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 five different times, benefiting from my family’s insider perspectives (they’ve lived here 40+ years!). During my five stays, I’ve become enamored by this liberal college town’s myriad outdoor activities, culture and boutiques.
My Missoula, Montana, travel guide details 24 interesting things to do in Missoula, Montana, including the best places to explore and shop before venturing to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park or Whitefish, Montana.
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.
TOP TIP: Head up for sunrise or sunset and appreciate an unparalleled Missoula view from this elevated perspective. Since there’s no shade on this trail, early or late in the day is ideal for avoiding mid-day heat.
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.
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. 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.
Since I love both yoga and SUP, I look forward to trying this next time. The $25 class includes a paddle board.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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 in August.
As soon as you arrive, do a “fly-by” of all the food trucks and vendors.
TOP TIP: You MUST try the Lemon Dairy (a lemon slushie with ice cream) and huckleberry sundae from the Lemon Dairy truck. Ask them to add huckleberry to your Lemon Dairy and make it a Huckleberry Jamboree!
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
8. 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.
9. 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.
Since Missoula Art Museum resides on Salish and Qlispe ancestral lands, it’s an ideal place to appreciate Native American artwork.
FUN FACT: The museum focuses on modern pieces created by living artists.
10. 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.
FUN FACT: Established in 1877, Fort Missoula has old log and brick buildings dating from as far back as 1878 as well as cannons, trains, and classic vehicles.
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.
11. Join the Food Truck Frenzy
If you are visiting Missoula, Montana, between June-August, make sure to partake in the food trucks and live music at Caras Park for the Wednesday afternoon “Out to Lunch” or Thursday night “Downtown ToNight” event.
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.
12. 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.
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.
While 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.
13. 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.
14. 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.
TOP TIP: If Dixon melons are offered anywhere, snag one. This is the TASTIEST cantaloupe I have EVER tried. And the Dixon watermelons are divine too! 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!
Don’t miss Hindu Hillbilly’s hand-pressed honey lemonade and moisturizing honey lip balm made with shea butter, beeswax, honey and vitamin E.
I’m grateful to my Instagram friend, Gina, who encouraged me to stop in Hometana. Shirstie Gaylord, the owner and founder, sells high quality Montana-made goods.
Since I seek out hand-crafted, palm oil free soaps whenever I travel, I delighted in discovering Hometana carries Pastures + Pines artisan ginger lime soap (with lasered lettering and no plastic packaging!) that enraptures you with its scent and a nourishing huckleberry goat’s milk soap. Is my huckleberry addiction apparent yet?
I also had a hard time choosing between the Flathead cherry, blueberry and huckleberry jams. All are small-batch and locally sourced.
16. 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, I had somehow missed it on my first four visits. 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.
TOP TIP: Make sure to get a bag (or two) of the Wiley Wallaby huckleberry licorice. I had snagged the LAST bag of this in Bryce Canyon a few months prior when traveling and had been seeking it ever since. So, you can imagine how overjoyed I was to find it at Rockin’ Rudy’s.
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.
17. 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!
TOP TIP: You MUST try the Evening in Missoula tea, made by Montana Tea and Spice Trading. 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.
This beloved tea is widely distributed throughout Montana, so if you need more, it’s easy to find. I saw it in shops in Whitefish, Montana and Glacier National Park.
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.
TOP TIP: Buy the loose tea and put 1/3 cup into a pitcher, let it steep overnight, and strain the tea leaves. We actually re-use the leaves, resulting in a slightly less strong second batch.
18. 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.
TOP TIP: Some other teas you might want to try are Herbal Earl Grey, Cherry Almond Decaf and Five Valleys Chai Bush (made with Rooibos tea).
19. 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.
It’s super helpful that the store is organized by tea type (black, green, decaf), allowing you to easily hone in on favorites.
TOP TIP: If you are looking for a colorful and flavorful tea, try the Bodacious Blue (butterfly pea flowers give it a blue color + lemon, peppermint and mango).
Some others you might enjoy include:
- 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.
20. 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.
We bought cranberries, trail mix and the largest, tastiest corn nuts we’ve EVER had and stored them in our silicone Stasher bags. Good Earth sells these as well as beeswax, metal straws, and reusable water bottles. If you are seeking other eco-friendly travel products, my sustainable travel essentials blog post 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 30-60 minutes from Missoula, these towns and places around Missoula make for great day trips.
21. 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.
FUN FACT: Yum Chenmo “represents the union of primordial wisdom and the skillful means of compassion.”
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.
22. 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.
23. 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.
FUN FACT: After extracting and exhausting gold supplies in California, gold miners ventured north to explore riches in Montana, founding Garnet Ghost Town. If you are fascinated by California gold rush towns, my travel guides will help you discover the history and best things to see and do in Murphys, Oakhurst and Mariposa, California.
24. 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.
TOP TIP: Have a sweet tooth? Stop into The Sweet Palace and gorge yourself on taffy, candies, and chocolates while appreciating the antique piano, scales and cash registers through the store.
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.