A fertile valley hemmed in by mountains cradles Missoula, the cultural center of northwest Montana. The largest metropolis around (population 68,000) is the home of the University of Montana. In the aptly nicknamed Garden City, maple trees line the residential streets and the Clark Fork River meanders through the center of town; a 6-mile riverside trail passes the university en route to Hellgate Canyon. Missoula makes a good base for regional exploration by way of Interstate 90 east–west, U.S. 93 north–south, and numerous back roads.In 1860 French trappers dubbed this trading settlement the Hell Gate when they discovered bones and bodies in the canyon after a bloody battle between Blackfeet and other Native Americans. Settlers did not arrive until more than 50 years after the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled through the area. Gold speculators, homesteaders, and the coming of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883 all helped establish the town.
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Things You Can't Miss
Missoula’s urban center features Out to Lunch and Downtown ToNight, performing arts festivals with food and music at riverside Caras Park.
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Just four miles north of I-90, Rattlesnake National Recreation Area is treasured by local hikers, mountain-bikers, horseback riders and nature lovers.
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Grab an inner tube and float the gentle rapids, or sit on the riverbank and watch the pro kayakers doing whitewater maneuvers at Brennan’s Wave.
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The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula re-creates a 19th-century town in exhibits including a schoolhouse, a fire tower and a restored streetcar.
John Elk III / Alamy
Think fly-fishing is too hard? Local outfitters will teach you to cast for rainbows or cutthroats in some of the most pristine water in North America.
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