Situated in western Montana amongst the Northern Rockies and surrounded by seven wilderness areas, Missoula (known by locals as the “Garden City”) is the ideal place to visit if you want limitless outdoor activities minutes away from a picturesque and eclectic downtown setting. It’s also the ideal place to pretend you’re Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It and do some fly-fishing (Missoula is town the book turned movie is based on). As the title suggests, a river does flow through Missoula, which is actually the confluence of three rivers: Blackfoot, Clark Fork, and Bitterroot rivers. Worried that you’ll lack intellectual stimulation? Not to worry, the University of Montana and Missoula College call this place home, earning it a spot as one of the top college towns in the U.S., according to the American Institute for Economic Research College Destinations Index.
It’s a pretty safe bet that any outdoor activity you want to partake in you can in Missoula, depending on the season. Enjoy mountain biking? Rent a bike and tear down through the Rattlesnake recreation area. Want to stand up paddleboard? Go up and down the Clark Fork River and get a unique view of downtown (or do less work and laze down the river on a tube). On your rest days you can soak up some history by retracing the steps of Lewis and Clark, learn about local history and visit the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, or feel humbled when learning about what entails aerial firefighting by heading to the Smokejumper Visitor Center (firefighters parachuting from the sky!). In your quest to replenish all those carbs you’ve burned up, be sure to head to one of the many breweries that Missoula offers (Montana ranks number two in the nation for craft breweries per capita). If you imbibe a little too much and feel like a walk is in order, head over to the Mount Sentinel “M” trail, located on the University of Montana campus, which takes you over 600 feet above the valley floor and offers amazing views of Missoula and the surrounding mountains.
To the south of Missoula is the Bitterroot Valley, home to small towns, more outdoor recreation possibilities (Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge), historical sites (Daly Mansion and St. Mary’s Mission), and hot springs (Lolo Hot Springs). To the east is Blackfoot Valley, a must if fly-fishing is high on your agenda. West of Missoula lies Clark Fork Valley, where you can white water raft the famous Alberton Gorge, enjoy the small town of St. Regis, and say hi to the bison at the National Bison Range. If you don’t mind driving a few hours, Glacier National Park is only 166 miles away (Flathead Lake is enroute and is only 70 miles, in case you get tired of driving).
Stay downtown in the heart of Missoula if you want to be within walking distance of the University of Montana and the Clark Fork River. To be closer to shopping and restaurants, look for places near Broadway Street and Brooks Street. Westview Park offers close proximity to Missoula International Airport and is in the northwestern part of town, great for those who want a home base for making trips north. If you’d rather not feel like you’re in town, there are many cabins in the area surrounding Missoula where you can view Montana’s big sky.
Considered the “Gateway to Western Montana,” Missoula International Airport lies 4 miles northwest of Missoula. Rental car services can be found at the airport and in town. Missoula’s public bus service, the Mountain Line, offers daily service with 12 different routes. Taxi service is also available. If you’re staying downtown though, walking is most definitely an option.
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