Find Out Why Our Family Loves This Missoula Carousel and Playground — And Why You Will, too!
The last time I was in Missoula with my husband, we took our daughters to A Carousel for Missoula. We had an absolute blast at this unique merry-go-round.
My girls were toddlers and preschool age at the time. I was concerned they might be a little bit scared. The last time we went on a merry-go-round my oldest was a bit wary of it.
Luckily, this time as soon as she saw A Carousel for Missoula she instantly wanted to go on it. And this was even after she had seen Dragon Hollow, an awesome playground right next to the carousel (more on that later on below).
About A Carousel for Missoula
One look at a Carousel for Missoula and you can see why she was so excited to go on it. It’s perfect for a girl who loves horses.
A Carousel for Missoula is housed in a little open-air building made just for the ride. It’s gorgeous, complete with gilded touches and gold accents. You can immediately tell the attention to detail and level of care that was painstakingly applied to every horse.
Each carousel horse has a different design and aesthetic. No two horses are alike. This makes it especially fun for kids to run around and choose which one they like the best to ride. In our case, we let our oldest daughter choose one, and then we went on the two horses next to hers.
You can see pictures and read about each horse here, to help you plan out in advance which one you want to ride!
I asked the attendant if I could stand beside my nearly 2-year-old and she said no but that I could ride on it with her, which I thought was cool because we’ve been on merry-go-rounds before where that is strictly prohibited.
Once we were seated atop our horses, we were instructed to put our seatbelts on. I thought that seemed a little extreme until the merry-go-round started. No joke — this is the fastest carousel I have ever been on and all four of us were giggling because of how fast it was going.
My youngest was a little worried about the speed at first but then when she realized we weren’t flying off the horse then she had a lot of fun, too.
I should have timed exactly how long the ride is, but it seemed like it lasted several minutes and I definitely felt like we got our money’s worth. It wasn’t too long to make me feel dizzy and motion sick (which is easy to happen the older I get!).
If you want to try to get a second ride for free, be the one to get the brass ring out of the mouth of the dragon peering over the Carousel from the top edge. There are numerous keys within the dragon’s mouth and the brass ring is usually put in towards the back so keep trying until someone gets it — which is a little harder to do to get those coins than you might think due to how fast the carousel is.
If you do want to play this game then make sure you choose a horse on the outer circle of the carousel.
—> Read More: Top Things to Do in Missoula, Montana
History of A Carousel for Missoula
By this point, you may be wondering at the interesting grammatical makeup of the name — why not just call it the Missoula Carousel and be done with it? The reason the “for” is in there goes back to the kind-hearted origins of the Carousel.
If you will give it a home, and promise no one will ever take it apart, I will build A Carousel for Missoula.”Chuck Kaparich
Chuck Kaparich was a local cabinet maker who came up with the dream of building a carousel for his hometown. The above quote was what he said the Missoula City council when pitching the idea in 1991. The city council agreed it was a great idea and planning and construction began.
Kaparich had already purchased an antique carousel frame…but it was in over 16,000 pieces. Volunteers helped put it all back together while Kaparich hand-carved and taught others how to carve the horses.
Over 100,000 volunteer hours were spent on creating A Carousel for Missoula and it opened in 1995 to the delight of locals and visitors.
—> Read More: Kaparich’s inspiration was the Columbia Gardens carousel in Butte, Montana. Learn more about this carousel and other things to do in our Butte, MT Travel Guide.
Dragon Hollow Playground
Making A Carousel for Missoula even more of a fun family affair is the Dragon Hollow play area adjacent to it.
We go to a lot of playgrounds as a family, and we are fortunate in the Pacific Northwest to live next to a lot of excellent playgrounds. Even so, I was super impressed with Dragon Hollow playground and so were my daughters.
The playground is built to reflect the body of a dragon. It supposedly even had a dragon belly, which I assume is the wobbly bridge you can run across.
While looking for dragon anatomy parts may be fun for your family, I think the main appeal of this playground for kids is the fact that it looks like a big castle fortress and even has dark alleyways you can run through to get to the slides and other walkways.
Similar to the community feel of the carousel, Dragon Hollow Playground also has origins cemented in the generous and close-knit community of Missoula.
The playground was designed by an architectural firm that specializes in playgrounds. And the consultants for the playground? Local children, of course! A common theme when asking the kids what they wanted in a playground was “a dragon” so that became the basis for the structure, while other input was also taken to heart and added to the design.
Dragon Hollow and the Carousel are located by the Clark Fork river, right by the Riverfront walking trail.
Once the building plan was finished, it was time to build. Once again the community came together and over 4,000 local volunteers of all ages helped to build the playground over the course of just five days, all so families of Missoula and visitors to Missoula could have an incredible play area.
Don’t Miss This Special Carousel & Playground in Missoula!
Together, A Carousel for Missoula and Dragon Hollow is truly a magical place for families with kids or anyone who’s still a kid at heart! Make sure it has a place on your Montana itinerary if you’re driving through lovely Missoula.
For more tips on things to do and see in Missoula, don’t forget to check out our Missoula travel guide here.