The 10 Best Things to do in Missoula, Montana

Kurt Norris
Last Updated: February 28th, 2023

Missoula is a city situated in Western Montana, known as “the hub of five valleys” since five high mountain ranges surround it.

Missoula covers an area of 34.66 sq. miles, making it the second-largest city in Montana, US. It is also called the River City because one of the most popular rivers, the Clark Fork River, runs through the heart of Missoula.

Moreover, it is a popular tourist attraction since it is located near two famous national parks; Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park.

Because of this characteristic of Missoula, a large number of people from around the world visit it annually. However, before planning a trip to this exciting place, it is essential to learn about all that it offers.

So, if you are planning a trip to this beautiful city in Montana but are confused about where to go and what to do, then we are here for you!

Following is a list of the best things to do in Missoula to ensure you have the most rewarding stay possible.

The Top Things to Do in Missoula, Montana

Missoula is the ideal vacation destination for outdoor adventurers. This gorgeous city is not only famous for being rich in culture and having an exquisite rugged landscape but also happens to have numerous recreational activities for its residents as well as tourists.

go for a hike

1. Go For a Hike

There is an abundance of hiking trails in Missoula. So, if you are interested in hiking, lace up your shoes and go on an adventurous hike in this city. The city offers exceptional views, and there is no better way to explore these than by going on a hike.

The Mount Sentinel Hike or the “M” hike is one of the most popular hiking trails in Missoula. It is dog-friendly as well, so you can always take your dog to accompany you.

The “M” trail is 3.1 miles long and is an out & back trail type. It also offers an elevation gain of up to 620 feet. You can admire the scenic landscape as the top of Mount Sentinel provides an aerial view of the city of Missoula.

Other than that, Kim William Nature Trail is a 9.8 miles long hiking trail that is quite popular among hikers. This trail runs alongside the Clark Fork River and provides gorgeous views to all the hikers. This out & back trail starts as asphalt and after a mile, turns into gravel and dirt. Furthermore, the trail allows dogs and is suitable for all skill levels.

Besides these, Missoula features several other hiking trails such as McFly Flat Nature Trail, “L” Hike, Waterworks Hill, and many others. If you like to get the runner’s high or love long peaceful strolls while admiring the view, then Missoula is undoubtedly the place for you!

2. Admire the Art

admire the art

The exquisite landscape of Missoula is enough to inspire anyone to create art, and maybe that is why there are a fair amount of art galleries present in this lovely city. Many tourists visiting Missoula make their way to all the art galleries that the city offers and admire the art showcased there.

The Missoula Art Museum is the home to regional art and provides good insight into the history of Missoula. The permanent collection here consists of over 2300 objects.

This art museum also features paintings from Native American artists like Gail Tremblay, George Longfish, and Corwin Clairmont. This Native American art collection is one of a kind. It does not compare to anything else exhibited in the States as it is considered to be the most extensive Native American art collection in the US.

Centrally located in the historic downtown of Missoula, Radius Gallery has a collection of a massive variety of regional contemporary fine art. Walk-in visitors are always welcome in this open year-round art gallery.

Radius Gallery is popular in Missoula because, along with paintings, sculptures, and other art pieces, it also promotes ceramics art which is guaranteed to grab your attention.

Another art gallery promoting local fine arts is the Dana Gallery. A diverse range of art styles is available here, including conceptual, abstract, landscape, and traditional Western.

All these places play a huge role in promoting regional artists and helping visitors learn more about the local artwork.

3. Give Fly-Fishing a Try

give fly-fishing a try

Fly-fishing is done using a lightweight bait, also known as an artificial fly. It is a common activity in Missoula as Blackfoot River, Bitterroot River, Rock Creek, and Clark Fork River are home to many game fish.

Also, Missoula is one of the top ten trout fishing towns in North America. Besides trout, some other species in these river streams include perch, whitefish, northern pike, and bass.

If river fishing is not something you are interested in, Missoula also offers many opportunities for lake fishing. Lake fishing is permitted on Flathead Lake, Georgetown Lake, Seeley Lake, and a few other locations.

The species found in these lakes include Cutthroat Trout, Lake Trout, Kokanee, Largemouth Bass, Rainbow Trout, Yellow Perch, and others. However, please keep in mind that a fishing license is required if you want to partake in this hobby.

