A trip to Montana is sure to be an incredible one, and visiting Missoula is often on the itinerary for a trip to Big Sky Country. It’s a fantastic gateway city to the Missoula Valley, National Forests, mountain ranges, and all of the other amazing sights western Montana has to offer.
Outdoor enthusiasts will no doubt be drawn to this type of trip, with activities such as whitewater rafting, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, and an overall appreciation of the natural beauty of Montana.
But even the less adventurous will find plenty of Missoula tourist attractions for them, like visiting a local art museum or a vineyard’s tasting room, among others.
Whatever your plans may be in this hidden gem of the western United States, there are a ton of things to do in Missoula, Montana. Be sure to plan properly for the trip of a lifetime, and take a look below at the top places to put on your list.
Table of Contents
- Best & Fun Things to do in Missoula, MT
- 1. Missoula Art Museum
- 2. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Elk Country Visitor Center
- 3. Montana Natural History Center
- 4. Outdoor Activities on the Clark Fork River
- 5. Fort Missoula Park & Missoula Historical Museum
- 6. Rattlesnake National Recreation Area
- 7. Lolo National Forest
- 8. Clark Fork Riverfront Trail
- 9. Garnet Ghost Town
- 10. Missoula Butterfly House & Insectarium
- 11. Caras Park
- 12. Montana Snowbowl
- 13. Mount Sentinel Peak “M” & Hiking Trails
- 14. Big Sky Brewing
- 15. Montana Museum of Art and Culture
- 16. Blue Mountain Biking & Hiking Trails
- 17. Pattee Canyon Recreation Area
- 18. Smokejumper Visitor Center
- 19. Missoula Farmer’s Market
- 20. Dragon Hollow Play Area
- 21. Ten Spoon Vineyard and Winery
- 22. Lewis and Clark Trail
- 23. Lolo Hot Springs
- 24. Museum of Mountain Flying
- 25. The Missoula Community Theatre & The Historic Wilma Theater
- 26. Missoula Symphony Orchestra
- 27. Glacier National Park
- 28. Yellowstone National Park
- 29. Southgate Mall
- How do you get to Missoula, Montana?
- What are some of the top Missoula tourist attractions?
- What are the best Missoula accommodations?
If you’re looking for the best things to do in Montana, Missoula is a tip-top place to start! Here are some of our favorite things to do in Missoula, Montana.
- Most significant landmark – Lolo National Forest
- Best park – Fort Missoula Park & Historical Museum
- Best free activity – Clark Fork Riverfront Trail
- Best activity for kids – Dragon Hollow Playground
- Best activity for adults – Rattlesnake National Recreation Area
- Best food – Events at Caras Park with Food Trucks
- Best nightlife – Big Sky Brewing
- Best all-round accommodation – DoubleTree by Hilton Missoula Edgewater
See Related: Best Things to do in Bozeman, Montana
Best & Fun Things to do in Missoula, MT
If you’re wondering what to do in Missoula, Montana, there is no shortage of sights to see. Take a look below at the top things to do as well as the best Missoula hotels to stay at nearby.
1. Missoula Art Museum
The Missoula Art Museum is one of the downtown Missoula attractions that is easily visited within the city limits and without the need for a car. The museum’s permanent collection features the works of Montana artists, and rotating exhibitions feature pieces from further origins.
One unique offering that draws many visitors is the exhibition of Native American artists’ work, which isn’t found in many museums. Besides admiring the art housed in the Missoula Art Museum, you can also participate in community events such as an adult art class or send the kids to an After School Art Adventure on Tuesday evenings.
Being located right in downtown Missoula, there are several great hotel options nearby the Missoula Art Museum. Good options are the AC Hotel by Marriot Missoula Downtown for a convenient spot and a fair price or the DoubleTree by Hilton Missoula Edgewater for its riverfront views and upscale amenities.
