Montana is one of our favorite states, as travelers and road trippers. Not only does it have magnificent scenery, but it also offers visitors a range of unique towns and cities to explore. Today we want to share our list of suggested things to do in Missoula, a lovely town that we enjoyed visiting and will surely return to again in the future.
Located in Montana's scenic Rocky Mountains, Missoula is an obvious magnet for outdoor enthusiasts. But you don't have to be a nature lover to fall in love with this mid-sized city. Thanks to the University of Montana campus, Missoula is an energetic city with a plethora of eclectic restaurants, funky breweries, and culturally significant museums.
To help you plan your trip to the region, take a peek at our picks for the 23 best things to do in and around Missoula:
- The Smokejumpers Center
- Downtown Missoula
- Garnet Ghost Town State Park
- Missoula Farmers' Market
- The University of Montana campus
- Fort Missoula Museum
- Museum of Mountain Flying
- Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
- Missoula Art Museum
- The Montana Natural History Center
- Historic Ninemile Remount Depot Visitor Center
- Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History
- National Museum of Forest Service History
- Lolo Pass and Lolo Peak
- Rattlesnake National Recreation Area
- Beavertail Hill State Park
- Travelers Rest State Park
- Caras Park
- Montana Snowbowl
- Mount Sentinel
- Pattee Canyon Recreation Area
- Montgomery Distillery
- Bayern Brewery
If you'd like to learn more about all of these magnificent attractions, please keep reading. In this post, we'll help you plan for a marvelous time in Missoula.
Why You Should Visit Missoula, Montana
Missoula is a great home base for exploring Northwestern Montana’s scenic Rocky Mountains region. Not only is Missoula surrounded by pristine natural forests, it’s also one of Montana’s most populous cities with about 70,000 residents. So, you don’t have to worry about sacrificing the conveniences of civilization on your Montana getaway.
With the University of Montana nearby, Missoula is one of Big Sky Country's most youthful cities. People who are looking for a fun college atmosphere with plenty of breweries, restaurants, and entertainment venues will jive with Missoula’s energetic atmosphere.
For those who are interested in doing a bit of day-tripping, Missoula is only a 2-hour-long drive from Montana’s capital Helena. The cities of Spokane, Bozeman, and Great Falls are all within a 3-hour drive of Missoula.
The 23 Best Things To Do In And Around Missoula
Since there's so much to see in Missoula, we've decided to organize our list into the following categories:
- Unique Missoula Attractions
- Museums & Visitor's Centers
- Nature & Scenery
- Breweries & Distilleries
We hope this organization will help you quickly find whatever Missoula attractions you're most interested in exploring.
Unique Missoula Attractions
1. The Smokejumpers Visitor's Center
To fully appreciate the United States' heroic history of firefighting, be sure to take a free tour of the Smokejumpers Visitor's Center near Missoula International Airport. A few highlights of visiting this center include a 1930s era tower, a real Smokejumper loft, and the National Smokejumper Memorial. Depending on when you visit, you might get to see real smokejumpers preparing to board planes.
If you only have time for one thing while going through Missoula, this should be it. Our tour of the facility was so interesting. We got to see the actual smoke jumpers, just hanging around and preparing their equipment. Did you know that these tough guys sew their own parachutes?
This Visitor's Center is open every day between Memorial Day and Labor Day from 8:30 AM till 5:00 PM. For winter hours, please reach out to the Smokejumpers Visitor's Center by emailing [email protected].
2. Downtown Missoula
Located to the north of the Clark Fork River, Downtown Missoula has retained much of its Old West charm with plenty of brick buildings, faded advertisements, and historic hotels. To get the full Missoula experience, we strongly recommend booking a guided walking tour of historic downtown.
You can visit the Downtown Missoula Partnership's website for helpful information on professional guided tours offered throughout the year.
3. Garnet Ghost Town State Park
Tourists who want to step back in time should drive an hour east of Missoula to the Garnet Ghost Town State Park. Although nobody's living here today, this mountain town was once a bustling center for gold miners from California. Thankfully, local activists preserved many of the original buildings on the property to help 21st-century guests re-live those legendary Gold Rush days.
The Garnet Ghost Town State Park is open seven days a week between 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM, but times could be reduced in the winter. Tickets cost $3 per adult.
4. Missoula Farmers' Market
For the freshest produce in Missoula, you have to check out the city's weekly Farmers' Market in Circle Square. In addition to seasonal fruits and veggies, the Missoula Farmers' Market features dozens of vendors selling local treats, flowers, and artistic gems.
The Missoula Farmers' Market's official hours are as follows:
- 8:30 AM – 12:30 PM on Saturdays between mid-May and mid-October
- 5:30 PM – 7:00 PM on Tuesdays between July and early September
5. The University of Montana Campus
Founded back to the late 19th century, the University of Montana is one of the Treasure State's largest centers for higher education. Walking around these storied grounds is a fun way to relax and recharge on your Missoula vacation.
