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Nicknamed the “Zoo City”, scenic Missoula is a city in Montana with natural beauty, rugged peaks and alluring wilderness, however, the city also has a cosmopolitan edge, and you’ll find plenty of things to do in Missoula involving the arts, dining and shopping.
Nature and city life come together spectacularly, where residents surf in the river cutting through Downtown Missoula, and deer and elk can be spotted wandering around the city’s streets. With a fantastic mix of indoor-outdoor activities and attractions in and around this western Montana city, it’s easy to see why Missoula is worth a visit. Here are some of the things to do in Missoula for all seasons.
Stretching the entire length of US Highway 12 between Missoula, Montana and Lewiston, Idaho, the Lewis and Clark Trail retraces the footsteps of intrepid explorers Lewis and Clark during their fateful journey in 1805.
The Missoula stretch of the trail was the most arduous of the entire journey due to the region’s impenetrable forests, tall peaks and rugged wilderness.
You’ll find several key landmarks along the trail, such as Travellers End, where the group camped for three days or the Lolo Hot Springs, where the expedition famously bathed.
The popular Hip Strip is the go-to shopping and dining scene in Downtown Missoula.
The strip’s name is derived from the numerous ‘hip’ stores straddling its edges, such as the famous Shakespeare & Co. bookstore and the Ear Candy Music record store.
When you’re all done shopping, check out the strip’s diners and restaurants for a great selection of breakfast, lunch or dinner options.
Free to visit and one of the best places to meet and interact with locals, Missoula’s favourite open-air shopping district is always a fun spot.
Situated on the main campus of the University of Montana, the Montana Museum of Art & Culture is home to over 11,000 individual pieces of art throughout the facility’s indoor-outdoor layout.
The museum provides a mix of permanent and rotating exhibits from some of the most prominent names in contemporary and historic art.
Opened in 1894, the museum is free to visit and has one of the finest permanent art collections in the region.
Montana Museum of Art & Culture is at Performing Arts and Radio Center, Missoula, MT 59812.
Established in 2015, the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium is among Missoula’s newest and most visited tourist attractions.
The venue was created to teach visitors of all ages about insects and their roles in the ecosystem through various colourful critters and informative educative programs.
This unique Missoula landmark allows younger children to learn about insects’ roles in the wild as predators and prey, while older kids can observe bugs through microscopes to learn more about insects up close.
The venue is not only a fun attraction for kids, as adults get to partake in the centre’s popular Bugs and Brews event, an after-hours get-together combining beer with insect education that guarantees an incredibly eventful, albeit not very educational evening.
Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium is at 120 Hickory St, Missoula, MT 59802.
Originally built in 1877 by the US Army to protect the European settlers from Native American raiders during Missoula’s founding, Fort Missoula is a vital cultural institution providing visitors with a great insight into Western Montana’s past.
The Fort Missoula Museum is a fascinating cultural institution situated at one of Missoula’s most important and oldest historic sites that still features the fort’s original structures for guests to tour.
With everything from Native American and military artefacts to an old steam locomotive on display, the museum is an excellent Missoula landmark to tour if you want to learn about the area’s past.
Fort Missoula Museum is at 3400 Captain Rawn Way, Missoula, MT 59804.
Situated among the beautiful peaks and woodlands of the Lolo National Forest, Montana Snowbowl is Western Montana’s number one outdoor recreation destination.
During the winter, the area’s towering Big Sky Mountain draws skiers and snowboarders from across the world to its snowy slopes for excellent winter sports conditions.
During the summer, the snowy peaks and valleys make way for scenic hiking trails and cosy cafes that attract outdoor enthusiasts looking for a more laid-back outdoor adventure surrounded by some of North America’s most stunning natural scenery.
Less developed and less crowded than the more popular skiing and hiking destinations in Eastern Montana and Wyoming, the Snowbowl is a welcome sight for travellers and thrillseekers looking for a more low-key yet equally stunning outdoor playground to explore.
Caras Park is the go-to urban recreational area in Missoula, conveniently located right in the city’s downtown area along the banks of the Clark Fork River.
The park is a venue for all sorts of open-air events, festivals and music shows, however, it’s the park’s incredibly diverse food scene that takes the cake, with food trucks selling gourmet cuisines ranging from BBQ to Thai.
The park is an absolute treat to explore and is always a must-visit attraction in Western Montana whenever a popular festival or big-time performer rolls into town.
The breathtakingly beautiful Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness incorporates some of North America’s most dramatic peaks, valleys and woodlands into one easy-to-reach destination along the Montana-Idaho state border.
Home to the Bitterroot Mountain Range, this vast wilderness area that encompasses more than 1,340,000 acres (542,000ha) also features several national forests, glacier-carved canyons and over 3,000 km (1,864 mi) of nature trails to hike.
Roughly an hour’s drive south of Downtown Missoula, the wilderness area is one of the largest in the country and it’s as wild and untamed as it gets in Montana.
The non-profit Roxy Theater has been the go-to venue in Missoula for film screenings and community theatre ever since this historic landmark opened in 1937.
Straddling Missoula’s popular Hip Strip, the theatre hosts screenings of new and classic films every day of the week and hosts annual festivals such as the International Wildlife Film Festival and the Montana Film Festival.
Pairing great films with tasty snacks and drinks such as wine, beer and organic popcorn, the Roxy Theater is among the best entertainment venues to visit in Western Montana.
Established on a rich gold field in Montana’s Granite County, the Garnet Ghost Town is unlike any other historic landmark in Montana.
