Best Things to Do in Missoula, Montana


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Missoula is one of the most beautiful cities in Montana — or even in all of the United States if you ask some people! It is gorgeously situated among towering mountains right by a wide river. Along with its Instagram-worthy views, there are a multitude of fun things to do in Missoula, whether you’re looking for outdoor adventures or cultural and historic activities.

Best Time to Go to Missoula

Missoula is beautiful at any time of the year and has activities for every season, but it particularly shines in the summer and autumn months. That is literal since it gets a high percentage of sunshine during summer, but it also is because the weather highlights one of the best things to do in Missoula: hiking. (More on that later on in this article, including other things to do in Missoula).

Also, if you want to do a day trip to one of Montana’s epic national parks, you’ll need to be there in summer or risk not being able to access most of Glacier National Park and large swaths of Yellowstone National Park due to snow.

If visiting in the winter, you’ll find that over the holidays can be a peaceful time to visit. The university is quiet with many students home for the holidays and Missoula is just far enough away from the major ski resorts that you won’t get too many crowds flocking to the bars and restaurants at the end of a long ski day, unlike other guides we’ve written for cities in the north like Rochester and Duluth.

If you are looking for things to do in Missoula in winter, you can still easily get to the slopes nearby. Snowbowl is less than ten miles away, making for a great day trip hitting the slopes during your trip.

How To Get to Missoula

Missoula is located in western Montana, about an hour from the border of Idaho. The city is right off of Interstate 90.

It is centrally sandwiched between the two national parks located in Montana: Yellowstone National Park is about four hours southeast and Glacier National Park is roughly two and a half hours to the north. (If you’re planning to do one of those aforementioned National Park day trips, plan on getting up early.)

Missoula has a small airport located just outside of town or you can fly into Bozeman, Montana’s busiest airport and which is located about three hours away.

Costs of Visiting Missoula, MT

Compared to the prices of Bozeman and Big Sky, or Glacier and Yellowstone, the hotel costs of Missoula seem quite manageable, with mid-range hotels going for under $150 a night and budget chains for under $100.

However, this is a college town, so expect these prices to double or more on game nights (Go Griz!) or during the first week of school.

Things to Do in Missoula

Now for all the amazing Missoula, Montana attractions! Many of these are accessible all year round. So enjoy these tips.

A Carousel for Missoula

This is a fantastic, intricately made carousel with an impressive history. Also, if you are traveling with kids, there is a huge and awe-inspiring playground right next to the playground that looks like a castle and has many dragon components built into it, which makes it a great place for a photo. It is one of the really fun things to do in Missoula, MT.

Location: Off of Carousel Drive in downtown.

Cost: Just $.75 for anyone under 16 or over 55. $2.25 for everyone else.

When to Go: It’s open from 11 a.m. every day, but closing time changes depending on the season. From June through August it stays open until 7 p.m.; the other months it closes at 5:30 p.m.

"Carousel

Riverfront Walking Trail

Right behind the Carousel for Missoula you’ll see glimpses of the river that runs through town. Parallel to this is Missoula’s Riverfront walking trail, a perfect place for an amble while soaking in the nature and views the city offers.

Location: The northern side of Clark Fork River.

Cost: Free

When to Go: Can do the walk year-round, but you’ll want to bundle up in the winter and have shoes with good traction on snow and ice.

Missoula Riverfront Walking Trail

Missoula Riverfront Trail

Hike to the M and More Missoula Hiking 

If you like hiking, then hiking to the M and taking a photo – whether from below or once you hike up to it – is a can’t miss thing to do. The M is a large concrete letter M located on the side of a mountain overlooking the city. It is only three-quarters of a mile to hike to, but is fairly steep and has 11 switchbacks up the mountain.

Other popular hiking areas around the Missoula community include the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and the Blue Mountain Recreation Area.

In the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area (which thankfully is NOT known for actual rattlesnake encounters) the Stuart Peak Trail is a popular one due to it being one of the area’s highest points with gorgeous views. However, you’ll find a variety of trails to fit your skill level and time thanks to an extensive trail system since the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area covers over 60,000 acres.

