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River City Roots Festival, Missoula, Montana

Arguably Missoula’s signature event, the River City Roots Festival along Main Street is one of those city-wide year-long anticipations, blossoming to fruition and fun at the end of a hot Montana summer.

Whether you’re a local or visiting west Montana on a whim, this free two-day August festival is one of the crown jewels of an outdoorsy, beer and music-loving city.

Ongoing since 2006, this admission-free fest draws in crowds that average around 15,000 people from Montana and beyond. And not to toot our own horn, but it’s won plenty of awards, including the 2009 Montana Tourism Event of the Year.

Awards are validating, but we love what they represent: an outpouring of community effort, teamwork, and fun for the whole family. 

True to its name, this festival caters to roots and Americana music, like Keller Williams, Billy Strings, Ghost of Paul Revere, Amanda Shaw, and more.

Unlike rock or r&b shows, these sets are perfect for lounging around on a picnic blanket with friends and your new stainless steel River City Roots cup full of craft beer or hard seltzer. 

This city-sponsored community effort has plenty of activities beyond music, though, like a four-mile run on Saturday morning, a wide-ranging arts and crafts fair, a diverse food court, and of course, a beverage garden.

If we do say so ourselves, River City Roots does a great job of highlighting Missoula’s, um, eclectic personality, with more than sixty musicians showcased over its lifetime and plenty of craft beer to show for it. 

In town for a few more days? We highly recommend checking out all of the natural beauty Missoula has to offer, including Montana’s newest state park at the heart of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers, Milltown State Park.

Missoula may be the second-largest Montana town, but it has strong cultural roots as former Ktunaxa and Salish land, and plenty of trails and parks to roam around on alone or with good friends. 

Let’s get into what makes this festival so special – because it’s so much more than free access to a thriving town. 

River City Roots Festival Event Details

river city roots festival event
Image: River City Roots Festival

The best part about this fest? Its entrance is completely free, thanks to tireless and generous city-wide sponsors. Pro tip: you’ll want to bring cash or a card for the food court, drinks, and the awesome art show!

Here are a few details before we get into the main thrust of the fest:

Facilities

river city roots truck vendor
Image: River City Roots Festival

Festivals can be kind of overwhelming if you don’t know the layout, so we’ve got everything you’ll need to have a smooth weekend, whether you’re jamming out on a picnic blanket, checking out amazing arts and crafts, or running four miles (All the more power to you!).

Art Show, Run, & More

What do we love about the Roots Fest? It branches out into other facets of the community throughout its festivities, providing an epic time for you and the whole family (Even better if you’re visiting alone or with friends!).

River City Roots Fest hosts a fantastic high-end visual arts show along Main Street during both festival days. And while it used to be of the more traditional variety, it now features more alternative arts and crafts, similar to Missoula’s beloved late summertime MADE Fair.

So now, you get a multimedia experience, and hopefully a lovingly made and crafted piece to bring home. Between the more traditional visual arts and the earrings, prints, ceramics, textiles, handmade bags, and more, you’ll want to have money available to support these amazing local and non-local artists. 

If you’re around on Saturday morn after a Friday evening at fellow arts and culture supporter Imagine Nation Brewing Company, pack your best running shoes for the family-friendly 4-Mile Roots Run.

Starting at 8:30am at E. Main and finishing at Caras Park, you’ll appreciate the camaraderie and community effort as much as your running neighbor. A dual-appointed event put on by Run Wild Missoula and the Missoula Downtown Association, it’s clear that teamwork is key here.

Please keep in mind that dogs are not allowed to run in the race, with the exception of ADA-approved service animals. If you’re lucky, you’ll get some great running swag to bring home to your pup.

And while the event includes a great unisex short sleeve tee for everyone, participants aged 21 and over will also receive a complimentary River City Roots Festival drinking cup, wristband, and one free drink ticket (You’ve got to hydrate somehow, and Missoula has an impressive number of breweries to choose from!).

To sign up for this exercise in patience and fun, check out the Run Wild Missoula event page

And speaking of Caras Park, you and your littles should head there between 10 am and 2 pm on Saturday for some family fun at Family Roots Fest!

As far as end of Summer activities go, you’ll all have an amazing time supporting the community and showcasing local talent.

Camping, Food, Merch, & More

We know you came for the food and drinks – same! You’ll find plenty of food trucks, kiosks, and breweries in the Food Court and on the Main Street grounds. You can’t miss them!

Point being: you’re getting some of West Montana’s best food vendors, from local down-home cooking to more international, flavorful dishes like bahn mi, empanadas, and Pad Thai.

Keep an eye on the events page of the website for a full list of food and drink options to tantalize your taste buds with! 

Ah yes, refreshing drinks! You’ll find a designated beverage garden on festival grounds – so much more than a beer garden with mixed drinks, proudly local craft beers, and more. Be sure to get there early for your commemorative stainless steel cup; they sell out every year for good reason!

Be on the lookout for great festival merchandise while on the grounds, from hats to shirts to stickers.

Miscellaneous

We know how stressful parking can be at a festival – it takes a lot of forethought, right? Luckily, parking will be free downtown starting on Friday and extending throughout the entirety of the festival (score!), and there will be limited parking available in the Central Park garage.

In keeping with the River City Roots ethos to keep things eco-friendly, we strongly recommend biking over, taking public transportation, or using rideshare to keep carbon emissions down.

Speaking of green, you’ll notice compost bins throughout the fest, as well as compostable utensils and water trucks to keep you hydrated without wasting plastic.

We encourage you to use as little plastic as possible during your time in downtown Missoula – we don’t want it ending up in our clean rivers. You get it! Thanks for supporting a great mission.

Unfortunately, pets aren’t allowed inside the festival grounds, as we’ve already mentioned for the 4-Mile Run, but we think they’ll enjoy the AC at home better than panting in crowds of 15,000 people. 

That’s a whole lot of people! Looking to volunteer at the festie, bestie? They’d love to have you, and you’d receive a free River City Roots t-shirt, wristband, cup, and – the best part, we think – access to the volunteer hospitality food station (Win!).

Of course, you’re not obligated to volunteer, but volunteers do help the festival to run smoothly, especially as a free city-wide production. Check out the River City Roots Volunteers page for more information, if you’ve got a stroke of curiosity and kindness in your heart. 

Accommodation

thunder bird
Image: Thunder Bird

Since the River City Roots fest is a daytime celebration only (with the last artist going on around 8:30 pm), you won’t find any camping or RV spots along Main Street before picking up and doing it all again the next day.

But that’s okay because we’ve got some of the best hotels, motels, and camping options in Missoula. We like to think Missoula is known for its natural beauty, so we’re going to highlight some of our favorite camping spots to match your festival vibe. 

While there’s always the nearby Days Inn and Travelodge Inn, we’re big fans of the downtown AC Hotel, right along the Clark Fork River. Another favorite is the Thunderbird Motel, which has some pretty awesome hot tub rooms (Sign us up!).

Back to camping in and around Missoula, we love to utilize HipCamp for places like the beautiful Primrose Meadows right up against the Lolo National Forest.

Another favorite spot is the West Fork Butte Lookout, which offers nearly 360 degrees of scenic views and can sleep up to four people. And don’t forget family-friendly options like the KOA Holiday campground with a tent village, hot tub and sauna, and – of course – everything you’ll need to make s’mores around the firepit.

Either way, you’re sure to find the perfect getaway, whether you need a budget-friendly option, luxury linens, or a night under the stars after a great day of live music and beer. See you out there!

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