The Top 10 Things to Do in Missoula Montana
Missoula, Montana, once a bustling logging town, is now home to a vibrant outdoorsy community and a thriving college campus. Surrounded by mountains and trails that provide great hiking and biking opportunities, and the Clark Fork river flowing through downtown, there are activities for all types of outdoor enthusiasts. The city itself provides plenty of entertainment in its own right as well. So whether you are visiting Missoula for its outdoor access, or perhaps because you’ve heard of the excellent breweries, here are some ideas on what to do on your trip and make the most of your stay in the Treasure State.
Hike the “M”
Since 1908, the white M has stood proud on Mt Sentinel as a reminder to locals and visitors alike that the University of Montana resides in Missoula as a staple of the community. Originally comprised of white stones, it is now a permanent cement fixture. The hike to the “M” is about ¾ miles and offers great views of the University of Montana, the Clark Fork River, and beyond. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can hike for another mile and summit Mt Sentinel. From the top, views abound in all directions and you may even be able to see evidence of Glacial Lake Missoula carved into the hillsides. Trained and experienced winter adventurers, may even hike up for a backcountry ski when Mt Sentinel is covered in snow.
Visit the University of Montana campus
The university of Missoula makes the town what it is. Check out all the hustle and bustle of campus by hanging out in the oval, grabbing lunch, wandering through the gardens, or exploring the paleontology center full of fossils found throughout the Northwest. The university gardens foster plant species from a multitude of climates and environments, leaving much to learn about. The oval is the center of campus, offering a year round grassy field perfect for throwing a frisbee, hammocking, slacklining, or watching people hike up the infamous ‘M’.
Missoula is surrounded by some of the greatest whitewater rivers in the west. In May and June, you can get your thrills and enjoy some stunning alpine scenery on the St Joe River. Adrenaline seekers and experienced rafters may want to venture southwest into Idaho for the roaring, action packed, Lochsa river! For splashy summer fun with the family, you can go rafting on the Clark Fork River in July and August. All three offer a unique experience, so for the true rafting aficionado, you can check off all three of these iconic Northwest rivers!
Have a beer
Missoula is home to a multitude of breweries for being such a small town! With the growing beer scene over the last decade, Missoula holds quite a few uniquer microbreweries. For craft beer fanatics, Missoula is a hidden gem. The beer industry is complemented with the beautiful natural scenery which makes stopping in Missoula for a drink, definitely worthwhile. Some local brewery favorites include Big Sky, Kettlehouse, Bayern, and Imagine Nation. We recommend exploring several and figure out your favorite on your own. Bring a driver, or enjoy the walkability of downtown Missoula.
Walk the river or go for a happy hour float through town
The riverfront walking trail runs parallel to the Clark Fork river and goes right through downtown Missoula. It's a great trail for walking or biking and offers superb views of the river and the whitewater park, Brennan’s Wave, where you can find surfers and kayakers playing in waves. The riverfront trail also takes you to Caras park, which is another spot we recommend exploring. If being on the water is more your speed, you can look into a happy hour float. Many breweries and wineries host happy hour floats on the Clark Fork while after the excitement of the rapids, you relax and sip your way through a wine or beer tasting accompanied by light appetizers. This is a unique experience to Missoula and one that's not to be missed.
Check out nearby hot springs
Missoula is home to some of the best hot springs in all of Montana. If you’re looking for a more scenic and natural hot spring experience, check out Nimrod Warm Springs. It's a larger pool with lukewarm water and plenty of rocks to jump off of. It’s got crystal clear water in the high desert landscape. It's a short half mile walk from the road to get here, and totally worth a swim. If you are looking for a hot spring experience with changing rooms and provided towels, check out some of the many more developed ones like Lolo Hot Springs.
Visit the Missoula Art Museum
Although you may think of Missoula as a mountain town, there is quite an emphasis on local art throughout the city. Missoula is home to artists of all kinds who find inspiration in the surrounding natural environment. Entry to the museum is free thanks to many community donors. The Missoula Art Museum or MAM for short, seeks to introduce contemporary, historic, and relevant art from the community, state, and surrounding Northwest regions to all that visit.
Adventure in Rattlesnake National Recreation Area
Located right in the Missoula Ranger District, the southern entrance to the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area is just four miles north of Missoula. This is Missoula’s backyard. With hiking and biking trails with elevation gains ranging from 600 - 5,000 ft, there is something for everyone here. The recreation area even offers prime fishing holes and horseback riding on numerous trails. There are many bathrooms scattered among popular trailheads, but there is no filtered running water in the area, so be sure to pack plenty of water before hopping on the trail.
Explore Caras Park
Caras Park is in the heart of downtown, right along the Clark Fork river and hard to miss if you are exploring town. The park's pavilion is used for many public and community events throughout the summer months. This is a great place for the whole family as there is a carousel and playground, and spots to dip your toes in the river on a hot summer day. You can often find a variety of food trucks here making it also a great spot for lunch and a picnic along the river.
Experience the Missoula Farmers Market
If you are looking to see the best that Missoula has to offer, then strolling the farmers market on Saturday mornings is a must. You’ll find a variety of locally grown, fresh food, local handmade crafts, microbrewed kombucha, and so much more. Admire the dedication to local goods and community feel of the market accompanied by live music that changes every week.
Missoula, Montana is a fantastic place to visit anytime of year. The town boasts recreational activities, great beer, and a community that is hard to beat. Whether you are spending the weekend in town or just passing through, you can experience the magic of Montana in this hidden gem.