See Related: Best Art Museums in America
2. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Elk Country Visitor Center
Who doesn’t want to see the great wildlife of Montana on their visit, like the majestic elk? The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is dedicated to preserving the habitat, educating the public, and promoting the safe hunting of these animals and other species.
In Missoula, the foundation runs the Elk Country Visitor Center. Here you can learn all about western wildlife. There are interactive exhibits, nature trails, world-record elk mounts, and plenty of informational displays to learn from.
The Elk Country Visitor Center is just outside downtown Missoula, not far from the airport. This is an activity that is kid-friendly as well, and the younger visitors are usually quite happy to learn about the animals.
See Related: Best Things to do in Bozeman, Montana
3. Montana Natural History Center
Visiting the Montana Natural History Center is a great way to learn about all-things Montana. Located in downtown Missoula, it’s also easily accessed and generally takes less than an hour to experience.
The Montana Natural History Center exhibits the flora, fauna, and other elements of the nature of western Montana. There are exhibitions from dinosaurs that once roamed the area to the glacial lakes that once flooded the Missoula Valley to a naturalist field station to see what the scientists do.
You can visit the center from Monday through Saturday, 11 am to 4 pm. Admission prices are very low, so don’t hesitate to add this to a day in Missoula for a unique learning experience.
See Related: Things to do Near Mammouth Hot Springs, Yellowstone
4. Outdoor Activities on the Clark Fork River
The Clark Fork River runs straight through Missoula and makes for some great fun. This massive river drains a good portion of the Rocky Mountains and sends that water to the Columbia River.
There are a ton of possibilities to enjoy the Clark Fork. A classic Montana favorite is fly fishing for trout. Wade about waist-deep with your gear, let your fly hit the water, and get ready for the unmatchable feeling of watching your prey jump above the surface!
If fishing isn’t for you, there are still activities like white water rafting and kayaking the river. With otters playing below and eagles soaring above, it will be a day on the water that you probably haven’t had before.
See Related: Best Things to do in Gardiner, Montana
5. Fort Missoula Park & Missoula Historical Museum
Fort Missoula was once a military installation but has since been converted into a massive regional park. Besides the lovely general green space, Fort Missoula is now home to athletic fields, gardens, hiking and biking trails, a historical museum, and more.
Before you set up your picnic, consider stopping by the Fort Missoula Historical Museum for an interesting view of the region’s past. There are the stories of the original Native residents of Missoula, as well as the more recent history of the military activities on the site.
There are over 50,000 artifacts and 20 historic structures preserved in the historical museum at Fort Missoula.
See Related: Best Things to do in Livingston, Montana
6. Rattlesnake National Recreation Area
For a wonderfully pristine wilderness to hike and enjoy all of the views, Big Sky Country is famous for, head to the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area just northeast of Missoula. There are dozens of trails to choose from, with many starting just on the outskirts of town.
Trails in the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area range from easy to difficult, and many are uphill on the way in. You can follow creeks, wander through forests, find yourself in vast meadows, and eventually find many lakes dotting the preserve.
Remember to avoid hiking alone, and know what to do in case of encounters with wildlife – black bears have been spotted here. Hitting the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area trails in the winter may be cold, but the snow-covered pine trees make for a fantastic winter wonderland scene.
See Related: Best National Parks in the USA to Visit
7. Lolo National Forest
Just opposite the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and to the northwest of Missoula is Lolo National Forest, another exceptional preserve for nature lovers. There are endless trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding here as well as fishing and camping spots.
This region is quite mountainous and remote, so be sure to come prepared no matter how long you plan to stay. You’ll be rewarded with some of the most pristine wilderness near Missoula and even in the entire state if you choose to spend some time on these trails and peaks.
See Related: Best Fishing Spots in America
8. Clark Fork Riverfront Trail
A top thing to do and an easy hike for the less adventurous is the riverfront walking trail, providing a peaceful escape from the town. This path runs along the river all the way through central Missoula.
