s transportation system is relatively easy, with a variety of options available for getting around the city and surrounding areas. Here are the main modes of transportation in Missoula:
- Mountain Line Bus Service: Missoula’s public transit system, Mountain Line, offers a network of bus routes throughout the city. Most routes run Monday through Saturday, with limited service on Sundays. Mountain Line also offers Zero-Fare service, which means all rides are free for passengers.
- Biking: Missoula is a bike-friendly city, with numerous dedicated bike lanes and trails throughout the area. The Bitterroot Trail and the Clark Fork Riverfront Trail are popular options for cycling enthusiasts. There are also bike rental shops available if you need to rent a bike during your stay.
- Walking: Many of Missoula’s attractions, particularly in the downtown area, are within walking distance. The city’s pedestrian-friendly layout and picturesque scenery make exploring on foot an enjoyable experience.
- Taxis and Rideshares: Traditional taxi services and rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft are available in Missoula, providing a convenient option for getting around the city and traveling to and from the airport.
- Car Rental: If you prefer to have your own vehicle during your stay, there are several car rental agencies available at the Missoula International Airport and throughout the city.
- Airport Shuttles: Some hotels and accommodations in Missoula offer shuttle services to and from the Missoula International Airport. Be sure to check with your hotel about shuttle availability when making your reservation.
- Intercity Bus and Train Services: Missoula is served by intercity bus services like Greyhound and Jefferson Lines, which connect the city to other destinations in Montana and beyond. While there is no direct Amtrak train service to Missoula, the nearest Amtrak station is in Whitefish, Montana, approximately 140 miles northwest of Missoula.
With a variety of transportation options, navigating Missoula and the surrounding areas is convenient and accessible for both residents and visitors alike.
Find Missoula Accommodations:
Missoula offers a range of accommodations to suit different preferences and budgets. Whether you are looking for a budget-friendly motel, a comfortable hotel, or a cozy bed & breakfast, Missoula has options for every traveler. Some popular choices include:
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Missoula – Edgewater: Located on the banks of the Clark Fork River, this hotel offers comfortable rooms, a fitness center, and an on-site restaurant. It is within walking distance of the University of Montana and downtown Missoula.
Comfort Inn University: This budget-friendly hotel is situated near the University of Montana and offers clean, comfortable rooms with free breakfast and Wi-Fi.
Holiday Inn Missoula Downtown: Located in the heart of downtown Missoula, this hotel features an indoor pool, fitness center, and an on-site restaurant and bar. It is within walking distance of numerous shops, restaurants, and attractions.
Staybridge Suites Missoula: This extended-stay hotel offers spacious suites with fully-equipped kitchens, making it an ideal choice for longer visits or those traveling with families. Amenities include an indoor pool, fitness center, and free breakfast.
Goldsmith’s Bed & Breakfast: This charming bed & breakfast is located near the University of Montana and offers a cozy, home-like atmosphere with a delicious homemade breakfast served each morning.
Gibson Mansion Bed & Breakfast: This elegant Victorian-style mansion is located a few miles from downtown Missoula and offers beautifully appointed rooms and a delicious gourmet breakfast.
Airbnb and Vacation Rentals: Missoula also has a variety of Airbnb and vacation rental options, ranging from private rooms to entire houses or apartments. These can offer a more personalized and unique lodging experience during your stay.
Camping and RV Parks: For those who prefer a more outdoorsy experience, Missoula offers several campgrounds and RV parks in and around the city, such as the Missoula KOA and the Jellystone Park Camp-Resort.
When booking accommodations in Missoula, consider factors such as location, budget, and amenities to ensure the best fit for your travel needs.