Missoula is an eclectic college town settled right in the heart of the Northern Rockies of Montana. Surrounded by breathtaking scenery, Missoula is the perfect basecamp for those looking to enjoy the outdoors as well as a buzzing craft brewery scene, lively local music, and a great mix of restaurants and food. Encompassed by seven wilderness areas and located at the confluence of three rivers, autumn in Missoula is the perfect way to enjoy the colors and adventures of autumn.
This story was created in partnership with Destination Missoula. All photos courtesy of Destination Missoula.
Day 1: Fall Fly Fishing and Brewery Hopping
Start your first day enjoying autumn in Missoula with a hearty breakfast from the Hob Nob Cafe, a favorite local breakfast spot with classic breakfast options and sweet and yummy baked goods. After fueling up, get ready to spend the day fly fishing among the fall colors. From the Blackfoot to the Bitterroot and the Clark Fork of the Columbia, there really are endless possibilities for a glorious day on the water. If you want to get out on the river but don’t have the gear or just want a guide for the best fishing spots in the area, fear not! Missoula has plenty of seasoned and experienced river guides that want nothing more than to help you snag a trout.
Pro tips: Try to wear muted colors when fall fly fishing – since the water tends to be lower, slower and clearer at this time of year, fish can actually spot you if you are dressed in something bright! Another way you can keep them from spooking is by minding your shadow (fall creates longer shadows as the sun is usually less direct) and using a long leader which will be much harder for the fish to spot.
After a full day on the water, it’s time to relax and enjoy Missoula’s craft brewing scene. Jump on one of the Montana Adventure Shuttles Brewery Tours to get the full effect (and not have to drive yourself anywhere!). We recommend the “Best in the West” tour which features Big Sky Brewing, Highlander Beer (Missoula’s first brewery!), and Imagine Nation Brewing. There will be opportunities to grab dinner at several of these breweries, or grab a bite at The Notorious PIG BBQ. If beer just isn’t your thing, swing by Plonk Wine instead.
Day 2: Explore the Local Trails and the Local Music Scene
Wake up early and tackle a morning hike up the Mount Sentinel “M” trail where you can get a great look at all the radiant fall colors of Missoula. This hike is steep but definitely worth it for the views—bring a camera! After your wake-up hike, grab brunch (or lunch if that’s your thing) at The Shack Cafe, a Missoula classic that has been open and serving hungry customers since 1949!
Spend the afternoon sipping coffee or a pumpkin spice latte (it is that time of year—we won’t judge!) while walking along the Riverfront Trail soaking in the colors of the season in the local foliage. The views of the foliage in town from here will complement the bird’s eye view from your morning hike. For dinner, stop by Scotty’s Table for some American fare and drinks before heading to the Kettlehouse Amphitheater for a fall concert. Located on the banks of the Blackfoot, the Kettlehouse is the perfect mix of a foot-stomping, dance-move-inducing good time and stunning views of nature in every direction.
Day 3: Fall Rafting on the Clark Fork River and all the Tastes of Missoula
For your last day in Missoula make sure that you fill up with a hearty breakfast from Paul’s Pancake Parlor, where you can get 18 different varieties of pancake if you are feeling bold! After you have tried as many different pancakes as possible, make your way over to the Missoula Farmers Market and spend the rest of the morning browsing and sampling local foods.
After the pancake breakfast and the farmers market snacks have worn off, head out for some fall whitewater rafting on the Clark Fork River with Adventure Missoula. Your journey down a 12-mile stretch of river has 15 rapids and will leave you feeling exhilarated by both the water and the views—the vibrant autumn colors make for a breathtaking and unusual rafting experience.
Once back on dry land make sure to finish out your last day in Missoula before heading home or on to the next stop on your epic national parks road trip. Treat yourself to a special, timeless feast and raise a glass to a spectacular fall vacation full of adventure, great food and drinks, and all those gorgeous colors of autumn in Missoula.