Wonderful Missoula, Montana, US of A

If you’ve ever heard the term “Turn that frown upside down!,” then maybe this could act as your first clue as to what it’s like here in Missoula nearly anytime of year. Even a so-called bad day is made amazing by a simple walk by a river or hike up a mountain trail or many other not-to-be-taken-for granted experiences all available within city limits year round. For those who are not familiar with our hometown, we’d thought we give you some background on how this place came to be and why it’s still thriving.

Originally founded as a trading post named Hellgate while still part of the Washington Territory in 1860, the town grew up in the hub of five mountain valleys and in the shadow of foothills of the Rocky Mountains in nearly all directions. Three rivers run through or near it at some point with the primary being the Clark Fork River which splits the heart of the city. In fact, its the inspiration of home-grown author Norman McLean’s novel A River Runs Through It, which was later made into a movie. The Clark Fork got its name from one of the co-leaders of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which passed through the area from 1804-1806 searching for a inland water passage from the Mid West of the U.S. to the Pacific Ocean.

The town itself obtained it’s unusual name from the Salish tribes that used to originally inhabit the area. Their term for the Clark Fork River, ‘’nmesuletk, ʷ which roughly means “place of frozen or chilling waters,” has evolved into the current version of “Missoula.”  At least 5 to 6 native tribes would annually migrate to this junction of five valleys for thousands of years from all over the region until the coming of Anglo people. The hills that flank the city directly to the east are currently named Mt. Jumbo and Mt. Sentinel, and are prominent landmarks. With a giant “M” decorating Mt. Sentinel’s hillside, the M Trail – Montana’s most hiked – zig-zags its way to the midway point of the mountain which provides stunning vistas of the valley not to mention excellent exercise for the local populace.

Apparently the white visitors and then settlers found a land o’ plenty here as well. It didn’t take long for the trading post to first expand then move to its current downtown-oriented location on the banks of the Clark Fork River. With the U.S. Army first establishing roads from several directions to and from the town and then historic Fort Missoula to protect the ever-growing population of settlers, it soon become a major crossroads of trade and eventually industry. With the coming of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1883, the town simply exploded in population, settlement and industry, the most primary being lumber. Original founders – and captains of industry – built the first infrastructure of roads, tree-lined avenues, structures and buildings, most of which still exist today. Then came the founding of the University of Montana in the early 1900s which lent an element of prestige to the city as being the first ever place of higher learning in the state of Montana.

Fast forwarding to today, Missoula is a cultural hub of western Montana. A prestigious medical industry thrives here along with tourism, arts and an abundance of adventure/outdoor activities. Rocky Mountain School of Photography owners Neil and Jeanne Chaput de Saintonge opened the doors to the school here in 1989 after relocating from Atlanta, Georgia.

With a population that truly cares about the community and environment in which they live, Missoula is an incredibly lively place. Major music, cultural, sports and arts festivals take place annually. The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, the Festival of the Book, International Wildlife Film Festival, International Choral Festival, U.S. Freestyle Kayaking Championships, Missoula Full and Half Marathons, River City Roots Festival, the Gelande Ski Jumping North American Cup Championship among others all take place here. Not to mention constant major (and less major) musical acts that travel here such as Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, etc, etc, etc.

Throw in year-round outdoor activities such as world-class back country/cross-country/downhill skiing/snowboarding, ice skating, hiking, trail running, mountain biking, road cycling, mountain biking, rock climbing, rafting, tubing, fly fishing, not to mention nature/landscape photography, you’ve got a paradise for just about any active person. We don’t mean to brag, but c’mon, wouldn’t you??? Come visit the place and you may never want to leave. But shhhhhhh….don’t tell anybody!

To learn more about Missoula, visit the websites www.MakeItMissoula.com and www.DestinationMissoula.com.

Panoramic of downtown Missoula across the Clark Fork River. Image by The Missoulian. Licenced under Creative Commons.



2 thoughts on “Wonderful Missoula, Montana, US of A

Profile photo of Marcy James

marcy james

Bob, I LOVE this article!

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