Missoula, Montana, holds a special place in my heart. Not only did I initiate my pivot into travel photography at Rocky Mountain School of Photography, but I also reconnected with my aunt, uncle and cousin who live in Missoula after 30 years!
I’ve visited for a week 15 different times, benefiting from my family’s insider perspectives (they’ve lived here 40+ years!) During my stays, I’ve become enamored by this liberal college town’s myriad outdoor activities, culture and boutiques.
My Missoula, Montana, travel guide details 34 interesting things to do in Missoula, Montana, including the best places to explore and shop before venturing to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Whitefish, Helena or Great Falls. After working up an appetite exploring all the Missoula attractions, be sure to indulge in one of the many delectable Missoula restaurants.
Fun Things to Do in Missoula, Montana
Whether you are in Missoula for a day, a weekend or a week, you will find plenty of Missoula activities, Missoula attractions and shopping to keep you busy!
Missoula Outdoor Activities
1. Hike to the “M”
Take a short hike to the concrete “M” above the University of Montana campus for expansive views above Missoula, Montana. Although it’s only 1.2 miles, be prepared for 11 switchbacks and 620 feet in elevation gain over that short distance.
If you have the energy, continue to the top of Mount Sentinel, which is another 1300 feet of elevation gain over the next mile.
2. Walk or Run Along the Clark Fork Riverfront Trail
Start or end your day with a peaceful walk, run or cycle along the Clark Fork riverfront trail, admiring the Old Milwaukee Depot (a historic railway depot built in 1910) along the way. After your explorations, grab a bite at one of Missoula’s delicious places to eat.
3. Watch People Surf or Kayak Brennan’s Wave
On hot summer days, marvel at kayakers and surfers conquering this manmade, whitewater wave on the Clark Fork River. You can watch them from Caras Park or from the Higgins Avenue Bridge.
This is certainly one of my favorite Missoula tourist attractions!
This wave is in memoriam for a world-famous, Missoula kayaker, Brennan Guth, who passed away kayaking in Chile in 2001.
4. Tube Along the Clark Fork River
During our most recent Missoula summer visit, we tubed along the Clark Fork River. We adored seeing locals with their pups on paddle boards. In addition to relaxing during the meandering parts, be prepared for exhilaration with two small rapids during the float and Brennan’s wave at the end! Since this is now one of my favorite things to do in Missoula, I look forward to partaking every summer.
When you finish at McCormick Park, they’ll pick you up and take you back to your car, making it super easy to enjoy this summertime Missoula activity.
5. Enjoy Live Music at Caras Park
From June to September, you can take partake in live music at Caras Park on Wednesday afternoons for “Out to Lunch” and Thursday nights from 5:30-8:30 as part of the weekly “Downtown ToNight” event.
6. Attend Concerts at KettleHouse Amphitheater
Missoula, Montana, is well-known for its music scene. KettleHouse Amphitheater is an outdoor concert venue 8 miles (15 minutes) from downtown. Be sure to check the summer concert schedule (June-September) for the headlining bands when you’ll be visiting
Given Missoula’s proximity to Seattle, many top-notch bands stop in Missoula on their way to or from Seattle.
7. Test Your Balance with Yoga on a Paddle Board
If you are confident in your balance, indulge in a Yoga class on Stand Up Paddle (SUP) Boards with Hot House Yoga in July and August.
I signed up for a class this past July and loved it!! Miraculously, I didn’t fall in. Before trying it, I assumed I’d spend more time in the water than atop the paddle board. Balancing on a paddle board while holding the various poses undoubtedly challenges your abs and legs in new ways, but is easier than I anticipated. The $35 class includes a paddle board.
8. Mountain Bike (or Hike) in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area
The Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, which is managed by Lolo National Forest, is a popular area for mountain biking, with trails ranging from easy to difficult. Take your pick depending on what you fancy.
Rent bikes from Spotted Dog Cycles in Missoula.
9. Discover the Ghost Signs around Missoula
When walking around, make sure to examine the brick buildings’ sides and peek down alleyways to spy historic ghost signs (faded, painted advertisements) that are vestiges of Missoula’s history as a railroad town. I enjoyed seeking out ghost signs in Helena, Montana, too!
10. Appreciate New Artists at Allez
At 120 N Higgins is Allez, a revolving outdoor urban art gallery. Since this exhibit is constantly updated, you can stop by each time you visit to peruse new artists.
