Founded in 1860 as a small trading post and surrounded by the beautiful scenery of the Rocky Mountains of western Montana, Missoula is now one of the largest cities in the state. The Clark Fork River runs through the city center, connecting many of the major cultural attractions via the Riverfront Trail. Popular parks, historic theaters, and a thriving downtown scene filled with boutiques. And restaurants are accessible from the Riverfront Trail, as is the University of Montana campus, home of the Grizzlies.
A major feature that turns tourists into Missoula residents is easy access to the great outdoors. All two million acres of Lolo National Forest surround Missoula, offering exciting and adventurous places to visit, including the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area just four kilometers north of downtown. Other fun things to do in Missoula include skiing at the Snowbowl, visiting the Missoula Art Museum, and immersing yourself in the history of the Fort Missoula Historical Museum. Plan your visit with our list of the best things to do in Missoula.
1. The Fort Missoula Historical Museum
On the site of the historic Fort Missoula, founded in 1877 at the behest of the locals as protection from the Indians of western Montana. The Fort Missoula Historical Museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the early years of everyday citizens, settlers and soldiers.
More than 20 preserved buildings are on site, and visitors can take a self-guided tour of the property. And explore the historic structures, exhibits, and artifacts at their own pace. Fort Missoula also hosts a wide variety of weekly and annual events. Including a “Fourth of July at the Fort” festival, a large annual used book sale and candlelit tours.
2. Clark Fork Riverfront Trail Editor’s Choice
Adjacent to the Clark Fork River, which runs through the city center, Missoula’s Riverfront Trail is a major community thoroughfare, connecting many of the city’s top attractions. From downtown, users can access the Riverfront Trail on the north or south bank. Instantly connecting to other points of interest, including Caras Park , the historic Milwaukee Road Depot, and the beautiful Clark Fork nature area.
Often used by walkers, joggers and bike commuters, Riverfront Trail extends to the south of the bank to connect the campus of the University of Montana and Mount Sentinel north. And the attractions of the community such as the Natural History Museum of Montana in south.
Founded in 1975, the Missoula Art Museum (MAM) features numerous works by artists who have lived or worked in the Western United States, with a focus on Montana artists. In addition to exhibiting mainly contemporary local works, the museum hosts numerous traveling exhibitions of international and national level. MAM’s educational resources and workshops include art classes, after-school programs for children, and an extensive public library.
A highlight of the museum’s permanent collection is the Contemporary American Indian Art Collection, which includes over 100 important works of the state’s indigenous population. Admission is always free to the museum and guided tours are available.
4. Mount Sentinel
Originally known as Mount Woody, Mount Sentinel is a 1,958-foot-high mountain, overlooking the city from the east, near the University of Montana . And is recognizable by the large letter “M”, located halfway across the front and positioned there by the students. Once part of a glacial lake that was reputed to be larger than Lakes Erie and Ontario combined. The mountain shows evidence of the old waterline on its slopes.
Mount Sentinel remains a popular hiking destination from the city. And includes a variety of trails suitable for all abilities, from nature trails around its base to steeper trails leading to the “M” and the summit.
6. Caras Park
A central open space in the city, Caras Park is located along the Clark Fork Riverfront Trail. And is home to hundreds of events each year. Caras Park’s two large pavilions are perfect for crowds of people who gather for festive celebrations such as symphony shows, Downtown Tonight gatherings, and the annual Pray for Snow Party in October. On the adjacent side of Higgins Avenue Bridge from Caras Park. Clark Fork Market takes place every Saturday morning during the hottest months of the year.
Connected to Caras Park, A Carousel for Missoula is a family favorite activity consisting of hand-carved horses, chariots, and gargoyles. Overlooking Caras Park, the historic Wilma Theater towers over the public space and invites entry into the rest of the downtown district. Towards the river, Caras Park also offers a great viewing platform above Brennen’s Wave , the city’s landmark.
8. National Rattlesnake Recreation Area
A four-mile drive north of Missoula and part of the greater Lolo National Forest . The Rattlesnake National Recreation Area is one of the most popular areas for exploring the vast wilderness surrounding the city. Offering a surplus of hiking and mountain biking trails, along with many equestrian trails. The area is also popular with fishing enthusiasts due to its many lakes, ponds. And clear mountain streams with abundant trout (license required. of state fishing). The fun is far from winter, when manicured and backcountry trails encourage all types of skiing and snowshoeing.
9. Missoula Downtown and Hip Strip
Boutique shops, eye-catching art galleries, local restaurants, and an abundance of music venues – downtown Missoula is filled with fun things to do every night of the week. The Trailhead is a great local store for finding new outdoor gear. And the Top Hat Lounge regularly hosts family-friendly music shows. At the start of each month, the city-wide First Friday event is akin to a massive bulk party, with art exhibits and live music. Across the Higgins Avenue Bridge from downtown, Missoula’s historic “Hip Strip” offers even more eclectic shops. And restaurants to discover, including Hob Nob Cafe, which offers some of the best breakfasts in town.