Missoula is a great place to visit, but let’s be honest – we’re here to visit Philip, Kim and 6-week old grandson Owen! Nevertheless, we can’t spend every waking moment with them, and there’s much to see and do in the Missoula area, especially on these beautiful late summer days. We hope you enjoy this synopsis of our first week of activities.
PK&O Visits and Dinners
Let’s begin with a few photos of Owen, both with and without his parents, from our family time this past week. He is, of course, a perfect baby, and we were thrilled to meet him in person! P&K are proud and wonderful parents.
We have enjoyed some exceptional dinners together, featuring Philip’s fine grilling skills – wild Alaskan salmon, elk steaks, and elk burgers – along with Montana produce from Philip and Kim’s garden and other local sources. Plus wonderful conversation, good laughs, plus ample beer and wine.
Exploring the Town
We spent the first couple of days exploring the local area – both the neighborhood where our Airbnb apartment is located and the town of Missoula. It has that western, bike-friendly, college town “vibe” one might expect and an active downtown with a variety of local shops and restaurants. Missoula is surrounded by mountains, and the beautiful Clark Fork River runs through the middle of town. There is a bustling commercial district on the west side of the city with the usual array of big box and chain stores, which we learned to avoid whenever possible due to serious traffic congestion that is more of a problem in this town of 74,000 residents than it ought to be.
Our Airbnb is located in a section of Missoula known as the Lower Rattlesnake. It’s an attractive and well-established family-friendly neighborhood with well-kept, mostly older homes. Close to downtown as well as the University of Montana, both are easily accessible by walking or biking.
A few blocks from our apartment, Greenough Park offers a paved multi-use path that we have used for walking and jogging. Our neighborhood is located at the base of Mount Jumbo, which is one of the iconic landmarks around Bozeman and features multiple hiking trails, including one to the concrete “L” that can be seen from miles away. Naturally, we were curious about the significance of the “L” – more about that later.
Notice in the photo below that the garden across the street is surrounded by a tall fence to keep out the deer. Sure enough, we saw four happily munching on someone’s lawn when we drove back the apartment about dusk the other evening.
Our First Hike – Kootenai Creek Trail
Deciding to go for a hike in the Missoula area is overwhelming, as there are MANY outstanding options. After hearing P&K’s thoughts, perusing their many area trail maps, and doing a bit of sleuthing on the internet, we decided to hike on the Kootenai Creek Trail located in the Bitterroot National Forest about 30 miles south of Missoula.
This particular trail follows the Kootenai Creek uphill to a series of small lakes, which we never saw since they are located 9+ miles from the trailhead. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful hike on a spectacular late summer day, and we thoroughly enjoyed this seven mile journey (about 3-1/2 miles each way) consisting of fairly gentle ups and downs.
Owen’s First Baseball Game – the Missoula Osprey
The Missoula Osprey are a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks that has been here since 1999. They play in the Pioneer League, which is a short-season league designated as Rookie Advanced. We were able to secure tickets for a Friday night home game against the Billings Mustangs that featured a free lunchbox giveaway and fireworks after the game. Unfortunately, they lost the game, and we didn’t make it to the end to enjoy the fireworks, but it was still a good time! It’s a beautiful setting for a baseball game, and the smaller venue makes for an “up close and personal” experience that you don’t get in the large baseball stadiums.
Saturday Morning in Downtown Missoula
We were up and about early on Saturday to explore the downtown happenings. The first order of business was breakfast at Catalyst, followed by a visit to the two farmers markets, with the usual array of produce, meats, breads and other food items, and to the Peoples Market, featuring jewelry, arts and crafts. Judging from the crowds by the time we exited the downtown area around 10:30, it’s THE place to be if you find yourself in Missoula on a Saturday morning.
And yes, we purchased a few things: strawberries, raspberries, Dixon cantaloupe, watermelon (with yellow flesh!), apples, baby arugula, heirloom tomatoes, spinach, and corn, plus a pound of grass fed ground beef and a large Alaskan sockeye salmon filet that we shared with P&K a few days later. As you might imagine, we paid a premium for the freshness of the local produce, but I’m happy to report that we ate every bit of it and everything was delicious!
Hike to the “L”
Our second hike of the week was short and steep – only 1.7 miles roundtrip, with a 623 foot elevation gain. Our destination, the concrete “L” about midway up the mountain, stands for Loyola Sacred Heart High School. The trailhead, a quick walk from our apartment, included an informational display about the history of Mount Jumbo and the Missoula community’s successful efforts to purchase the property back in the mid-1990s, thereby preserving the land as public open space. Hikers are rewarded with beautiful views of Missoula and the mountains beyond, as well as the Rattlesnake Wilderness area to the north of Missoula.
We were joined on our short hike by other hikers – some with dogs, mountain bikers and two deer peacefully grazing on the hillside.
Garnet Ghost Town
Our previous experience with ghost towns has been somewhat disappointing, with advertised sites in an advanced state of deterioration so that little remains except for a building foundation, often overgrown and hidden from the casual observer. Not so at Montana’s Garnet ghost town! This gem, about a 90 minute drive from Missoula, is a spectacular exception to our previous experiences, and we highly recommend a visit.
We arrived at the Garnet site just in time to enjoy a nice picnic lunch before exploring the main attraction.
Overseen today by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Garnet’s boom and bust history is similar to many other mining communities throughout the West, with mining activity and population peaking in the late 1800s and virtually abandoned only 20 years later. After a brief but unsustained revival in the 1930s, the post office closed in 1942, and efforts by the BLM and the Garnet Preservation Association commenced a few years later to protect and stabilize the remaining buildings and artifacts. Today, the site features more than 25 buildings in various stages of preservation, or “arrested decay,” which means that no attempt is made to improve a ruin, but rather to keep it from deteriorating any further.
While the sheer number and condition of the town’s buildings is impressive, that’s not even the whole story. Volunteers with the Garnet Preservation Association (presumably) have done extensive historical research on the people of Garnet and their stories, along with old photos and other artifacts that bring the town to life for the thousands of visitors that make the trek each year.
For more information, check out the Garnet Ghost Town website. And by all means, add this attraction to your “must see” list if you are in the Missoula area! Here are a few more photos from our day trip to Garnet.
We’re having a wonderful time in Missoula! Stay tuned for more highlights . . . .