Fishing is usually done as a sport or a hobby during the Springs in Missoula. So, if you happen to be there during that time, take your fishing equipment with you and go to the nearest fishing spot to get one of the best fly-fishing experiences ever!

If you want to enjoy this hobby to the fullest, do take the help of one of Missoula’s local guides, as they are more than happy to help you out and give you the most beneficial fishing tips.

4. Try Bird-Watching

try bird-watching

Because of its natural beauty, Missoula is, no doubt, a sight for sore eyes. If you are an avid bird-watcher, trust us, Missoula will serve as the perfect vacation spot for you.

The city of Missoula is home to a diverse variety of bird species, so it’s a dream come true for all the bird enthusiasts out there!

There are numerous bird-watching spots in Missoula, and it just depends on what kind of bird you are trying to find. If you are interested in catching a glimpse of Black-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers, you should visit the verdurous forests of Blue Mountain.

If the names Killdeer, Warbler, Willow Flycatcher, Spotted Sandpiper, or Merganser grab your attention, then don’t think twice before making your way to the Clark Fork River. To watch some Lewis Woodpeckers or Great Blue Herons, you can take a trip to the Cottonwoods of Kelly Island.

You can also go to Greenough Park to see some American Redstarts, Lazuli Buntings, and Western Screech Owls. Waterworks Hill has Western Meadowlarks, Bluebirds, Savannah Sparrows, and Vesper Sparrows.

And lastly, if you are someone who is only fascinated by hawks and would like to catch sight of Bald Eagles, Osprey, Cooper’s Hawks, or Red-Tailed Hawks, then we would suggest taking a hike down Kim Williams Trail or Council Grove State Park.

5. Go Skiing

go skiing

Skiing is another recreational activity that attracts tourists to Missoula. The city has many options to carry out this hobby as there are many skiing sites in this area. The Great Divide Ski Area is a popular choice among families that are visiting Missoula.

This Park offers more than 140 skiing trails with three mountain lifts. This skiing facility also offers night skiing on Fridays. Lost Mountain Skiing Area is built on Lost Trail Powder Mountain.

This area usually has up to 300 inches of snowfall annually, and that is why it serves as a great skiing location. It is situated in the Bitterroot Range, in the region where Montana and Idaho meet, and is an affordable skiing option.

The Montana Snowbowl is a common choice amongst tourists as it is one of the most popular skiing resorts in the area. It also has one of the steepest trails in the States, with a vertical drop of 2600 feet. Other than that, it also has some great skiing trails available for people that have just started exploring this hobby and are at a beginner level.

The Lookout Pass, Blacktail Mountain, Discovery Ski Area, and Whitefish Mountain Resorts are some other skiing sites. So, gear up, and enjoy a unique skiing experience in Missoula.

6. Take a Dip at the Local Hot Springs

lolo hot springs montana

Located near the Montana-Idaho border to the southeast of Missoula, the Lolo Hot Springs is a popular destination among tourists and locals seeking the revitalizing powers of the naturally heated pools.

First recorded by western explorers when the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition passed through in 1806, the celebrated landmark has welcomed visitors for centuries, with local indigenous peoples having frequently visited them for hundreds of years before even Lewis and Clark.

Today the hot springs continue to bless visitors with their gift of revitalization in a selection of maintained indoor and outdoor pools at an elevation of 1,267 meters and engulfed by the awe-inspiring natural landscape.

After soaking all of their worries away, guests have a wide selection of fun and engaging activities to choose from. From exploring the natural wonders of the area via hiking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, or even hunting to grabbing a drink at the nearby bar and casino, Lolo Hot Springs offers plenty of entertainment for everybody.

7. Explore Caras Park

carousel for missoula

Nestled in the heart of Missoula’s downtown area on the banks of the Clark Fork River, Caras Park is the cultural center of the community.

Hosting several gatherings and cultural events throughout the year, the park is a fantastic destination for interacting with the locals and immersing yourself in the traditional lifestyles of the Montanan people.

Of course, Caras Park is also a fantastic attraction even when there aren’t any events going on, and it attracts numerous visitors thanks to its verdant picturesque spaces and community-inspired art pieces.

Having hosted over a thousand events in the last 12 years, Caras Park is a fantastic destination for catching a movie night in the park, enjoying a family night out during the Recreation’s Kid Fest, or even enjoying a drink at Missoula’s celebrated Garden City Brewfest.