In the Blue Mountain Recreation Area southwest of the city, you’ll find a myriad of trails that are part of Lolo National Forest. An easy place to start your hike is at the main trailhead. There you’ll find a number of trails plus maps with details about each hiking trail.

When to Go: You can hike year round in Missoula, though if you make a go for it in the winter, be sure you have the proper gear; you may even want to trade in boots for snowshoes! Also, if hiking in spring, summer, or fall, be aware you’re in bear country and it’s highly possible to cross paths with a bear. The smartest thing you can have with you is bear spray when hiking around anywhere in Montana.

How to Get There: Hiking trails are found all around town, but to get to the M trailhead, simply go to the parking lot off of Campus Drive; it’s right by the start of the trail and is across from Aber Hall at the University of Montana. The Rattlesnake Wilderness Area is located north of town and is of the  great Missoula attractions. It is accessible via the Rattlesnake Wilderness and National Recreation Area, located off of Rattlesnake Drive and adjacent to a parking lot. The Blue Mountain Recreation Area’s main trailhead is located southwest, off of Blue Mountain Road.

M on Mount Sentinel

M on Mount Sentinel

Lewis and Clark Trail

If you remember hearing all about Lewis and Clark’s exciting expedition in the early 19th century after the Louisiana Purchase, then you won’t want to miss an amble down the part of the Lewis and Clark Trail that goes through Missoula. Lewis and Clark made their way through here in 1805 and you can walk along the historic trail that goes alongside the Missouri River and think what it was like to have explored it 200 years ago.

Location: To follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark make your way to the riverfront and then onto nearby Loll where they camped while scouting the area.

Cost: Free

When to Go: You can follow the trail year-round.

 

Smokejumper Visitor Center

The wildfires of Montana may not make the news as much as the ones in California, but they have still done devastation to Montana over the years. Learn more about wildfires and how they start, how to prevent them, and how they are fought at the Smokejumper Visitor Center. An emphasis is of course put on the role of the smokejumper when fighting these fires and you’ll learn all about this risky profession that saves lives and livelihoods as well as out nation’s forests.

The visitor center is adjacent to an actual smokejumper base — the largest in the country. You can also walk around the original fire lookout tower, which was built in the 1930s. Guided tours of a smokejumping base are given throughout the day.

Location: The Smokejumper Visitor Center is located about ten minutes away from downtown, just west of the airport.

Cost: Free

When to Go: The Smokejumper Visitor Center is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. You can do a self tour (but won’t be able to access the actual base) between 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free guided tours are offered at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. You may be able to call ahead by at least two days and make a reservation for a guided tour in winter. The guided tours last between 45 minutes to an hour.

 

Historical Museum at Fort Missoula

Fort Missoula is an interesting historical spot that has blended what remains of an old military fort with artifacts from around Missoula County that help tell the history of the region’s past. There is a strong focus on past military presences in the area. You’ll also find information about forest management, wood products, and other environmental factors that have played a part in the region. This Missoula museum also focuses on the region’s family history, Native American history, women’s history, minority-based history, and the history of the development of Missoula.

Location: 3400 Captain Road Way, on the southwest side of Missoula.

Cost: $4 for adults, $2 for students, or $10 per family. Children under six are free. The grounds are free to walk around.

When to Go: The museum is open year round, but has longer hours between Memorial Day to Labor Day when it is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday through Saturday and from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The rest of the year it is closed on Mondays and open from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. the other days.

 

The Craft Beer and Liquor Scene

Missoula’s brewery scene has been happening for a while now, and it continues to increase in prominence. What many visitors may not be aware of, though, is there also is a burgeoning craft distillery scene.

You can find breweries both downtown (like the popular Tamarack Brewing) as well as outside the city center, like the family-friendly Highlander Beer – Missoula Brewing Company, which was also the first brewery here.

