OUTSIDE MAGAZINE, SEPTEMBER 2014
TUESDAY, AUGUST 12 2014
KEEP MISSOULA WEIRD, reads a popular bumper sticker in this western Montana college town (pop. 68,394). By red-state standards, Missoula is anomalous; a liberal outpost, it’s Montana’s biggest cultural center, yet it maintains a small-town feel. “It’s a really open, diverse community,” says Mike Wolfe, a lawyer and professional ultra-runner. “You can be whoever you want to be here.”
The University of Montana, the town’s largest employer, cultivates youthful brio, but most activity revolves around the downtown stretch of the Clark Fork River. Brennan’s Wave attracts paddleboarders, kayakers, and the odd surfer, and every Wednesday in summer the city hosts bands, food vendors, and kids’ activities in riverside Caras Park. Nearby, Draught Works Brewery slings locally brewed ales, and Big Dipper Ice Cream makes flavors like strawberry peppercorn from scratch. “You’ll go there at seven at night and there’ll be 150 people in line,” says Wolfe. “People show up just to hang out.”
Of course, residents love this town best for what lies just beyond. “Trail access here is ridiculous,” says Wolfe. “I live downtown, and I can run out my front door, be on singletrack in two minutes, and go six hours without crossing a road.” Wolfe’s favorites include the 1.8-mile Mount Sentinel Trail, which climbs 2,000 vertical feet to views of the valley, and, for mountain biking, the buffed trails in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area.
One downside: “The winters can be long and gray,” says Wolfe. But skiing and snowboarding at the Montana Snowbowl is just 20 minutes away, Whitefish Mountain Resort is a couple of hours, and Big Sky Resort is under four.
Make the Move
The Upper Rattlesnake Valley has houses listed for around $599,000 (citywide median: $238,300); it feels rural, but you’re a ten-minute ride from downtown. The university is the largest employer, but there’s also a growing biotech industry (median household income: $39,076).