Alternatively, visitors can head down to the Riverfront Walking Trail, where they can watch as kayakers battle against the white waters of the human-made Brennan’s Wave or peruse through the myriad of food trucks offering some of the best samplings of delicious street foods in Montana.

8. Step into History at the Garnet Ghost Town

garnet ghost town

Situated about 39 miles east of Missoula, the Garnet Ghost Town was once a thriving community of gold miners that has since become one of the best-preserved ghost towns in Montana.

Starting in 1895 as a humble stamp mill to crush ore in the area around First Chance Gulch, Garnet slowly developed as a small town. However, shortly after the town’s founding, local miner Sam Ritchey hit a rich ore vein, causing a significant rush to the area. By January 1898, the community boasted a population nearing 1000 people.

The community’s development boomed as eager miners and entrepreneurs worked their way to Garnet. The town was soon home to four stores, four hotels, two barber shops, three livery stables, a union hall, a butcher shop, a doctor’s office, a candy shop, a school, and no less than thirteen Saloons, many of which can still be visited in their preserved states today.

By 1905 the local mines began to dry up. Just as quickly as it had grown, the town’s population dwindled to about 150 people. Garnet continued to struggle for the following decades, and by the 1940’s it was abandoned entirely to become the ghost town it is today.

Visitors traveling to the Garnet Ghost Town from Missoula step back in time to the age when the gold rush dictated human migration to the Montana Region. The abandoned community offers visitors a window into the hardened lifestyles of the miners who created makeshift settlements that have survived for over 100 years.

9. Explore the Wildlife at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

elk hunting in montana

Promoting and preserving local wildlife since its founding in 1984, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation operates its visitor center from the outskirts of Missoula. It is an absolute must-experience for visitors traveling to the city.

By displaying interactive exhibits, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation reveals the beauty, diversity, and importance of elk across North America. In addition, it educates its guests about elk, elk country, and the vital role the foundation plays in its conservation.

Throughout your visit to the foundation, you will hear elk bugle, identify animal tracks, touch an authentic elk antler, and test the depths of your knowledge about Montana’s local wildlife.

And, if a stuffy museum isn’t really your thing, don’t worry. The Rocky Mountain Elk Museum is so much more than that and features 22 acres of wooded nature trails through the beauty of the surrounding landscape.

Along with the local elk population, visitors to the property can spot herds of white-tailed deer, turkeys, bald eagles, owls, trout, and much more.

10. Cool Off at Splash Montana Waterpark

splash montana details

The Splash Montana Waterpark operates from June to August in Missoula’s Playfair Park. With something for everyone, Splash Montana offers some of the most family-friendly fun to be had anywhere in the state.

The park features a wide array of waterslides for thrill-seekers, including three separate three-story slides, several floating play structures, and even a kid-friendly Grizzly Slide.

Meanwhile, the park’s lazy river float way and Olympic-sized swimming pool are a favorite amongst guests that prefer to simply float their worries away as they soak in the pool’s cooling waters.

Also found within the park’s premises are the Crazy Creek Café, the Fireline Grill, and a series of Cabana Rentals to make your visit to the park as relaxing as possible.

Are you traveling as a group? Contact the park ahead of your visit and arrange for one of Splash Montana’s specialty parties. These packages range from an all-inclusive party with pizza, cake, and party favors to a simple group rate for a collection of poolside cabanas.

Regardless of whether you are traveling alone or as a group Splash Montana is one of the best and most exciting ways to escape the heat of a Montana Summer.

Final Thoughts

There are some places on earth that everyone should visit at least once in their life, and Missoula happens to be one of those places.

Missoula offers a vast array of outdoor recreational activities for people of all ages. Whether you love the rush of adrenaline or want to indulge in calming hobbies, Missoula has it all!

To make it easier for you to decide which activities you wanna partake in, we have shortlisted the best things to do in this magnificent city.

We hope you benefit from our guide on your next trip there! This city offers an unparalleled experience to all its visitors, and a trip to Missoula is guaranteed to remain a cherished memory forever.

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About The Author

Kurt Norris

A Canada-based freelance writer, Kurt acquired his bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Windsor. Upon graduating, Kurt left the courtside media desk behind and began venturing the globe. Throughout his journeys, Kurt enjoys partaking in slow travel and loves to explore the histories and cultures of each destination, which he shares with others through his writing.

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