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!
Attending school at the University of Montana has given me great opportunities to further academic accomplishments. But I must admit, those academic goals were not even close to the main reason I chose to go to the University of Montana in the first place. I chose the school because of all the outdoor opportunities living in the great state of Montana offers. Looking back on the past four years, it’s been pretty amazing to be able to call this state my home and to have so many amazing outdoor resources available at my fingertips. This blog post will take you through an average year of what it’s like to be an outdoor fanatic attending school at the University of Montana.
Winter (Late January-Early March)
Winter as a student living in Missoula is pretty sweet. Unlike many northern states, the days in the valley are often mild enough to fly fish, hike, bike, or do many other outdoor activities. And for those of you who love the snow and cold, there are four great ski resorts within an hour and a half drive from Missoula. Lost Trail Powder Mountain is my favorite – they boast upwards of 300″ of snow every year. One of the great things about Montana is that it provides a great home base for road trips around the Northwest. This past February, trips to the Olympic Pennisula, WA and Fernie, British Columbia were taken.
2. Spring (Mid March-Late May)
Spring is a great time to spend time outdoors in Montana. You will find seemingly everyone in Missoula coming out of their winter hibernation to enjoy the beauty of Montana in the spring time. Personally, this is my favorite time of year to fly fish. Most rivers in western and southwestern Montana boast great fly fishing for wild trout this time of year.
-Winter can always rear its ugly head during the Spring!
-And the next day it’s sunny and 70 degrees.
-Turkey hunting is also on the menu in the spring!
-Springtime sunset from the “M”
3. Summer (Early June-Late August)
Summer in Montana is in my opinion like nowhere else. Because of the lack of humidity, I don’t know where you can find more comfortable summertime weather than in Montana. For me, this season is dominated by guiding fly fisherman, hiking the mountains scouting for elk, and just enjoying the great weather.
4. Fall (Early September-late December)
All I can say is Fall is by far my favorite season in Montana. It is the time to stock the freezers with wild game for the winter ahead, and to enjoy the vibrant changes of the seasons. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let these photos do the talking.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these photos illustrating what it’s like to live in Montana throughout the year. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to go to school here at the University of Montana and have all of this out my back door.