Insider’s Guide to the Most Fun & Interesting Things to Do in Missoula

Missoula has so many fun, active, educational, and even hoppy things to do. We can’t wait to share the best of them in this article.

Here at Travel Montana Now, our whole team adores Missoula! Both Nancy and Jackie went to college at the University of Montana located in Missoula, and I nearly always stay overnight in Missoula for a day or two on my way to and from Washington. So we are more than excited to share with you today all of our favorite things to do in Missoula.

The M in Missoula
The “M”

Missoula is one of the most beloved cities in Montana due to its abundance of outdoor activities, laidback and welcoming vibe that’s just a little bit granola, and a bustling university that provides an intellectual energy to the city. 

It’s also home to the third largest airport in Montana and is centrally located between Glacier National Park (2.5 hours) and Yellowstone National Park (4 hours).

What to Do in Missoula: The Top 24 Sites and Activities

Now let’s get into all of the great things you can do in Missoula! This top 22 list covers the best parks, water activities, museums, breweries, and more.

Wander Around Caras Park

Caras Park is a large grassy park in downtown Missoula that often plays host to festivals and concerts. Even when there’s not an event going on, Caras Park is a happening place to be for family and friend gatherings, picnics, and other socializing. 

I love hanging out on the small grassy slope overlooking the river in the summer and having a picnic with my children. It’s so relaxing. My kids of course love the playground and carousel, so let’s cover that next.

Experience the Food Truck Culture of Missoula at a Summer Festival

If you’re visiting Missoula in the summer on a Wednesday or Thursday, you’re in for a treat (especially if you stop by the Big Dipper Ice Cream Truck)!

On Wednesdays between 11am-2pm from June through August, take an extended lunch break in Caras Park during Out to Lunch. Live music is played, kid activities are offered, and food trucks line up with so many yummy options inside.

On Thursdays, the fun continues, but that time in the evening from 5:30-8:30 for Downtown ToNight. Also in Caras Park with music, family-friendly activities, and local food and drink thanks to that delicious food truck cuisine.

Take a Spin on A Carousel for Missoula

A Carousel for Missoula in downtown Missoula, Montana
A Carousel for Missoula

This is a personal favorite of our family; all of us young and old love the beauty and thrill of this special carousel. 


The Carousel for Missoula gets its name from the man who designed it, Chuck Kaparich, a Missoula cabinetmaker who said he would “build a carousel for Missoula” and began doing so in 1991. Each horse on the Carousel has its own name and design and has been hand-carved. 

Climb and Slide on Dragon Hollow Playground

Right next to door the Carousel is an impressive playground that was designed to reflect a dragon’s body but at first glance looks more like a fortress — either way, kids will love it, and even adults (aka me, ha!) will have fun chasing their kiddos through the covered steps and platforms of the main structure. 

Read More: Our complete guide to the Carousel and Dragon Hollow Playground can be found here.

Take an Amble Along the Riverfront Walking Trail 

Riverfront Walking Trail in Missoula in late summer.

Behind the Carousel for Missoula and Dragon Hollow playground you’ll notice a paved path. This is part of the Riverfront Walking Trail that stretches for 3.5 miles right next to the Clark Fork River that flows right through Missoula. (And there’s our shoutout to A River Runs Through It, the book that put Montana fly fishing on the map and takes place in Missoula).

The Riverfront trail an idyllic walk any time of year (though obviously much colder in winter!).

Watch Surfers at Brennan’s Wave

River surfers getting ready to ride Brennan's Wave on the Clark Fork River by Caras Park in Missoula
River surfers getting ready to ride Brennan’s Wave on the Clark Fork River

There’s even a manmade wave called Brennan’s Wave in the Clark Fork River next to Caras Park that recreates the experience of whitewater rafting via a large wave experienced kayakers can “surf” down.

Brennan’s Wave is visible from the riverbanks and the Riverwalk trail. You can sit and watch the surfers and kayakers navigate the wave (or if you are one of those experienced kayakers, you can maybe be the one people are watching!). 

