Things to do in Missoula, MT: Zootown USA travel guide

“Again,” as the locals here tend to start out proclaiming sentences, “Missoula is not what she used to be.” Once a stopover town for visitors en route to Glacier National Park or Yellowstone, Montana’s second largest city, often referred to as Zootown, as its name is spoken and the high energy of its citizens, has grown into much more as a base for epic hikes (although it’s still great for that).

Nestled in a valley of golden hills, you’ll find 19th century buildings, hype-worthy craft breweries, fresh restaurants and everything from flapper-era theaters to dive bars perfect for boogying to early morning. In the summer, you can even parachute from a low-flying plane into town (where else can you do that !?). Drive just outside of town and you’ll discover wild, yawning nature, with well-groomed trails scaling gargantuan mountains, fly-fishing rivers with few visitors to compete with, and soothing hot springs under the sky wide-open.

Montana’s unofficial slogan is “the last best place,” and that sounds particularly apt for Missoula, who tends to go unnoticed. But maybe not for long. Like many progressive small towns in otherwise conservative states, Missoula continues to attract city dwellers from across the country who will no doubt change the city’s landscape, so come quickly while she remains her adorable zoo. Here’s a rundown of what to see and do when you go.

outside a brewery
Missoula Brasseries: come early, leave happy | Draft Works Brewery

Go to a brewery in an old warehouse

The abandoned factories of this former sawmill town have been transformed into bustling microbreweries, where it can feel like every local is sipping a craft IPA or dark beer by your side. Kettlehouse and Draft Works are both favorites, but don’t sleep on Bayern, the state’s oldest brewery, which goes against hip beer trends in favor of classic German owner-made lagers. / Bavarian-born brewer Jürgen Knöller. But be warned: Missoula has a weird rule about breweries that orders them to close at 8 p.m. (!) And you can only order three. drinks.

So when the clock strikes 8:01 p.m. and you’re still thirsty, head over to Charlie B’s, who has been named one of the bars to drink before you die and has black-and-white wall-to-wall portraits of his regulars. . . Union – which as the name suggests is a hangout for unionized workers – is another great dive bar that becomes a dance party in its own right on the weekends.

Bite into the exciting culinary scene of Missoula

Ask a local and he’ll tell you that the food in Missoula hasn’t always been this good – and you’ll always find average burritos and bland burgers galore. But that is starting to change fundamentally. Take Cambie (now with two locations). It’s not just great coffee with frothy espressos, a quality breakfast (the morning bread is so flaky and delicious) and a tasty lunch – it’s also a bar with charcuterie boards and upscale pub food.

Plonk (which has a branch in Bozeman that’s also worth a visit) is an eclectic wine bar with ranch-to-table fare and more than generous portions. The Camino is also very popular right now, where some of Mexico’s best food (think quesadillas with queso oaxaqueño, aguachile shrimp, and cochinita pibil) are coming to the United States in elegant digs. Ready for dessert? You can’t leave Missoula without grabbing a Big Dipper soaked cone.

Yes, you might spot a yeti here. And by yeti, I mean mountain goat. | Flickr / Steve Shupe

Hike, hike and hike again

Yes, Missoula is only two and a half hours from the western entrance to Glacier National Park, and you absolutely must visit it when you visit. Crossing the Going-to-the-Sun Road is as breathtaking as it is said to be, and you might see a yeti (mountain goat) walking a trail, just like this writer did.

But you don’t really have to leave Missoula and its surrounding areas for hikes that match those of anywhere else in the state. In town you have the epitome of hiking Missoula all the way to Mount Sentinel to the big white “M” at the University of Montana (as recently seen on the Netflix show Maid). You can also drive to the ‘L’ to Jumbo Mountain from Loyola Sacred Heart High School before taking a self-guided tour of Missoula’s public art.

Just an hour north of downtown, the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area has 33.9 miles of trails overlooking the epic Mission Mountains (part of the Rocky Mountain Range), and less than two hours to the south you have the Bitterroot Mountains, which look like they’ve been sliced ​​by a gigantic ax to reveal canyon after canyon. In the winter, swap your hiking boots for skis and snowboards and head to the Snowbowl Hills just 20 minutes from downtown or Blacktail Mountain, where you can take in views of Glacier as you ride. .

Let all the bad vibes fly away. | Visit Missoula!

Fly fishing and river tubing

Missoula is a fly fishing paradise, with four nearby rivers teeming with trout; Rock Creek in the Lolo National Forest has arguably the most. You can also fly fish directly on the Clark Fork River that runs through town, but if you are visiting the town between June and September, be sure to stick to the fish and avoid winding a drunk person on a inflatable tube. In summer, Clark Fork de facto becomes a lazy river. Need material? There are plenty of places in Missoula that will help you sort through, including Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop. And if you’re tired of catching so many fish, Lolo Hot Springs has some very affordable baths ($ 7).

Relive Missoula’s glory days at a show or game

A wonderfully preserved century-old venue, The Wilma is Missoula’s go-to place for live music, while theater kids should catch a performance at the half-century-old Montana Repertory Theater. If movies are more your jam, the Roxy Theater, built in the 1930s, hosts film festivals and independent films to enjoy with a bowl of spicy popcorn and a local craft beer, seltzer or cocktail, most importantly. if you take advantage of their deal with the Montgomery Distillery, where you can get two drinks and two movie tickets for $ 20 at the lowest. Otherwise, keep busy with a football game at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, trivia night at the Stave & Hoop underground bar, and live jazz with a Bloody Caesar (a version of the Bloody Mary from just over the Canadian border in Alberta) at the Old Post.

The Ranch at Rock Creek
Straight out of a fairy tale. | The Ranch at Rock Creek

Where to stay in Missoula

Missoula is not that big so you can stay pretty much anywhere and be a reasonable walk or Uber distance from where you need to go. An affordable option for families is C’mon Inn, which has a pool, five hot tubs, and a spectacular name. If you just want to get away from it all, Blue Mountain Bed and Breakfast is a lovely log cabin just south of town where there is nothing but golden hills and deer. For the ultimate in luxury, The Ranch at Rock Creek is a 5-star all-inclusive resort located an hour and a half south where you can live out your wildest Montana cowboy fantasies. Alternatively, try an Airbnb, for example, this pretty, almost century-old cottage on the Bitterroot Trail, an 80 km cycle route from Missoula to Hamilton.

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Joel balm is a Canadian freelance journalist and guidebook author who writes for Lonely Planet, National Geographic, TIME, BBC Travel, and more. Its home port is Montreal, but it can often be found making its way through a crowded market somewhere.

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