11. Peruse Artists Creations at First Friday
If your visit coincides with the First Friday of the month, be sure to meander along Higgins and surrounding downtown Missoula streets from 5 to 8PM. Embrace the energy in the museums and galleries that extend their hours, allowing you to appreciate local artists’ impressive talent.
We were fortunate to experience a First Friday during December, which is extra festive with the holiday lights, beer, wine and delectable holiday treats accompanying various exhibitions.
12. Indulge at the Missoula Fair
If you are visiting in August, partake in the Western Montana State Fair. Carnival rides, 4H Competitions, a rodeo and live music performances entertain patrons for four days.
As soon as you arrive, do a “fly-by” of all the food trucks and vendors.
We also devoured the cheese manakesh (Arabic flatbread) from Ragheef and Vikings (a corn dog with sausage instead of a hot dog).
Best Things to See in Missoula, Montana
Missoula, Montana, Cultural and Immersive Experiences
13. Attend a Performance at the Wilma Theater
Built in 1921, the historic Wilma Theater hosts music, comedy and movie events in the 1400 seat auditorium. Be sure to check out the performance line-up when you plan to visit and enjoy an event at this beautiful venue. Grab dinner at Scotty’s Table (located just beneath the theater) or at one of the other tasty downtown Missoula restaurants before your show.
14. Enjoy Native American artwork at the Missoula Art Museum
Craving cultural immersion? Stop by the Missoula Art Museum and walk through the outdoor Missoula Art Park or take a tour of the indoor galleries, offered hourly 10-4 on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Admission is FREE!
Since Missoula Art Museum resides on Salish and Qlispe ancestral lands, it’s an ideal place to appreciate Native American artwork.
15. Explore the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula
I had the pleasure of exploring Fort Missoula on two different photography workshops with Rocky Mountain School of Photography, appreciating different elements each time. It’s a wonderful place to wander amongst historic artifacts and imagine life during those times.
It’s definitely worth spending a couple hours here to explore and also pay respects to the 2200 Italian seamen and Japanese immigrants who were held at Fort Missoula when it served as in internment camp from 1941-1944.
16. Join the Food Truck Frenzy
If you are visiting Missoula, Montana, between June-August, make sure to nosh at the food trucks at Caras Park for the Wednesday afternoon “Out to Lunch” or Thursday night “Downtown ToNight” events.
Some food trucks to try: Big Dipper Ice Cream, Big Thai Country, El Cazador Taco Truck, Sa-Wad-Dee Thai food and Isla’s Lemonade.
17. Learn at the Smokejumper Visitor Center
If visiting Missoula in the summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day), be sure to take a tour at the Smokejumper Visitor Center to see Smokejumper planes and learn about Smokejumpers’ intense training and specialized gear. See the the Pulaskis they use to dig fire breaks, the kevlar jumpsuits they work in and the 100 pounds of gears they jump with!
It’s been enlightening to learn firsthand about the smokejumpers who battle fires from the air and “hotshot crews” from my uncle Marvin, who fought fires from the ground.
I’ve always revered firefighters’ bravery and commitment to saving people, homes and forests from raging fires. The intense complex fires that have ravaged landscapes throughout the United States and world as a result of climate change in the past decade have heightened my awareness of the critical role they play in preserving ecosystems and communities. If you want to learn more about the bravery of smokejumpers, I highly recommend reading “Young Men and Fire.”
18. Relax at Float Missoula
Seeking a meditative experience where you can unplug and recharge? Unwind while floating in a dense salt-water tank at Float Missoula. Opt for music to relax you while you hover weightlessly and set your mind at ease.
What to do in Missoula, Montana – SHOP!
Missoula, Montana has an abundance of innovative proprietors offering high quality, locally-made goods. I discover new places each time I visit.
19. Missoula Farmers’ and Artisan Markets
If you are visiting Missoula on a Saturday from mid-May to mid-October, you MUST stop by the three Missoula markets (all are within close walking distance).
Peruse the crafts, artwork, photography and myriad food stands from 8AM-1230PM. Satiate your thirst with lemonade, buy bags of huckleberries (when in season in July-September), indulge in sweet apple caramel or huckleberry danish, or discover aromatic homemade soaps.
If you can find Flathead cherries at the market, gobble them up! I tried them for the first time this year and I’m hooked! I actually pitted a bunch and froze them so that I can enjoy them all winter in smoothies.
