Outsider Destination: Missoula, Montana

by Jack T. Wilder

There are few places on earth with as much beauty and as much to do outdoors than Missoula, Montana. We traveled there last week to get the low-down on this dreamy western college town.

Nestled in the Northern Rockies of Montana, surrounded by seven wilderness areas and at the confluence of three rivers, Missoula is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream.

You can kayak, raft or tube through downtown or take a relaxing hike in 60,000 acres of wilderness minutes from your hotel.

Missoula is known for its blue-ribbon trout fishing (made famous by A River Runs Through It) and spectacular natural beauty. The outdoor recreational opportunities are limitless.

Where To Stay in Missoula

If you’re looking for camping spots, there are a multitude of places to go but make reservations early. The best RV Park in town is Jim & Mary’s. Right off of I-90, Jim & Mary’s is a spacious RV Park that offers 70 unique spaces perfect for your getaway.

Or to pitch a tent try Beavertail Hill State Park which is about 25 minutes outside of town along the beautiful Clark Fork river. This small state park offers river frontage, tipi rentals, a one-hour walking nature trail through a thick canopy of cottonwoods, and developed campsites and picnic areas. The fishing here is excellent too.

For lodging in town there are a number of motels and hotels ready to serve you, but we found the Holiday Inn Missoula to be the best situated to everything. The Clark Fork river runs right behind the hotel and makes a perfect spot for swimming, tubing and cooling off during the hot months.

The Clark Fork as it winds through town is a popular swimming, kayaking and surfing spot for locals.

Where To Eat in Missoula

For our first night in Missoula, we ate at The Gild. It has a brewery and decent food and outdoor patio seating. We had a couple of their chorizo tacos and a Daddy Long Legs Juicy IPA before finishing it off with a chamoy chicken burrito. The perfect combination.

The Top Hat up the street is also a good place to drop in for great beer and live music.

There are some awesome pizza joints in Missoula. With a hungry University campus nearby its understandably their most sought after dish. The Pie Hole has giant thin crust 19″ pizza pies that did not disappoint after a long day on the river. We got a pepperoni, sausage, spinach monster pizza that had enough left over for breakfast the next day. And they deliver.

You can also get a delicious brick oven pizza at Biga Pizza which promises innovative and traditional pies baked on a wood fired oven.

Photo: JTE
Trophy Blackfoot River Westslope Cutthroat

And Where To Fish

There are so many places to fish around Missoula and often you’ll be the only one on the stretch of river. We started our week with a morning of wade fishing in the upper stretch of the Blackfoot River.

Made famous by Brad Pitt in “A River Runs Through It” we too found this river to be mesmerizing and full of big cutthroat trout. Fishing in between the towns of Ovando and Lincoln I caught my biggest fish of the week on a spruce moth dry fly pattern with a purple jig nymph dropper.

Grizzly Hackle Outfitters and The Missoulan Angler were our two picks for fly shops and they both steered us right. The Missoulan Angler had an impressive assortment of flies and we liked them the best.

On the second day we took a float trip of the middle section of the Blackfoot with Missoula Troutfitters. The thrilling ride down the river was half the fun and we caught a mess of mid-sized cutthroat trout with our excellent guide James.

Spruce moths and hoppers were the fly of choice and we had no problem getting the fish to hit our patterns. Setting the hook was another issue entirely as I missed the hook set on more than 20 fish. I did catch about ten nice sized trout during our float. My lovely wife also did very well on a cream colored caddis fly imitating a spruce moth and caught the big fish of the day.

On our last day in Missoula we decided to wade the Clark Fork river and we got there during a morning trico hatch. Some very large trout were jumping and feeding all around us. Sadly, like a bunch of rank strangers, we just didn’t have the right fly and could not get the big ones to bite. My wife caught a couple small ones and I lost two more but this just wasn’t our day for catching fish.

But watching the mammoth trout chase emerging insects up and out of the water and then land with heroic splashes so close I could almost touch them was really all I needed to see. I’ll be thinking of those big browns and rainbows all winter and soon will be making plans to come back and try again!

Photo: JTE
Blackfoot River
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