Watching the river surfers is one of my favorite things to do in Missoula. I just think it’s so cool!

Have a Paddling or Fly Fishing Adventure on the Clark Fork River

Riverfront Trail in Missoula's Caras Park with the sun shining off the river.
Clark Fork River

The river water that flows through Missoula provides ample things to do. Whether you want to go kayaking, white water rafting, fly fishing, or standup paddle boarding, there’s a part of the river near Missoula where you can do so.

If you’re not familiar with river rapids and currents, consider hiring a guide or getting recommendations for where to go from the rental office you’re getting equipment from or the visitor center in Missoula. 

Here are some good tour companies to check out:

Do a Tasting at a Missoula Craft Brewery or Distillery

Highlander Beer - Missoula Brewing Company Tasting Room in Missoula, Montana. Craft beer tasting is one of the top things to do in Missoula and this was the first brewery ever opened in Missoula.
Highlander Beer Tasting Room

Missoula has a thriving craft brewery scene with numerous tasting rooms located both in the downtown area and on the outskirts of town. 

Tamarack Brewing is a popular choice for both brews and food and is located just up the street from a Carousel for Missoula.

Tamarack brewing outside
Tamarack Brewing Co

Outside of town you’ll find Gina’s favorite: Highlander Beer – Missoula Brewing Company, which has excellent brews and was the first brewery in Missoula…though it won Gina over for how kid-friendly it is complete with a play area!

Craft distilleries are also a burgeoning business in Missoula. In Midtown, visit Rattlesnake Creek Distillers, a small batch distiller who specializes in whiskey and also has a gin and vodka. In downtown Missoula, you’ll find Montgomery Distillery, which has an industrial ambiance inside and pours delicious seasonal cocktails.  

Tip: Double check the operating hours before going…due to liquor laws, many breweries and distilleries (even ones that sell food) often have to close by 8 p.m.

Hike to the “M” on Mount Sentinel

The M of Missoula at the University of Montana campus
The M of Missoula at the University of Montana campus

It’s hard to miss seeing the “M” since it is a bright white letter proudly placed aside the top of Mount Sentinel since it’s visible from many roads in Missoula. While seeing it from the car is cool, what’s even more iconic is hiking to it.

The hike is 1.2 miles long via a series of switchbacks up Mount Sentinel. Though the M looks flat from the road, almost as if it’s painted on the side of the mountain, once you’re up there, you’ll see that it’s made of concrete. But instead of peering at the M, you’ll no doubt be much more in awe of the view of the city far below. 

I have a core memory of hiking this trail as a kid and being so wowed by the views and close-up appearance of the M. I can’t wait to take my daughters when they’re a little bit older.

To access the trailhead, head onto the U of M campus and park in the parking lot right off of Campus Drive across from Aber Hall. 

Take a Walk Along Maclay Flat Nature Trail

If a more level hike is more your speed, check out Maclay Flat Nature Trail in Lolo National Forest. This 1.7 loop hike is considered easy and has minimal inclines. The gravel trail meanders through peaceful valley woods and along the Bitterroot River.

There are informational signs along the hike so you can learn more about the flora and fauna found around Missoula. A parking lot and restrooms are located by the trailhead.

Glide Through Wilderness on Cross-Country Skis

Cross-country skiing is a beloved winter sport in Missoula. The surrounding wilderness and mountainscapes offer some of the best trails in the region.

As mentioned earlier, Rattlesnake National Recreation Area is a popular spot for cross-country skiing, boasting miles of well-groomed trails. The area is known for its stunning scenery, with snow-covered trees and picturesque views of the Rattlesnake Wilderness. The trails vary in difficulty, making it a great spot for both beginners and experienced skiers.

Lolo Pass is another fantastic place for cross-country skiing nearing Missoula, offering over 50 miles of trails through the breathtaking Lolo National Forest. The area is known for its challenging terrain, with steep climbs and descents, making it a great spot for more experienced skiers.

