Nestled in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Montana, Missoula is a hidden gem where urban lifestyle meets adventure. Completely surrounded by seven wilderness areas, this city is rich with culture and endless outdoor recreational activities. In no particular order, here are the 5 best things to do when visiting Missoula, MT.
#1 | FLOAT DOWN THE CLARK FORK RIVER
During the summer, floating down the Clark Fork River is one of the best ways to cool down and relax. Every day, hundreds of locals on tubes, paddleboards, and rafts pass through town enjoying the sunshine and clean air.
#2 | GRAB A DRINK AND PLAY SOME GAMES
GILD is a locally-owned brewpub that just so happens to have an awesome arcade in the basement. From pinball to board games, GILD has everything you need to start the night off right. Not to mention, they have some of the best-tasting beer and hard cider in town.
#3 | HIKE MOUNT SENTINEL
Going for a hike on Mount Sentinel is a favorite for people visiting Missoula, and for good reason. As you gain elevation, you are able to see the entire city and the vast valley that lies below. In the distance, you can see the Rattlesnake Wilderness and Snowbowl Ski Area (shown above).
#4 | SHRED SOME POWDER AT SNOWBOWL
If you happen to visit Missoula in the winter, be sure to check out Snowbowl Ski Area. Conveniently located only 12 miles from Missoula, Snowbowl offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the West.
#5 | TRY YOUR LUCK AT FLY FISHING
It wouldn’t be a trip to Missoula without a fishing excursion in the mix. Missoula is world-renowned for its trout fishing streams, with a variety of different species to hook into. There is an impressive number of outfitters to choose from, so take your pick and get out there!
I had the opportunity to work in Glacier National Park for the 2018 and 2019 summers and I’ve got to say, it is one of the most beautiful destinations in the United States. The park has gained significant attention over the past 10- 15 years. The yearly visitor count has almost doubled in that time, from averaging around 1.5 million visitors to 3 million+ the past 4 summers. The now heavily trafficked park can be stressful to navigate at times, as it’s realistically designed to host under a million guests each summer. My hope is this post may give future visitors a better idea of how to approach their trip to Glacier.
GO ON A HIKE
During the summer, the roads through Glacier can look as though it’s rush hour in New York, making driving a frustrating task. The best way to avoid the stress of driving? Get out and hike! Glacier offers over 700 miles of hiking trails ranging from easy family-friendly loops to epic multi-day backpacking trips that cover up to 30 miles.
Planning out which trails you would like to hit in advance is a good idea. Some trails, basically any trail near Logan’s Pass, can have full parking lots by 7 A.M in peak season. Unless you’re willing to get up and after it early, it’s a good idea to have a few back up plans. Utilizing the shuttle services (pandemic pending) in the park is a great way to get around and avoid fighting other visitors over a parking spot.
Here’s a shortlist of my favorite hikes…
Sperry Chalet to Lincoln Peak
Upper Two Medicine Lake trail
If you’re looking for a relaxing day, look no further than Polebridge. Polebridge is a small community located along the Northfork of the Flathead river located 22 miles south of the Canadian border. Tucked in the westernmost boundary of the park, Polebridge is in a more unknown part of the park, as it’s a 35-mile drive from West Glacier entrance that is primarily a dirt road. The “town” doesn’t accommodate much for lodging so it is a day trip for most. In fact, Polebridge doesn’t have many buildings at all as it holds two restaurants and one mercantile (be sure to get a huckleberry bear claw). Other than the food, there are a few small hiking loops, access to the Northfork, and fantastic views of the mountains that make up the Canadian-US border.
After spending time at the Mercantile and a meal at Northern Lights Saloon. Be sure to make the 6 mile drive up to Bowman Lake. The drive is quite bumpy, so make sure you have a vehicle cable of some potholes and loose gravel. The lake is the perfect spot to set up some chairs and lounge while taking the occasional dip in the beautiful lake.