For distilleries, the Montana Distillery and Rattlesnake Creek Distillers are good options and located within easy walking distance of each other downtown. A little bit farther away — still in walking distance, but a 10-minute walk — is Montgomery Distillery, known for its seasonal cocktails and industrial ambiance.

When to Go: These establishments are open year-round in Missoula, but be aware many close early, typically at 8 p.m. due to the state’s liquor laws.

Highlander Beer in Missoula

Highlander Beer

Go to the Farmer’s Market Year-Round

Missoula is close to farms and ranches and going to one of its farmer’s markets is a great way to spend an hour or so if you’re here when one is going on.

In the summer months, you’ll find the Missoula Farmers Market every Tuesday and Saturday. It has been going on since 1972 and has over 100 vendors selling local produce, flowers and other plants, baked goods, and much more. There are also live music performances on Saturdays.

A cool thing is that the city even has a winter farmers market called the Missoula Valley Winter Market. In winter you’ll find produce, baked goods, frozen cuts of meat, eggs, cheese, fruit preserves, jars of honey, and local artisan crafts.

Location: The Farmers Market is located in Circle Square at the north end of Higgins Avenue. The Valley Winter Market is at the Missoula Senior Center located at 705 Higgins.

When to Go: The Farmers Market runs from May through October. On Saturdays, it is open from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and on Tuesdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The Winter Market is open on Saturdays from November to April (Double check exactly which week it starts and ends on in those months for both farmers markets before going.)

 

Montana Natural History Center

Learn more about the flora and fauna of western Montana with a visit to the family-friendly Montana Natural History Center. Kids will love the microscope area where they can pretend they’re scientists, and there are also hands-on activities throughout the center. Adults will enjoy learning more about the natural history of the great state of Montana.

Location: 120 Hickory Street, Suite A by the Osprey Baseball Stadium. The building has a large dragonfly mural on it.

Cost: Adults, $3; Children ages 4 through 18 are $1; and children under four are free. There is also a family rate for $7.

When to Go: Open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. It is closed on Sunday.

 

Missoula Art Museum (MAM) 

MAM was actually only founded in 1975, so it is a relatively recent addition to the list of things to do in Missoula, MT. It mostly has contemporary Native American artists, regional artists and also some first-rate international and national touring exhibits.

Hours and Location: Admission is free, due to the generous donations of the museum’s membership. It is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m and is located at 335 North Pattee.

Missoula Paddle Heads

There is minor league baseball here at well, though obviously only during the warm months. The team is a Rookie Advanced affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Location: Osprey Baseball Stadium at 700 Cregg Lane.

Schedule and costs: click here for the game schedule and to buy tickets.

Caras Park

Caras Park is located right in the middle of downtown. Situated on the banks of the Clark Fork River, the park plays host to festivals, art shows, live music and theater, barbecues, and private events such as weddings and family reunions.

The Riverpoint Walking Trail goes right through the park and it is adjacent to the Carousel. And in terms of events, the Brewfest is a highlight of the spring season every year in the park.

caras park MT

Caras Park

Elk County Visitor Center

The visitor center is run by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), which is a conservation and pro-hunting organization. They advocate for protecting elk and other wildlife through land protection and land management. The foundation provides many ways to get involved with the process and learn about the natural habitats that elk call home.

Location and fees: It is located at 5705 Grant Creek Road and is open 9 to 5 year-round, except for holidays. Admission is free.

Enjoy Your Time in Missoula!

Whether you partake in as many outdoor activities as you can while in Missoula, or you prefer to get indoors and learn about the city’s past or it’s current culture of carousels and brews, you’ll love all the things you can do during a trip to Missoula. And you don’t even need a passport.

About the Author: 

Gina Tarnacki has been writing and blogging about travel for over a decade. Her latest venture is a family affair with her sisters and mom writing about the state they all call home in one way or another: Montana. You can read more of her Montana tips at www.TravelMontanaNow.com or follow all her travel adventures on Instagram or Pinterest.


About Michael Hodson

I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.