Another option is the Pattee Canyon Recreation Area in Lolo National Forest. The area offers over 20 miles of easy to moderate trails, perfect for beginners and families with children. The trails wind through a beautiful forest, and the area is known for its abundant wildlife, including deer and elk.

P.S. All these places are also great spots for hiking when there’s no snow on the ground!

Go Downhill Skiing Near Missoula

If you want to feel the thrill of speed when you have skis strapped to your boots, then downhill skiing is probably more your jam. Missoula is close to two ski areas: Snowbowl and Discovery.

Snowbowl is the local ski mountain, located just 30 minutes north of Missoula. It has gotten mixed reviews and press in recent years. It is probably best for non-beginners who don’t mind more of an old-school approach to ski lifts and amenities.

Discovery Ski Area in Anaconda is a bit of a farther drive at 90 minutes. However, it has more to offer skiers with a variety of lifts, magic carpets, and apres-ski options. The mountain has 67 ski runs for level ranging from beginner to expert.

Read More: Best Ski Resorts in Montana

Learn About Wildfire History at the Smokejumper Visitor Center

You’ll gain a newfound respect for the men and women who fight wildfires after a visit to the Smokejumper Visitor Center in Missoula.

You’ll learn more about how fires are started and fought in Montana and the smokejumpers role in fighting the deadly wildfires. 

When open, you can also go out on the fire lookout tower built in the 1930s where trained eyes would look for signs of smoke in the forest. 

Take a Self-Guided Historical Walking Tour

Missoula is home to a number of historic buildings and homes, many of which are on the National Register of Historic Places — some of the most in Montana. Many of them are clustered together in the downtown area, which makes for an informative and easy to do walking tour.

You can get a map from the Destination Missoula Visitor Center on Main Street and do a self-guided tour. Or sign up for a guided tour with a knowledgeable historian who can teach you more about the history of Missoula and each structure you’ll see. 

Some buildings not to miss include:

  • Missoula County Courthouse
  • St. Francis Xavier Church
  • Palace Hotel
  • Wilma Building
  • Higgins Block
  • Florence Hotel
  • Masonic Temple
  • Northern Pacific Railroad Depot

Go Shopping Along the Hip Street

What makes the Hip Street in Missoula so cool? It has over 100 shops that are all locally-owned and operated. From clothing and books to arts and home decor, there are so many unique finds waiting to be discovered.

Not only is Hip Street a great place to find a souvenir, it’s also a nice place for an afternoon stroll. The stores stretch along Higgins Avenue from Brooks St to the historic Higgins Avenue Bridge.

Walk Across Higgins Avenue Bridge

Get a bite to eat from one of the many cafes and eateries along Hip Street and then use the pedestrian walking path to walk across the Higgins Avenue Bridge that stretches across the Clark Fork River (vehicles are also able to drive across this bridge).

Discover New Artists at the Missoula Art Museum

The Missoula Art Museum (MAM) in a non-profit, accredited museum that focuses on contemporary art, mostly from artists who live in Missoula and the surrounding regions.

Wander through the rooms to view interesting paintings, mixed media, sculptures, and more art forms. This contemporary museum is especially known for it Montana Modernism and Contemporary American Indian art collections. Perhaps you’ll even discover the next big artist and can say you saw them when their work was in the Missoula Art Museum!

The MAM is located in a former Carnegie library that has beautiful architecture. Making visiting this museum even better is that admission is free.

Tour Fort Missoula

For some more history head to Fort Missoula on the outskirts of the city. Fort Missoula is a historic military fort located in Missoula, Montana that was established in 1877. Since then, the fort has played an important role in the area’s history, serving as a training ground for soldiers during World War I and World War II, as well as a prisoner of war camp during the latter.

Today, the fort is a popular destination for visitors interested in learning about the area’s military history. One of the main attractions at Fort Missoula is the Historical Museum, which features exhibits on the fort’s early days as well as the history of the surrounding area.

