Lodged in the Lolo National Forest in Western Montana, Missoula is a destination of many natural wonders and is popular among tourists for its environmental attractions and historical landmarks.
While there is plenty of things to see and do in the city, Western Montana boasts even more marvelous attractions scattered throughout its many counties. Missoula’s central location near the state’s western border makes it one of the best cities for tourists to base as they delve deeper into Montana’s furthest corners.
From exploring the wildernesses of northwestern Montana to the historic mining communities to the city’s south, these are the ten best day trips from Missoula for visitors looking to sample it all.
The 10 Best Day Trips from Missoula
- The Bitterroot Valley
- Glacier National Park
- Lolo Hot Springs
- Lee Metcalf Wilderness
- Garden of One Thousand Buddhas
- The Blackfoot Valley
- Flathead Lake
- The National Bison Range
Following US Highway 93 south out of Missoula, visitors will shortly find themselves driving through the picturesque stretch of Montana known as Bitterroot Valley.
Spanning 96 miles and passing through eight different communities nestled in the foothills of the Bitterroot Mountain Range, the Bitterroot Valley is home to quaint small-town mountain culture and some of the most engaging outdoor activities in the state.
From exploring small boutiques to fishing the nearby river or even venturing an intrepid hike into the mountains while spotting several species of native wildlife, there is plenty of fun adventures to be had during a day trip to the Bitterroot Valley.
When visiting, be sure to take a brief break from exploring the rugged countryside to take a moment to learn about the region’s rich history. Plan a stop in Stevensville to explore Montana’s oldest church in St. Mary’s Mission.
Glacier National Park isn’t just one of the best day trips from Missoula, it’s also one of the very best attractions in all of Montana.
With about 25 glaciers within its boundaries and over 700 miles of backcountry trails through picturesque landscapes, Glacier National Park offers weeks’ worth of adventures, all packed within a single destination.
While it is easy enough to spend multiple days or even weeks exploring the park, there are also fantastic day trips for those that are traveling with limited time or would prefer just a taste of the park’s offerings.
Some of the best day trips into Glacier National Park include hiking the Lake McDonald Loop, hiking the three falls trail around Saint Mary Lake, or even just cruising down the Going-to-the-Sun Road and admiring all the fantastic landscapes.
Tucked away in Lolo National Forest about 38 miles from Missoula, Lolo Hot Springs has attracted tourists to its naturally heated baths for over 200 years, dating back to the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
However, even before these first western visitors ventured to this isolated corner of the Montana-Idaho state border, these majestic pools were prevalent landmarks in the cultures of the local native tribes that presided here.
Today, the Lolo Hot Springs continues to attract visitors thanks to its eponymous pools and the wide variety of services and attractions that have developed around it.
Day trippers from Missoula can bathe in the maintained pools, venture into the countryside via a hike or horseback ride, or even play a round on the nearby golf course before returning to the resort restaurant and casino.
Lolo Hot Springs combines the local natural wonder with modern luxury services to create a must-experience destination when visiting the region.
Visitors looking to explore the region’s local species of wildlife should follow the road about 25 miles south of Missoula to the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge.
Here visitors will discover a protected corner of a sprawling and diverse native ecosystem that gaps the distance from the Bitterroot and Sapphire Mountains.
The floodplain preservation is home to various habitats, including gallery and riverfront forests, wetlands, grassland benches, and wet meadows. And calling these diverse habitats homes is a massive variety of species, including the largest population of Grizzly bears in the lower 48 states.
There are several hiking trails weaving their way through the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, or visitors can venture into the preservation via waterways along a kayaking adventure.
Regardless of how you choose to delve into the park, the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge offers an experience for everyone and is one of the best day trips from Missoula.
A unique attraction in Montana, the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas was established as an international center for peace in 2000 and is only a short drive for visitors staying in Missoula.
