Surrounded by National Forests in every direction, Missoula Montana is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. Whether you’re in to fly fishing, hiking, hunting, or whitewater rafting, there are a ton of cool things to do in Missoula. As the home of the University of Montana, you can bet there’s a hip, youthful vibe to the city. Besides the usual outdoor adventures, we found some other interesting things to see while staying in Missoula.
No, not that Lake Como in Italy! Lake Como Montana is a beautiful alpine lake just 60 miles south of Missoula in the Bitterroot Forest. There’s a campground with electrical and water hookups, perfect for an RV getaway. The lake offers boating, fishing, paddling, and swimming. There are a swimming beach and hiking trails throughout the area near the lake. You can easily visit on a day trip from Missoula, but it’s also a pretty nice place to hang out for a few days of rest and relaxation!
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The Skalhaho Highway cuts through the Selway-Bitterroot Wildnerness south of Missoula. If you are camping at Lake Como, a scenic drive over Skalkaho Pass makes for a great day trip. The 45-mile drive takes you from the Bitterroot Valley to the Phillipsburg Valley, through the Sapphire Mountains. There’s even a sapphire mine along the route where you can stop and try your hand at gem mining.
The drive follows MT-38 the entire way and alternates from paved to gravel. You don’t need 4WD to navigate Skalkaho Pass, but trailers are not allowed due to narrow curves and limited pullouts. Just before you reach the summit of Skalkaho Pass, you’ll arrive at Skalkaho Falls. There are several campgrounds along the way if you wish to stay overnight and make this a two-day trip. In the winter, the road is closed and becomes a playground for snowmobiles.
Once you’ve driven the 38-mile Skalkaho Highway, you can turn around and return the way you came, or explore other scenic drives in the area. Highway 38 continues as the Philipsburg Scenic Loop, where you can catch the Pintler Scenic Route or the Rock Creek Road Backcountry Byway, both of which will bring you to Interstate 90 for a quick return to Missoula.
Garnet Ghost Town
The “Wild West” is littered with ghost towns and remnants of old mining camps from the Gold Rush days. Garnet is located about an hour east of Missoula, making it the perfect day trip from Missoula. Like the nearby Sapphire Mountains, the Garnet Mountains are known for colorful gems that were found here during the search for gold in the late 1800s.
Garnet is Montana’s most intact ghost town with dozens of buildings remaining, despite poor construction and harsh weather conditions. In addition to exploring the remaining buildings in town, there are several recreational opportunities nearby. Mountain biking, hiking, fishing, and camping are all available, and if you are visiting in the winter, you can take a snowmobile or XC-ski right into Garnet. It’s open year-round even though the roads are not!
Carousel & Farmers Market
While many Missoula visitors come here as a gateway to the backcountry, it would be a shame to miss all that downtown Missoula has to offer. This town of 75,000 has plenty of charming spots to explore, but two of my favorites are the Carousel for Missoula and the Missoula Farmer’s Market.
At a Carousel for Missoula, visitors and residents can experience an old-fashioned evening of fun. Built and assembled by volunteers, the carousel has 40 ponies, two chariots, and over a dozen gargoyles. Each pony was sponsored or donated by a local family or business, and they all have a unique theme. If you are visiting Missoula with kids, you’ll definitely want to check out the playland Dragon Hollow next door.
The Missoula Farmer’s Market is a great place to pick up fresh finds every Saturday from mid-May to mid-October. In the peak of summer (July through September) there is also a Tuesday evening market. Over 100 vendors set up shop to offer local produce, baked goods, and coffee. If you’re traveling and not able to cook a meal with fresh ingredients, you can still browse and enjoy several local food trucks that set up near the market.
Those are just a few of the things you can do while visiting Missoula, Montana. This wonderful outdoor spot is less than 3 hours from Glacier National Park and there is plenty to do on the way, but before you head there, spend a couple of days in Missoula, you will not regret it!
How about you? Have any additional activities to do while visiting Missoula? Please share!
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