You can also explore the fort’s many historic buildings, including the Officer’s Quarters, the Post Hospital, and the Cavalry Barracks.

Learn About Geology and Wildlife at the Montana Natural History Center

The Montana Natural History Center offers an opportunity to explore and learn about the diverse ecosystems that make up Montana’s natural landscape. The exhibits showcase everything from the geology of the surrounding mountains to the wildlife that inhabits the area.

One of the highlights of the Montana Natural History Center is the “Wild Walk” exhibit, which takes visitors on a journey through a variety of Montana habitats, including grasslands, forests, and wetlands. Along the way, visitors can learn about the plants and animals that call each ecosystem home, as well as the challenges they face in the changing climate.

Other exhibits include a display of Montana’s rocks and minerals, as well as interactive exhibits that allow visitors to learn about the state’s weather patterns and water systems.

Take a Drive to Garnet Ghost Town

After learning about military history, immerse yourself in mining history with a day trip from Missoula to Garnet Ghost Town.

Garnet Ghost Town is a well-preserved mining town located in the mountains of Montana. This historic site provides visitors with an opportunity to experience life in a mining town during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The town was once home to a bustling community during the gold mining boom.

Today, it is deserted, but visitors can explore the buildings that remain from its heyday, including a schoolhouse, saloon, and general store. While there are informational plaques and signs around the town, for more history insight, sign up for one of the ranger-led guided tours.

In addition to exploring the town’s buildings, you can also hike the surrounding trails, which offer views of the area’s natural beauty. The short, but moderately difficult, Warren Park Trail is three-quarters of a mile long and takes you to the park one of the founding members of the town set up.

Soak up the Heat at Lolo Hot Springs

If you don’t mind a short drive during your time in Missoula, head about 35 minutes southwest and you’ll come to one of the most relaxing things you can do while in Missoula: natural hot springs. 

Lolo Hot Springs is located in Lolo National Forest and are one of the most popular hot springs in Montana. You can get a day pass to enjoy both the indoor and outdoor mineral pools that range in temperature from 102 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Browse Local Goods at the Missoula Farmers’ Market

The Missoula’s Farmers Market is a popular destination for both locals and tourists alike. Located in the heart of downtown Missoula, this market features a wide variety of vendors selling fresh, locally-sourced produce, as well as handmade crafts, baked goods, and other unique items. With dozens of vendors to choose from, it’s a great place to find a special souvenir.

The market also features live music and other entertainment throughout the day, making for a lively and friendly atmosphere. The market is open on Saturdays from May through October.

Learn About Elk Habitat Conservation at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving and enhancing elk habitats in North America. The RMEF’s headquarters are located in Missoula and its Elk Country Visitor Center is open to the public.

You can walk through the visitor center and learn more about elk and their habitats, and how RMEF aids in the conservation of that habitat. You can also hold an elk antler, listen to an elk bugle, learn how to identify various wildlife tracks, and view a wildlife conservation film.

In addition, you can browse through the adjacent shop that has various RMEF apparel and outdoor gear, plus more products from a variety of outdoor recreation brands.

Another activity available when visiting RMEF is hiking along the trail that leads from the headquarters. You might even see elk in their natural habitats as well as other wildlife species.

Be aware that the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is very much pro-hunting, so if that ideology bothers you, this may be a skip for you.

Get Some Air at the Mobash Skatepark

Often considered to be one of the top five skateparks in the country, Mobash Skatepark is a can’t-miss experience if you are a skateboarder. Even if you’re not, you’ll have fun stopping by this park to watch skateboarders in their element doing tricks and flips on the many obstacles and dips. 

Mobash Skate Park is located across the river from downtown Missoula next to the Orange St. Bridge and Clark Fork Natural Area.

Have Fun in Missoula!

Whether you’re just passing through on a Montana road trip or you have a lot more time to spend in Missoula, you’ll have an incredible time by partaking in these top things to do in Missoula. Enjoy your time in one of our favorite cities!

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