Two museums of note on UM's campus include the Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum and the Montana Museum of Art & Culture. While you're on campus, you could also root for The Grizzlies at the Washington-Grizzly Stadium or check out a show at the Dennison Theatre.
Museums & Visitor's Centers in Missoula
6. Historical Museum at Fort Missoula
Situated on over 30 acres of land, the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula is a collection of about 20 well-preserved buildings. You'll learn many fascinating aspects of Montana's past on your complimentary tour, which includes visiting a 19th-century fort, a Shay-style locomotive, and WWII detention centers.
From Labor Day through Memorial Day, the Fort Missoula Museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 12 AM – 5 PM. During the rest of the year, the museum is usually open from 10 AM – 5 PM Mondays through Saturdays and between 12 PM – 5 PM on Sundays.
7. Museum of Mountain Flying
To help preserve the legacy of Johnson Flying Service, local aviation enthusiasts created the Museum of Mountain Flying near the Missoula International Airport in the late 20th century. Inside this 18,500 square foot hangar, you'll come face-to-face with many authentic aircraft, including a Douglas DC-3, a 1941 Boeing Stearman, and a Bell UH-1 Iroquois.
Note: the Museum of Mountain Flying is only open from Memorial Day Weekend through Mid-September from 10 AM – 4 PM every day. Admission fees are $4 per adult and $2 per student.
While we're on the subject of airplanes, you might want to check out our post on "Domestic Versus International Flights" before flying into Missoula. You might also like to read our previous post, "What To Pack In Your Carry-On For An International Flight."
8. Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Visitor's Center
The non-profit Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) hopes to inspire the next generation of conservationists with its state-of-the-art Visitor's Center. Situated in northern Missoula, the free RMEF Visitor's Center has many conservation-related exhibits and films, including real elk antlers you could try to pick up.
The RMEF Visitor's Center's hours vary throughout the year, but it's usually open between 9 AM – 5 PM Mondays through Saturdays.
9. Missoula Art Museum
First opened in 1975, the Missoula Art Museum is steadily becoming one of the Rocky Mountain region's major centers for contemporary art. This downtown museum now boasts eight exhibition spaces with some 1,800 pieces related to the American West and traditional Native American cultures.
The Missoula Art Museum is usually open from 10 AM – 5 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays, and admission is free.
10. The Montana Natural History Center
Families looking for a kid-friendly museum in Missoula can't do better than the Montana Natural History Center. This hands-on museum has loads of exciting exhibits exploring the biodiversity of the region. A few museum highlights include the fossil collection, the kids-only Discovery Room, and an interactive electronic globe.
The Montana Natural History Center is usually open between 9 AM – 5 PM on Mondays through Fridays and from 12 PM – 4 PM on Saturdays. Currently, it costs $4 per adult and $1 per child to visit.
11. Historic Ninemile Remount Depot Visitor Center
When it was built in the 1930s, the Ninemile Remount Depot was a central hub for breeding and training mules for firefighting missions. Today, tourists can learn more about what life was like at this depot on a tour of Remount Depot's Visitor's Center. On top of learning about the thousands of mules who once lived here, you could see Dutch ovens used for traditional cooking.
You can visit this historic depot between 8 AM – 4:30 PM from Memorial Day through Labor Day. While Remount Depot is open during the colder months, you should check their website beforehand for closures.
12. Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History
Next to the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, you'll find the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History. Although this museum covers America's military history from the Frontier Era to the present day, curators say their collection mainly focuses on the US Army between WWI and WWII.
The Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History is open seven days a week from June till Labor Day and doesn't charge an admission fee. Typical museum hours run from 12:00 PM till 5:00 PM.
With over 50,000 artifacts, the National Museum of Forest Service History has the nation's most important collection of items related to the US Forest Service. Although this museum is still raising funds for a National Conservation Education Center, you could tour the Visitor's Center while in town. You'll find the Museum of Forest Service History nearby the Smokejumpers Visitor's Center.
The National Museum of Forest Service History is usually only open in the warmer months after Memorial Day. For more detailed information, visit the National Museum of Forest Service History's website or call (406) 541-6374.
Nature & Scenery around Missoula
14. Lolo Pass and Lolo Peak
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Located on the border with Idaho, the Lolo Mountain Pass played a significant role in Lewis & Clark's expedition and the Nez Perce War. To better understand this historical region, it's best to orient yourself at the Lolo Pass Visitor's Center (about an hour's drive southwest of Missoula on US-12).
Any serious mountain climbers who are looking for some thrills might be interested in hiking to the 9,000-foot-tall Lolo Peak. While the views are undeniably impressive, don't push yourself on this demanding trail if you lack the necessary experience.