Don’t miss Hindu Hillbilly’s hand-pressed honey lemonade and moisturizing honey lip balm made with shea butter, beeswax, honey and vitamin E.
On my most recent Missoula visit, I discovered Tosca. As a foodie couple that loves to experiment with one to two new recipes a week, we are always on the lookout for additions that can elevate our dishes to the next level. Enter Tosca with its fine olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Throughout the store, they have signage with creative dish ideas, which spawns your creativity while shopping.
21. Montana Decor
Seeking mountain living inspired home goods? Look no further than Montana Decor. With their extensive collection of textiles, throw pillows, candles, striking place settings, placemats, and sumptuous blankets, prepare for visual and tactile delights.
On my most recent visit, I purchased a divine smelling Molton Brown rhubarb and rose hand wash that puts a smile on my face each time I use it. Even my husband has commented repeatedly about how good it smells.
22. Three Bales
Three Bales is a minimalist home store featuring porcelain tableware, linen napkins, cast iron pots and pans, Swedish compostable dish cloths, dish brushes, dish bar soap and more. We love how thoughtful the proprietors are with identifying and sourcing products from family owned businesses with a focus on materials that minimize the impact on the environment. My favorite sustainable travel essentials includes other eco-friendly brands I’ve found.
23. The Trailhead
This sporting goods store carries Rab (a high quality British brand), Patagonia, Arc’teryx, Prana and more. I found my new favorite Prana bathing suit during a recent visit. It’s off the main drag on Front Street. They also carry hiking boots, shoes, backpacks, Black Diamond hiking poles and more. Perfect for gearing up for day hikes and national park explorations!
24. Jeanette Rankin Peace Center
After learning about Jeannette Rankin’s peace seeking efforts and dedication to women’s rights in Helena, Montana, I adored seeing a storefront that sources and sells fair trade goods in Missoula.
25. Rockin’ Rudy’s
Rockin’ Rudy’s is an eclectic store that you MUST stop into while in Missoula, Montana. Since it’s not located downtown, you have to seek it out. With its wide selection of wares, I have no doubt you will discover many gems within this shop.
Rockin’ Rudy’s has the most extensive huckleberry product selection I’ve seen ANYWHERE! With jam, syrup, licorice, BBQ sauce, marmalade, pretzels, chocolate bars, honey, and vinaigrette, I’m certain you’ll find something that strikes your fancy.
The Huckleberry Haven huckleberry jam is also delish!
They also sell greeting cards, water bottles, journals, essential oils, toys, records and more. Be forewarned you might find yourself perusing for a few hours.
If you can’t make it to the tea shops I mention below, Rockin Rudy’s also carries Lake Missoula Tea Company and Montana Tea and Spice Trading teas. Check out my favorite flavors below.
26. Butterfly Herbs
Butterfly Herbs is THE place to come for bulk teas, herbs, spices and fresh roasted coffee beans. They also have tea and coffee accessories, jewelry, soaps, lotions, tinctures, essential oils and more. Thanks to my aunt Mary Anne for introducing me to this gem and all of her favorites!
My aunt introduced me to this decaffeinated tea and it’s my FAVORITE tea to drink all year-round. The combination of chamomile, rosehips, peppermint, spearmint, vanilla and lavender is tantalizing.
Another one I highly recommend you try is Montana Gold. Making this as an iced, decaffeinated rooibos, cinnamon, orange peel and cloves tea is the ideal refreshment on a hot summer day.
When I last visited Missoula, I brought my empty Montana Gold bag and they refilled it for me. You can do this or bring whatever container you like and they will fill it from the bulk containers. Given the frequency we drink Montana Gold, it’s nice to be able to buy in bulk and minimize the waste associated with the new plastic bags that come inside the paper bags.
27. Montana Tea & Spice Trading
If you have a car and are game for driving 10 minutes from downtown Missoula, Montana, it’s worth stopping into Montana Tea & Spice Trading’s retail distribution center.
Since they are the maker of my beloved Evening in Missoula and Montana Gold teas, I enjoyed checking out their extensive collection of other teas.
As soon as you step inside, you’ll be enveloped by tea aromas and enchanted by the beautiful tea cups lining the windows.
28. Lake Missoula Tea Company
My tea-loving aunt Mary Anne also introduced me to Lake Missoula Tea Company this summer. Small glass jars are present throughout the store, allowing you to smell the teas and see which ones resonate with you.