One very unique thing to see from the Clark Fork Riverfront Trail is Brennan’s Wave. Believe it or not, this is a spot where people can use whitewater kayaks and even surf hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean!
These thrill-seekers ride a never-ending wave created by the current and submerged items. It’s a cool thing to see in a city in Montana.
See Related: Best Hiking Trails in America
9. Garnet Ghost Town
One of the very different and fun things to do in Missoula, Montana is to see a real-life ghost town. You can find one about an hour’s drive from downtown and technically within Missoula, by the name of Garnet Ghost Town.
Garnet was settled by miners in search of new prospects in the early 1800s. It was, at that time, rich in gold and silver and became a thriving settlement. Just before the turn of the century, the town was home to more than 1,000 people, their log cabins, several restaurants and hotels, and shops.
In the early 1900s, the mines had been cleared out, and the population dropped dramatically. Garnet was fully abandoned in the 1940s. Today, the Garnet Preservation Association manages the town to keep it frozen in time and available to appreciate. Visiting a true, wild western ghost town is a great thing to add to your Montana experience.
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10. Missoula Butterfly House & Insectarium
If you are planning to do most of the outdoor activities in Montana, you probably don’t mind insects (at least to some extent). But if you really don’t mind insects and perhaps even enjoy them, a great addition to your trip is the Missoula Butterfly House & Insectarium right in Missoula downtown.
This educational center is actually in the process of moving to a larger and better-equipped facility, so your trip may even be timed nicely with this. A big highlight is their collection of beautiful, colorful butterflies. But, their habitats and displays hold many types of invertebrate insects from around the world.
This is a great activity for the kids, who get the opportunity to hold all types of critters and learn what they should and shouldn’t do when they find one. They may enjoy it so much that you’ll have to tune into their online Bug Encounters series from home!
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11. Caras Park
For another green space within the Missoula city limits, Caras Park is a beautiful spot along the Clark Fork River. But the real thing that draws visitors to Caras Park is their special events which happen frequently.
Two favorites of locals and tourists alike are the “Out To Lunch” and “Downtown Tonight” series. These community gatherings feature live music and food trucks in Caras Park. In my opinion, going to events like these and sampling street food is a great way to get an authentic feel for a new town.
Besides those, there are plenty of other events that take place at Caras Park, such as ethnic festivals and concerts. Check out their events calendar before your trip to see what’s of interest to you.
If you want to stay close to the action of Caras Park, the Holiday Inn Missoula Downtown and the Residence Inn by Marriott Missoula Downtown are both great options within walking distance at which you can earn or redeem loyalty points.
See Related: Best National Parks in the Midwest
12. Montana Snowbowl
Plenty of visitors love Montana for its summers, but Missoula is also a paradise for snow-lovers in the winter. The Montana Snowbowl is actually a place for both, and just 20 minutes north of downtown!
This section of the Lolo National Forest is a managed alpine ski and snowboard center for the winter months and transforms its activities for the summer. They have trails of all kinds for those who want to hit the slopes and, as you might imagine in Montana, plenty of snow.
When it’s warm out, you can take a ski lift up to a 7,000-foot elevation and see for 100 miles across the Montana countryside. That takes the “Big Sky Country” nickname to a new level. You can play a round of golf, hit a mountain biking trail, hike, or zipline around the mountain.
The Montana Snowbowl is a great choice in the two best seasons to visit Missoula and fun for adults and kids alike. Even if you don’t have a car in Missoula, there is a shuttle running to and from town at certain times of the year, making this an easy place to visit.
See Related: Best Ski Resorts in the US to Visit
13. Mount Sentinel Peak “M” & Hiking Trails
Mount Sentinel is home to the beautiful University of Montana campus, which has the unique title of being the only university in the US to own a mountain and is the reason the M exists.
The M was installed in the early 1900s and is the location of several local traditions, such as freshmen lining it with lanterns on the night of homecoming and a sunrise chant performed by local tribes in their language. It’s a great photo opportunity to commemorate a trip to Missoula.