15. Rattlesnake National Recreation Area
A short drive northeast of Downtown Missoula, the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area is one of the best places to admire rugged mountain scenery. Those visiting in the warmer months can easily hike, bike, or horseback ride through this federally protected area. In the winter, Rattlesnake National Recreation Area is a particularly popular spot for skiers.
For more details on what's available in Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, be sure to check their official website.
16. Beavertail Hill State Park
At roughly 65 acres, Beavertail Hill State Park is one of Montana's largest campgrounds and only a 30-minute drive from Missoula. Fishing is a popular summertime activity here, but other fantastic activities include picnicking, hiking, boating, and bird watching.
There are now 24 campsites on Beavertail Hill's property that you could reserve on the park's website. Just remember there's no overnight camping allowed in Beavertail Hill during the winter season.
17. Travelers' Rest State Park
History buffs will appreciate roughing it in Travelers' Rest State Park, which is a 20-minute drive southwest of Missoula. Now listed as a National Historic Landmark, Travelers' Rest State Park was a significant campground on Lewis & Clark's epic 19th-century trek.
After exploring this beautiful park's grounds, be sure to take a peek at all of the Lewis & Clark artifacts housed in the Visitor's Center. The Visitor's Center's hours vary by time of year, so be sure to check the Travelers' Rest State Park website for more specific details.
18. Caras Park
Caras Park is the Central Park of Downtown Missoula. OK, Caras isn't as big as Manhattan's famous park, but it's certainly got a lot of charm with its riverfront views and a colorful carousel.
Due to Caras Park's central location, it's a hotspot for Missoula's most popular annual festivals like “Out To Lunch.” Be sure to check out the Caras Park events calendar before visiting the area.
19. Montana Snowbowl
If you're rearing to slap on some skis and barrel down Big Sky Country's highest hills, then you've got to head to the Montana Snowbowl. About a 30-minute drive north of Missoula, the Snowbowl is home to over 30 slopes of varying intensity that are perfect for adrenaline junkies of all ages.
There are many different ticket packages available at the Montana Snowbowl, but standard adult day-passes cost about $52 online. To learn more about ticket prices and year-round activities, be sure to visit Montana Snowbowl's main website.
20. Mount Sentinel
Due to its iconic "M" symbol and proximity to the University of Montana, Mount Sentinel will always remain the most popular hike in Missoula. You'll find signs that lead you on the frequently trafficked "M Trail" in the Phyllis Washington Park.
If you're hiking to the top, expect a moderately steep climb on a zigzag trail design. To reach Mt. Sentinel's peak, you'll have to travel about 3 miles, but you could easily reach the "M" sign in less than a mile.
21. Pattee Canyon Recreation Area
Measuring well over 3,000 acres, the Pattee Canyon is one of the largest recreation zones in the state of Montana. There are almost 30 miles of trails here that are ideal for skiing, biking, and walking the dog. Pattee Canyon is also a perfect place to enjoy a picnic with family and friends.
Pattee Canyon Recreation Area closes between 9 PM – 6 AM year-round. For more info, please check out this Pattee Canyon brochure.
Breweries & Distilleries
22. Montgomery Distillery
Conveniently located in the heart of Downtown Missoula, Montgomery Distillery is a family-run business that has earned serious cred for its innovative spirits. A few highlights in Montgomery's ever-growing catalog include its award-winning Single Malt, Nite Owl Coffee Liqueur, and traditional cherry brandy.
Typically, Montgomery Distillery hosts tours every Friday between 5 PM – 6 PM for $5 per person. The distillery's tasting rooms are open from 12 PM – 7:45 PM Mondays through Saturdays and from 2 PM – 7:45 PM on Sunday.
23. Bayern Brewery
A short drive west of Downtown Missoula you'll come across the popular Bayern Brewery. Founded in the 1980s, Bayern takes great pride in crafting traditional brews according to old German formulas.
You can visit Bayern Brewery's taprooms between 11 AM – 8 PM every day of the week.
Where To Stay In Missoula, Montana
It’s probably not a shock that most of Missoula’s top-rated hotels are either downtown or near the city’s airport. Here are two exceptional hotels in both of these locations for different price points.
Residence Inn by Marriott Missoula Downtown
A short walk from Caras Park, the Residence Inn by Marriott in Downtown Missoula is a rustic-feeling hotel located inside a historic home. On top of this three-star hotel’s central location, it offers guests access to a swimming pool, pet-friendly rooms, and continental breakfast.
Tourists who want to save a bit of cash might want to consider staying at StoneCreek Lodge near Missoula International Airport. Only a 10-minute drive into Downtown Missoula, the StoneCreek Lodge has free shuttle transportation to the airport as well as pool access and free breakfast.