One of my new favorites is Harvest Moon, a seasonal pumpkin spice tea. Given my pumpkin addiction, I’m hoping I can pick more of this up on my next visit.
It’s super helpful that the store is organized by tea type (black, green, decaf), allowing you to easily hone in on favorites.
Some others you might enjoy include:
- Chocolate Mint Puerh (puerh tea, cocoa nibs, peppermint) – incredibly unique, this is my new favorite!
- Evening Chai (rooibos with ginger, lemongrass, clove, cayenne and pink and black pepper)
- Willy Wonka (black tea, cardamom, cacao nibs)
- Earl Grey Blue (Earl Grey with vanilla and bergamot)
- A Few of My Favorite Things (peppermint, lavender, lemon)
I appreciate the fact they often gift you a free sample of something else to try based on your palate.
29. Good Food Store
Prior to heading on hikes around Missoula or to Glacier National Park, stock up on locally produced, organic, bulk foods at Good Food Store.
During my most recent visit, I discovered they carry dried spicy mangos. Be forewarned, these have some SERIOUS kick and are highly addictive.
We also bought cranberries, trail mix and the largest, tastiest corn nuts we’ve EVER had and stored them in our silicone Stasher bags. (My favorite sizes are the sandwich and snack bags). I love that they let me bring in my Stasher bags and fill them directly.
Good Earth sells Stasher bags as well as beeswax, metal straws, and reusable water bottles. If you are seeking other eco-friendly travel products, my sustainable travel essentials article has more ideas.
If you want a quick fast snack, Good Food Store’s food bar has soups, sandwiches and pizzas. And, the café offers refreshing hot and cold drinks. In the fall, they have pumpkin and apple flavors. I indulged in half lemonade, half iced tea made with Lake Missoula Tea Company’s Bodacious Blue tea that delivered the ideal amount of sweetness.
Good Food Store serves all its drinks in compostable cups and uses plant-based straws.
Thing to Do Near Missoula, Montana
If you have a car and are game to explore 30 minutes to two hours from Missoula, these towns and places around Missoula make for great day trips.
30. The Garden of One Thousand Buddhas
Located only 30 miles (35 minutes) north of Missoula, Montana, is the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas, a preserve nestled in the Jocko valley between mountain ranges on Salish and Kootenai Tribes lands.
Wander amongst the stupas and buddha, sit amongst the prayer flags or meditate and reflect beneath Yum Chenmo.
The gift shop onsite (open 10-5) sells unique pieces from Nepal and local crafts.
This is a wonderful place to stop on your way to Whitefish, Montana, or Glacier National Park.
31. Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge
After visiting The Garden of One Thousand Buddhas, you can continue ~20 miles (25 minutes) north and marvel at the beauty and wildlife within Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge.
If you are a birder, this wetland area is a wonderful place for bird spotting. Birds you might see include: Canada goose, mallards, ruddy ducks, grebes, white pelicans, great blue herons or double-crested cormorants.
Remember to always recreate responsibly, keep your distance from wildlife, and pack everything out that you bring in.
32. Garnet Ghost Town
Journey back in time at Garnet Ghost Town, only 40 miles (60 minutes) east of Missoula. At its pinnacle in 1898, one thousand residents resided in this gold mining town. Though most people moved on by 1905, Garnet wasn’t completely abandoned until 1940.
Explore the general store, with its historic containers and bottles, old boarding houses with rusted bed frames and peeling, water-stained wallpaper and imagine how this town must have bustled during its heyday.
33. Philipsburg, Montana
If you’d like to explore another well-preserved (and still operating) former mining town, head to Philipsburg, Montana, 75 miles (1.25 hours) from Missoula. Admire the beautiful architecture and quaint storefronts lining the main street.
34. Helena, Montana
Helena, Montana’s capitol, is only 113 miles (2 hours) from Missoula. Spend a day discovering museums, historic buildings, pastries from a French trained baker, a candy shop from 1922, and a coffee shop with myriad Montana gifts, chocolates, and teas in one of the first gold mining towns in Montana.
I hope my Missoula, Montana, travel blog has spawned myriad ideas for fun and interesting things to do in Missoula, Montana. I’d love to hear your favorite discoveries in the comments below. Continue your adventures by indulging in one of Missoula’s many unique restaurants.