10 Things You Need to Do in Missoula

June 27, 2016

I'm a native Washingtonian, but I haven't had the chance to explore much of the Northwest beyond the Puget Sound region yet. Road-tripping to Montana has long been on my bucket list, and with Philanthropy Northwest's annual conference Under One Sky in Missoula this fall, I'm excited to make the most of this experience!

Nestled in Montana's Northern Rockies, surrounded by seven wilderness areas and at the confluence of three rivers, Missoula is an outdoor adventure. What should I do first? There's plenty of hiking in the 60,000 acres of wilderness minutes from Holiday Inn Missoula Downtown, our conference site. There's also walking tours, art galleries and opportunities to learn more about Missoula's Salish Indian roots. Afterwards, we can cool down with a glass of local craft beer and try the bison burgers.

Come early, leave late or use your networking time during the conference to sample some of these offerings with your team, existing partners or new connections:

1. Explore Clark Fork Riverfront Trail

The Riverfront Trail lines the north and south shores of the Clark Fork River in downtown Missoula. A walk along the trail can take you past McCormick Park, the Old Milwaukee Depot, John H. Toole Park, Caras Park and other scenic treasures. Be sure to stop by the overlook at Brennan’s Wave to watch kayakers and surfers take on the man-made kayaking wave. For a self-guided tour, check out the maps and stops Missoula Parks and Recreation has put together here.

Want to bike instead? Start at Bess Park, right across from the Holiday Inn, and rent a Blue Dasani Bike for free. Hop on the trail and peddle your way for a scenic ride. Or cycle along more the 20 miles of bike lanes and routes on its major streets. Not just any city can be dubbed as a gold level bike-friendly city.  

2. Take a Self-Guided Downtown Walking Tour

No visit to Missoula is complete without taking the time to appreciate its unique downtown. Follow these self-guided walking tours of historical landmarks and public artworks and get to know the real Missoula, historic and modern. Compiled by the Missoula Cultural Council and Missoula Historic Preservation Commission, these tours are a great way to understand the pulse of the city.

3. Hike the "M"

You can’t spend time in Missoula without noticing the huge white “M” set against Mount Sentinel. Beginning on the University of Missoula campus, it’s a steep three-quarter of a mile climb, or about 20 minutes to the “M” and an additional mile to the top of the mountain. The views of the Missoula Valley, the Clark Fork River, and the distant mountains are spectacular. The trail to the “M” is made up of 11 switchbacks and boasts an elevation gain of 620 feet — something you can boast about once you’re done.

From the top of Mount Sentinel, you can see Hellgate Canyon, Mount Jumbo, where you can note the water lines from Glacial Lake Missoula and the Rattlesnake National Recreation and Wilderness Area. From there, you can take the Crazy Canyon Trail into Pattee Canyon, which links to the Kim Williams Trail.

4. Drink Local Beer

Breweries in Missoula have a variety of local flavors sure to satisfy the beer-lover in you. Montana ranks #2 in the nation for craft breweries per capita. Come taste what Missoula has to offer, from traditional English Ales, to authentic German Lagers, to the ever popular hemp infused brews that populate the fair city. Many of the taprooms are located downtown while others are mixed in around town. Check out the list of breweries and some fun facts about Montana's craft beers

5. Eat a Bison Burger

Want to try a local favorite? Dive into a bison burger. Most of the restaurants that serve bison burgers source their meat locally and pride themselves on serving up a Montana treat! Check out the bison burger at some of these restaurants around town. Bison burgers are a specialty of many local restaurants, not just the ones listed here.

6. Stroll Around Caras Park

Caras Park is in the heart of Downtown Missoula on the Clark Fork River. The Park Pavilion is home to many popular Missoula events like Missoula's Out to Lunch, Downtown Tonight, Brewfests and more. Check out its events calendar and annual events.

Walk down the street from Caras Park and let your inner kid emerge as you ride one of the majestic horses on A Carousel for Missoula. A kid’s paradise, it is one of the first fully hand-carved carousels to be built in the United States since the Great Depression. From little more than dreams, hard work and love, a carousel was created by hundreds of volunteers. The Carousel has 38 horses and two chariots.

7. Treat Yourself

To say that Posh Chocolat is a delicious treat, is an understatement. This award winning, hand crafted chocolate with unique mouth watering combinations is a local food favorite. Try their triple chocolate cookies, a perfect afternoon treat.

8. Visit an Art Gallery

Missoula is a vibrant place to live, and artists of all kinds have been drawn to this unique city. Their talents and personal points of view make exploring a local art gallery quite interesting. There are many art galleries around town, as well as sculptures and paintings throughout the city. Be sure to visit the Missoula Art Museum, featuring contemporary works by Native American and regional artists as well as traveling exhibits. Other galleries include Monte Dolack Gallery, Montana Museum of Art & Culture and The Artists Shop

9. Try a Dixon Melon

August through September is Dixon Melon season in Missoula. The well-known Dixon Melons, a musk variety, are grown on a small family farm just 45 miles north of Missoula. Other varieties include honeydew, watermelon, sinful and Crenshaw. So picking up one melon may not be enough. If you plan to stay over the weekend in Missoula, check out a Saturday Farmers Market and take a Dixon Melon to-go!

10. Get a Scoop at Big Dipper Ice Cream

Serving up homemade ice cream since 1995, Missoula’s own Big Dipper Ice Cream was featured on Good Morning America segement America’s Best Ice Cream Ever. In the summer months, the line of patrons outside of Big Dipper Ice Cream can wrap around the block, but it is worth the wait. With local ingredients and a flair for different combinations, the folks at Big Dipper Ice Cream keep everyone coming back for more.

What's On Your List?

Will I be seeing you at our conference? More than 100 people have signed up to attend so far, representing 46 organizations committed to vibrant, healthy Northwest communities. More information and registration is available on the event website and Facebook page.

And let me know: What are you most looking forward to doing in Missoula?

Anne Yoon is Philanthropy Northwest's program associate. She can be reached at ayoon@philanthropynw.org.