At its peak in 1898, the town was home to just over 1,000 people, however, the town was abandoned just 20 years later when the gold supplies dried up.
The town was completely abandoned and left just the way it was when the last miners finally left for better mining opportunities elsewhere, with about 30 original buildings preserved for visitors to tour.
Open year-round and a fun attraction during summer or winter, Garnet has found a new purpose as a tourist destination with all sorts of memorabilia, historical items and activities on offer in and around the former mining town.
Established in 1984 to protect and safeguard America’s wildlife and hunting culture, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation teaches visitors about Montana’s large elk and deer populations.
This cutting-edge facility sits right on the outskirts of Missoula.
It features a fascinating visitor’s centre where guests learn about the role that elk hunting plays in elk preservation and how to hunt sustainably.
Since its inception, the foundation has helped preserve over 6.7 million acres (2.7 million ha) of endangered elk habitats across the United States, making them one of the best educators and stewards in caring for the native wildlife of Montana.
Roughly an hour’s drive north of Downtown Missoula, the scenic Rattlesnake National Recreation Area is a stunning stretch of preserved Montana nature that is an absolute treat for nature enthusiasts.
The sprawling recreational area forms part of the larger Lolo National Forest and is home to more than 62 miles (100 kilometres) of nature trails that meander through tall peaks and idyllic meadows.
With an unlimited amount of fauna and flora to see and discover all throughout this wild and untamed recreational area, it’s among the best outdoor attractions in Western Montana and well worth touring whenever you’re near Missoula.
Guarding over the city and visible from every corner of Missoula, Mount Sentinel is the go-to hiking and overall recreation destination for the residents of Missoula.
The mostly barren mountain soars 5,158 feet (1,572 m) into the air and is easily identified thanks to the large “M” sign roughly halfway up the mountain.
The mountain is east of Downtown Missoula and the University of Montana campus, making it easy to reach for a quick morning hike to enjoy a Missoula sunrise from its summit.
This free-to-visit Missoula landmark is an iconic attraction in the region that provides visitors with unobstructed views of Missoula and the surrounding landscapes stretching as far as the eye can see.
Missoula is home to several open-air markets selling all sorts of produce and baked goods, however, none are as famous or as big as the popular Missoula Farmers’ Market.
The market has been held in Downtown Missoula every year since 1972 and is open on Saturday mornings between May and October (and on Tuesday evenings between July and September).
With tons of sweet treats, fresh ingredients and handmade trinkets, you’ll not want to miss out on this fantastic Missoula staple.
The Missoula Art Museum is a unique art institution in Montana that places emphasis on exhibiting art connected to the life and culture of the American West.
A community-supported venue that helps to prop up local artists, the museum is home to one of the most extensive collections of contemporary Native American art in the country, as well as a collection of Hmong textiles.
The museum features a massive assortment of art mediums ranging from paintings and sculptures to textiles and ceramics, making it an excellent venue to explore and better understand the local arts scene.
Splash Montana is the region’s biggest and most popular waterpark, just north of Downtown Missoula.
The park is open every summer season and features a range of waterslides and other water attractions to provide guests with adrenaline-pumping fun all day.
The venue caters to visitors of all ages with several kids-only attractions, rides on offer throughout the park, and dedicated sunbathing areas for adults.
Apart from its super fun waterslides, the park features a cafe and grill where visitors can grab a drink or bite to eat between attractions.
The informative Montana Natural History Center was established in 1991 by local educators who saw the need for a museum about Western Montana’s rich fauna and flora.
The education-centred venue features a range of fully interactive displays that deals with everything from prehistoric dinosaurs to endangered plant species, with tons of opportunities for visitors to learn all about the region’s vibrant wildlife in a fun and relaxed manner.
Some of the most popular sights at the centre include a full-scale T-Rex skull and the Nature Adventure Garden, where kids are encouraged to roll up their sleeves and interact with the native plant species of Western Montana.
There’s even an on-site library where visitors can learn various interesting facts about the region, making it a worthwhile venue to visit any day of the week.
The Missoula Community Theatre has been delighting Missoula and her people with high-quality, community-led productions ever since the theatre was opened in 1998.
Over 1 million patrons have passed through the venue’s doors since its inception, thanks to its colourful performances and various community outreach programs, making it one of the leading cultural institutions in Montana.
Hosting various sensory-friendly concerts, kids’ shows, and your regular Broadway productions, the theatre puts on top-notch theatrical performances.
The Pattee Canyon Recreation Area is a sizeable portion of protected Federal wilderness situated east of Missoula.
Encompassing 3,200 acres (1,295 ha), the area is a prime outdoor attraction with miles of nature trails, picnic areas and fire pits, including an 18-hole disc golf course.
Many joggers, dog walkers and hikers flock to the area thanks to the park’s great interconnected trail system during summer.
In contrast, the area’s excellent cross-country skiing opportunities make it a haven for winter sports.
With separate trails for horseback riding and mountain biking, there’s always fun in this splendid outdoor retreat just outside downtown Missoula.
Situated just a short hop from the Idaho-Montana state border, the Lolo Hot Springs has been a popular retreat since the Lewis and Clark expedition first put it on the map during their expedition in 1805 and 1806.
Native Americans used the springs’ natural healing properties for centuries before the expedition rolled through Montana.
The springs are a popular destination for hiking, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, and other outdoor activities.
With plenty of beautiful scenery and history, the springs are the perfect weekend getaway destination from Downtown Missoula.
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