Besides the M, Mount Sentinel is a fantastic place for hiking or biking close to the city. A local favorite is the Sentinel Fire Road, which runs all the way up to the M and provides great city views.
See Related: Best Things to do in Cody, Wyoming
14. Big Sky Brewing
It’s always great to visit a local brewery in a city you are visiting, and Big Sky Brewing is a top choice in Missoula. This taproom and beverage manufacturer is located close to the Missoula Airport.
Big Sky Brewing makes specialty beers true to their home state, like Summer Honey Seasonal Ale and Huckleberry Blonde Ale. You’ll also find spiked seltzers on the menu, which are especially popular in the summer heat. Tours of the brewery are available for those who want the full experience.
Locals love this brewery for its tasting room and the summer concert series it hosts, making this our choice for the best nightlife in Missoula.
While it’s a great time, don’t expect a nightclub atmosphere as you’ll find in Vegas or LA – Missoula (and the rest of Montana) isn’t really that kind of place.
See Related: Best Breweries in Minneapolis
15. Montana Museum of Art and Culture
Another one of the Missoula attractions found on the University of Montana campus is the Montana Museum of Art and Culture. This museum is over 100 years old and is home to the state’s largest publicly-owned collection of art.
The great thing about this attraction is that it is free! Its permanent collection is home to almost 12,000 objects, many of which are works from the contemporary American West. Besides art, there are plenty of cultural artifacts displayed here.
The museum can be visited on afternoons besides Sundays, Mondays, and university holidays. It’s a nice stop before or after a hike up Mount Sentinel.
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16. Blue Mountain Biking & Hiking Trails
Within the Lolo National Forest is the Blue Mountain Recreation Area, another icon of Missoula. This former military training range is now a very popular place for all kinds of activities such as hiking, biking, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, and more.
Locals and visitors love the trails of Blue Mountain because they are easily accessible from town. They also provide amazing views of the Missoula Valley as well as nearby Rattlesnake Mountain and Sapphire Mountain.
Many visitors choose to base themselves close to the Blue Mountain area because they can find just about any kind of outdoor fun nearby. Check out the Blue Mountain Bed and Breakfast for cozy and luxurious log cabin-style rooms just at the base of the trails.
See Related: Best Breweries in Montana
17. Pattee Canyon Recreation Area
The Pattee Canyon Recreation Area is a section of wilderness just south of downtown and behind Mount Sentinel. As usual with forests in the Missoula area, it is fantastic for hiking and spending time in the great outdoors of Montana.
Notably, Pattee Canyon Recreation Area is a great place to do some snowshoeing during the winter months. There’s nothing quite like wandering through the forests of evergreens caked in snow. In the summertime, you can often find wild strawberries and huckleberries along the trails.
Locals say that bears have been becoming more and more common in this area in recent years, so be sure to stay vigilant – and pack a can of bear spray!
See Related: How to Take an Epic Grand Canyon Road Trip
18. Smokejumper Visitor Center
Personally, I think the Smokejumper Visitor Center is one of the coolest things to do in Missoula, Montana. A smokejumper is a specially trained firefighter who is dispatched to remote wildfires to suppress them – and they do it by parachuting in with their gear.
As Montana is covered with vast wilderness and can be prone to wildfires, a team of Smokejumpers is based in Missoula. They have a super-interesting visitor center very close to the airport in Missoula.
There are guided tours several times a day to learn about their aircraft, cargo, gear, and techniques. The visitor center also houses displays of the history of the profession as well as more information about what they do. This is a very unique experience that I wouldn’t miss if spending any time in Missoula.
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19. Missoula Farmer’s Market
Visiting a local farmer’s market is a great way to get to know a town. The Missoula Farmer’s Market takes place on Saturday mornings from mid-May to mid-October and on Tuesday evenings from July to early September as well.
