Missoula – Our Hometown

Can an entire city, or even an entire state be considered a “studio?” Here in Missoula, Montana we think it can. From our historic downtown, to the golden mountains that ring our valley, to the picturesque ranches, rodeos, and wild mountainscapes radiating out across our home state, we think you’ll find it an incomparable place to study photography.

When RMSP students first arrive here they immediately understand why Missoula appears regularly in national magazines’ “Best Town” lists. It’s been called the Best Mountain Town, Best Town for Retirees, best town for fishing, paddling, cycling. You get the idea. For all those reasons—mountains, rivers, historic architecture, colorful locals—it also happens to be one of the best cities for photographers.

Missoula at NightAs the cultural capital of the Northern Rockies, the city itself hums with creative energy. Within a short walk from RMSP’s downtown location in the historic Higgins Building, there are art galleries, photography studios, art house movie theaters, twice-weekly farmer’s and artisan markets, an eclectic mix of bistros, and a vibrant riverfront lined with walking paths and endless photographic opportunities. Summertime features a flood of festivals, parades, and Shakespeare in the Park performances. Even the bars here are creative—the walls of the legendary Charlie B’s are lined with Lee Nye’s framed black-and-white portraits of the bar’s rough-hewn regulars from the 1970s.

Our summers are legendary for their sun-drenched days, cool nights, and bring-you-to-tears sunsets over the western mountains. Permanently protected natural areas ring the city and are alive with crystalline creeks, old-growth forest, and, at the high points, views across mountains stacked upon mountains. Three major rivers converge here—the Bitterroot, Clark Fork, and the storied Blackfoot of A River Runs Through It fame—offering an almost absurd wealth of fly fishing, river running, and scenic riches. Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, 25 miles south and one of our favorite shooting locations, is a wonderland of bird life and reedy marshes, still pools, and stands of cottonwood all backed by the vaulting, sawtooth pyramids of the Bitterroot Mountains. Ninepipes National Wildlife Refuge, an hour north at the foot of the mighty Mission Mountains, is even more spectacular.

That’s just our backyard. Head 3 hours north and you’re in Glacier National Park, 4 hours southeast and you’re in Yellowstone—two of the most scenic national parks in the country. The valleys in between are dotted with working ranches and true-blue cowboys who don’t wear Stetson’s, tight jeans, and giant belt buckles to be trendy, it’s just who they are.

All together, it’s a feast for the hungry photographer. You can understand why spending time in Missoula and Montana—our studios writ large—often proves as rewarding to our students as the school itself.