Spanning a 750-foot circle, the monument is home to one thousand identical white stupas and is truly a site to behold. The 200 acres of public park encompass the monument and offers a variety of attractions, including a botanical garden and Buddhist Center where visitors can learn more about the religion and the statues.
Whether just passing through the area or planning on exploring everything the park has to offer, the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas is a must-see attraction when visiting western Montana
6. The Blackfoot Valley
Located just east of Missoula, the Blackfoot Valley is surrounded by the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Garnet Mountains and spans the distance between the Continental Divide and the Clark Fork River’s confluence.
The glacier-sculpted valley is home to some of the most pristine natural landscapes and offers a massive variety of outdoor recreation. Visitors to the valley can venture into the wildernesses along one of the many hiking trails, cast their line for native fish species in the Blackfoot River, or explore the region’s history at old mining camps and museums.
For an adrenaline-filled day trip, visitors should engage in a white water rafting adventure along the Blackfoot River. These excursions are available to book through one of the many outfitters operating in the area.
While it is possible to stay directly in the nearby wildernesses, Missoula’s convenient location makes it a great spot to base your day trip into the valley.
Flathead Lake is one of the most beautiful destinations in Montana and features over 200 square miles of water surrounded by 185 miles of pristine coastline. For a relaxing day basking on the lake’s idyllic shores, visitors staying in Missoula only need to travel about 70 miles north to Polson.
From here, they can head to one of the lake’s 13 public access sites operated by the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks unit or to one of the many privately owned restaurants and resorts scattered between the surrounding towns.
Visitors to the lake are welcome to venture onto the waters to swim, fish, boat, or engage in water sports. Meanwhile, on-shore adventures include hiking, biking, camping, and town hopping between the lake’s unique and vibrant communities.
While there are plenty of National Wildlife Refuges scattered throughout the state, the National Bison Range is perhaps the most unique and is home to one of the largest bison herds in Montana.
The National Bison Range originates in 1870 when at the time of seeing the species’ dwindling populations, local Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribes herded many of the country’s last surviving bison over the Continental Divide and into Flathead Valley.
The Indigenous tribes protected and preserved the population for over 30 years until the federal government declared the area the National Bison Range in 1908. And while this took significant steps toward protecting the species, it also took away 18,766 acres of land from the Flathead Indian Reservation.
In 2020, the land was finally returned to the Confederate Salish and Kootenai people, and these tribes have now retaken the heraldship of one of America’s most important species.
Today, the National Bison Range welcomes visitors to explore one of Montana’s largest populations of native bison. The range is only about 48 miles north of Missoula for visitors coming from the city.
Once the beating heart of Montana’s mining industry, Butte is an essential day-trip destination regardless of where you are staying in the state. However, for visitors presiding in Missoula, a day trip to Butte requires only a two-hour drive southeast along the I-90.
Once in the city, visitors have a massive selection of sites and attractions to visit. However, one of the first sites everyone should visit is the World Mining Museum.
Here guests will explore the rich and vibrant industry that has rewarded Butte the title of the “richest hill on earth” while exploring the state’s early settlements and the rough lives of the people that grew the industry.
Other popular attractions include The Copper King Mansion, Thompson Park, and Butte’s downtown, home to some of the best craft beer and breweries in the state.
One of the best ways to explore the city is via the Butte Trolley, which offers tours daily.
Another fantastic traditional mining town, Philipsburg, is a great day trip from Missoula. Only 75 miles from the city, visitors won’t have to venture as far as Butte to explore Montana’s mining industry, and Philipsburg offers one of the most immersive experiences into the culture of the practice.
A must-stop in the city is the Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine. Here guests are invited to participate in the traditional mining practices as a local guide instructs them through panning and prospecting. The best part is visitors keep any gemstones they find.
Once finished prospecting, follow in the steps of the mine’s historical workers and head over to the Philipsburg Brewing Company, where you can unwind from your grueling day over a pint of some of the best craft beer in the state.