GOING TO THE SUN ROAD
Completed in 1932, Going-to-the-Sun-Road has been one of the top attractions to Glacier National Park. Although I mentioned the stress of driving in Glacier, you still can’t miss out on Going-to-the-sun-Road. The 50-mile long mountain pass goes over the Continental Divide and spans the width of the park. It features breathtaking views around every turn with plenty of pull-offs that guests can use to stop and take photos or go on hikes. The highest part of the road, Logan’s Pass, sits over a mile high at 6,646 feet and can accumulate up to 80 feet of snow in the winter.
If you’re planning to make the trip before July and want to drive the road, be sure to check the road conditions on the National Park Service website. The snow on the road can take teams of snowplows over a month to clear out because of the mass quantities it receives in the winter. It is typically cleared by the second half of June, but some years it takes until early July.
There is no better way to see the park than from rafting down the glowing blue waters of the Middle of the Flathead River. These forks make up the western and southern boundaries of Glacier and can be used for world-class fly fishing, scenic floats, and up to class III and IV whitewater rafting. The town of West Glacier itself has four different raft companies that collectively take down thousands of visitors a day.
It’s the perfect way to beat the summer heat as the Flathead River typically remains under a cool 60 degrees. As I mentioned in the above paragraph, guests have the option to choose from numerous different float, some companies even offer up to 6-day trips where you are flown up into the nearby Great Bear Wilderness and float your way back into West Glacier. The multi-day trips aren’t for the faint of heart, but in my opinion, is the number one activity the park has to offer.
GO ON A HIKE!!!!
In my two summers of working in Glacier, I heard too many people complain about the busy roads throughout the park. There are 147 trails in the park, you’re guaranteed to find areas that have few to no other people. Get out and enjoy the fresh air! Be sure to bring bear spray, as the animals are WILD and should not be approached.
I hope this helps a few that may have had questions about the park or were on the fence about going!
So, you’re spending the weekend in The Flathead Valley, and you’re looking to craft the perfect itinerary. Well, don’t take it from Trip Advisor, take it from a local.
Kalispell is the central hub of the Flathead Valley, from here you are a hop, skip, and a jump away from some of Montana’s best landmarks – The Rocky Mountains, Flathead Lake, and Glacier Park. Not to mention the touristic towns of Whitefish and Bigfork – home to some of the best dive bars.
If you’ve read this far, Hello, and welcome to my first blog post. My name is Savannah, and I was born and raised in Kalispell, Montana, also known as “The Last Best Place.”
Now, you’re only in The Flathead Valley for a weekend, so let’s start crafting that itinerary!
Day 1: Go fish!
With the abundance of fresh water lakes in this region, you don’t have to be an expert outdoorswoman (or man) to cast a line and catch a vibe!
This weekend we hit up one of my favorite spots for Pike fishing, Stillwater Lake.
Day 2: Pick a mountain, any mountain!
Now it’s time to put some work in. The Flathead Valley is enclosed with mountains, so take your pick, and cut a path to the top for some of the best panoramic views in the world.
This last weekend, my boyfriend and I hiked Mount Aeneas located in the Jewel Basin, approximately a 45 minute drive from Kalispell. This 6 mile, round trip hike is very doable and will have you working up a sweat.
Mount Aeneas sits at 7,500 feet above sea level. You can view the Flathead Valley and The Bob Marshal Wilderness from the top.
Dinner: Tamarack Brewing Co.
After you’ve summited that whopper, you’ll surely be hungry. A favorite among tourists and locals alike is Tamarack Brewing Co.
The Tamarack’s home base location is Lakeside, MT. From Mount Aeneas you’ll have to travel to the West side of Flathead Lake to grab this delicious bite.
Take a tip from me and call in an order. This popular spot is guaranteed to have a wait.
Now, if you’ve made it this far, then I hope I’ve sold you on a weekend in “The Last Best Place.”
With that being said, we Montanan’s hear California is great, and that there’s a plethora of activities to do there. So, if you don’t make it to the Flathead Valley, we understand, and we’re not mad about it 😉
Author: Savannah Anderson Instagram: @savvvanderson