A Montanan’s Guide to the Things You Can’t Miss Experiencing While in Missoula
Here at Travel Montana Now, we adore Missoula! Both Nancy and Jackie went to college at the University of Montana located in Missoula, and Gina always stops in Missoula for a night on her way from Washington. So we are more than excited to share with you today all of our favorite things to do in Missoula.
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.
Carousel for Missoula & Dragon Hollow
This is a personal favorite of our family; all of us young and old love the beauty and thrill of this special 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,
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.
Right next to door the Carousel is an impressively designed 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 will have fun chasing their kiddos through the covered steps and platforms of the main structure.
Missoula Craft Breweries and Distilleries
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. 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.
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.
Caras Park is located near a Carousel for Missoula next to the Clark Fork River.
Riverfront Walking Trail
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 the middleIt’s an idyllic walk any time of year (though obviously much colder in winter!).
Activities on the River that Runs Through Missoula
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.
There’s even a manmade wave called Brennan’s Wave along the riverfront next to Caras Park that recreates the experience of whitewater rafting via a large wave experienced kayakers can “surf” down. It’s visible from the riverbanks and you can sit to watch the kayakers navigate the wave (or if you are one of those experienced kayakers, you can maybe be the one people are watching!).
Hike to the M
This iconic hike is a must-do activity in Missoula. You can’t miss seeing “the M” since it is a bright white letter proudly placed aside the top of a mountain and visible from many streets in downtown Missoula.
The hike is 1.2 miles long via a series of switchbacks up the mountain. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 the Missoula County Courthouse, St. Francis Xavier Church, the Palace Hotel, the Wilma Building, the Higgins Block, the Florence Hotel, the Masonic Temple, and the Northern Pacific Railroad Depot.
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.
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 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!