In reality, there are three farmer’s markets in Missoula: the aforementioned Missoula Farmer’s Market, which boasts nearly 100 local vendors of foods, plants, and treats; the Clark Fork River Market, which offers the same plus live music and meals.
Also, Missoula Saturday Market offers more artisanal souvenirs such as photography, clothing, and other hand-made items.
You can’t go wrong with any of them, and it’s great to buy the products and taste the flavors that Missoula farmers grew themselves. All farmer’s markets are within walking distance of each other.
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20. Dragon Hollow Play Area
Kids absolutely love the Dragon Hollow Playground, where they can play on the fairytale castle-themed structures and have a great time. It’s right along the Clark Fork River and along the Riverfront Trail as well, making it an easy stop along the walk.
The playground was recently refurbished and is fully accessible for disabled children as well, so everyone can enjoy the magic of this place. There’s even a carousel nearby to make playtime even more special.
21. Ten Spoon Vineyard and Winery
You might be surprised to know that there are vineyards in chilly Montana, but Ten Spoon Vineyard and Winery have what seems to be the perfect set-up right there in Missoula. In fact, their wines have won awards for their fine quality.
Despite having a short growing season, Montana benefits from long days of sunshine during the summer, making grape production very possible.
They also utilize a hybrid variety of grape perfected in Minnesota for growing at low temperatures. Also mixing in flavors from local products like cherries, Ten Spoons has become more than just a local success.
You can sample the wines in Ten Spoons’ tasting room on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturday evenings during the summer months or on Fridays during the winter. Don’t forget to pack a picnic, or you can choose from their light snack options.
See Related: Best Things to do in Billings, Montana
22. Lewis and Clark Trail
Everyone has heard of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition in the early 1800s to explore the newly acquired US west. A good portion of their trail passed straight through Missoula, and you can follow their very steps in your car nowadays.
Lewis and Clark walked along what is now US Highway 12, running between Missoula and Lewiston, Idaho (which is just across the river from Clarkston, Washington – both appropriately named).
The road winds through the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, composed of vast timber forests and endless hills and peaks.
There are plenty of hiking trails venturing deeper into the forests along the way. You can also stop by the famous Lolo Hot Springs, which we’ll discuss more next, to relax for a bit – just like Lewis and Clark did 200 years ago in those very springs.
See Related: Best Hiking Trails in the World You Must Visit
23. Lolo Hot Springs
Located along the Lewis and Clark Trail and at a spot that the famous explorers actually once stopped at, the Lolo Hot Springs is today in the tiny town of the same name, which revolves around the springs. A hotel and recreational facility manage the springs today.
There are indeed hot springs at the top of the peaks of Montana, which heat up to 106 degrees. Visitors can take a toasty-warm dip whether it’s sunny or snowing, which is pretty awesome. The hotel has both indoor and outdoor pools fed by the springs.
While it’s located next door to a pool open to the public, you may be interested in staying at The Lodge at Lolo Hot Springs to access even more. They’ve also got plenty of other fun Montana activities and cabin-style accommodations for a truly authentic Montana trip.
See Related: Best Hot Springs in Utah & Resorts to Visit
24. Museum of Mountain Flying
For aviation geeks like myself, there is a great museum on the grounds of the Missoula Airport dedicated to preserving the history of flight in Montana. The Museum of Mountain Flying is housed in a large, 18,500-square-foot hangar full of historic planes, artifacts, photographs, and other displays.
Flight has been an important factor in the growth of Montana since the concept was invented due to the remoteness of many of the communities in the state. Therefore, this is a stop that goes beyond aviation specifics and expresses a lot of the history of Missoula and its surroundings.
One of the top attractions at the Museum of Mountain Flying is Miss Montana, a DC-3 used in the state as a firefighting aircraft. Its story is a sad one, as it dropped 15 smokejumpers into a massive fire just north of the state capital Helena, but only three returned.
It was an important event in wildfire and smokejumper history that would inform their techniques for more safety in the future.
See Related: Best Museums in the US You Need to Visit
25. The Missoula Community Theatre & The Historic Wilma Theater
Are you looking to catch a performance during your stay in Missoula? Even thousands of miles away from the streets of Broadway, you can still find a great theater in Big Sky Country.
The Missoula Community Theatre puts on several shows each year in their 300-seat venue. They also have a separate theater group for the youth of the community, putting on their own shows. The groups don’t just perform for their hometown – they can be found on the road touring as far as Japan.
The Wilma Theater is a historic one, having been built in the 1920s and dedicated to a local opera star. It retains its historic charm today and continues to hold performances. You can find groups from all over the country stopping at the Wilma to put on shows.
See Related: Best Things to do in Livingston, Montana
26. Missoula Symphony Orchestra
If theater isn’t your thing, but you do want to hear some classical music, the Missoula Symphony Orchestra is often performing for free in the local parks of the town.
Specifically, the second Sunday of August is the annual day set aside for Symphony in the Park, but you can catch them for specially-themed concerts throughout the year.
Symphony in the Park is a local favorite and brings the community together in Caras Park among picnics, food and drink vendors, and an overall good time. Check out the symphony’s event calendar to see if you can catch them while you’re in town.
See Related: Best Things to Do in West Yellowstone
27. Glacier National Park
While it’s not in Missoula, Glacier National Park should be at the top of your list for any day trips or weekend trips from the city as it’s just two and a half hours away. This is, in my opinion, one of the best national parks Montana and the entire United States have to offer.
Glacier National Park is full of trails, rivers, lakes, peaks, and just about anything else that makes Montana beautiful. There’s also the chance of seeing wildlife like bears and mountain lions. There are endless things to do and see in Glacier.
Some great experiences to arrange for Glacier National Park are white water rafting trips or a quick fly fishing rod casting lesson. Besides that, simply drive along the roads and hike on the paths of the park for some of the most breathtaking scenery in the west.
See Related: Best Camping Spots in the World
28. Yellowstone National Park
Like Glacier, Yellowstone National Park isn’t in Missoula, but it is certainly within reasonable reach of it. At around four hours away, many visitors like to tack on Yellowstone to a visit to Missoula either before or after.
Yellowstone is another one of the most famous national parks in the country. With vast forests, mountains, a very large lake, and perhaps most notably, geysers, Yellowstone is a natural wonder of the west for most people. North American Bison roam this land and make for another unique attraction.
Yellowstone National Park is massive, and you may not know where to start. Consider taking a geyser hike with a knowledgeable guide or joining a kayaking experience on Yellowstone Lake to see the best of the park.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in Wyoming
29. Southgate Mall
Finally, would it really be a vacation without some shopping? If you need some retail therapy, Southgate Mall is the shopping mall of choice in Missoula and probably has what you need.
From big chains to local boutiques, you can find plenty of clothing and accessories here. You can also pick up some outdoor equipment in case you want to try the famous hiking or fishing off the Montana wilderness.
How do you get to Missoula, Montana?
The Missoula International Airport is served by the regional subsidiaries of most major airlines and can take you to the hubs of the region.
Once there, you will really want to rent a car to get the most out of Big Sky Country. Go on Kayak to see what the best deals are among all of the rental agencies in town.
What are some of the top Missoula tourist attractions?
There are so many great things to do in Missoula, Montana. If we had to just pick our favorite, a day trip to Glacier National Park is a wonderful choice.
In terms of things to do in downtown Missoula, the Montana Natural History Center, Clark Fork Riverfront Trail, and Missoula Butterfly House & Insectarium are all very cool attractions.
What are the best Missoula accommodations?
We like the AC Hotel by Marriot Missoula Downtown for its location in the town center and the DoubleTree by Hilton Missoula Edgewater for its upscale touches and spot on the banks of the Clark Fork River.
If you need extra space or have an extended stay that requires home-like amenities, check out this cabin downtown on VRBO.