We weren’t ready to leave after our first week in Missoula, and we didn’t. Very glad we had already planned to stay two weeks, because the additional days afforded us the opportunity to spend more family time with PK&O and dig deeper into local attractions, activities, and culture. Even so, it feels as though we barely scratched the surface!
Perhaps it goes without saying that we spent time every day with the PK&O family unit, except for Saturday (wedding for them and football game for us). Along with sharing dinners together at their house, we ventured out to Western Cider to sample the wares, followed by a quick bite at Top Hat. We also watched the Denver Broncos squeak out a win in their season opener against Seattle.
A couple of observations from our visit: 1) little Owen is adorable (did I mention that already?), and 2) P&K are wonderful parents!
Like most cities, Missoula has a miles-long long commercial strip of endless big box businesses, grocery stores, chain restaurants, gas stations, and other retail establishments, and we spent a chunk of time sitting in traffic going to and from the Albertsons, Costco and Target stores along this route. Fortunately, we also had a chance to explore aspects of the town that differentiate Missoula from other college towns.
Missoula’s unique vibe is most evident on the east side of town – the downtown area and the University of Montana campus – and is heavily influenced by the Clark Fork River that runs roughly east to west right through the heart of town.
Philip introduced us to the downtown area and the Saturday markets during our first week in Missoula. We further explored the east side during week 2 on foot and by bicycle, but much more to see and do during future visits.
Week 2 hikes
There were three (that we’re aware of) sets of inviting hiking trails located just a short walk from our apartment. Having done the “L” hike on Mount Jumbo during week 1, we tackled the other two during week 2 – the Summit Trail on Waterworks Hill and the “M” hike on Mount Sentinel.
The trailhead for the Waterworks Hill trails was a 10 minute walk from our apartment. From there, the direct route to the summit was approximately 1.2 miles with a 500-foot elevation gain, a fairly easy hike under normal conditions. Our trek, however, commenced on a day that featured gale force winds, making the hike both more challenging and significantly less enjoyable. But we persevered and made it back alive.
The hike to the “M” on Mount Sentinel was quite a different experience, as it was a picture perfect day with no wind. It may be obvious that the “M” stands for Montana (as in University of Montana), but I will confirm the assumption. The “M” has been a landmark in Missoula since 1908, and hiking to the “M” is a popular activity for area residents and visitors. The 1.5 mile round trip hike is quite steep, gaining 620 feet in elevation over a relatively short distance – definitely a good cardio workout!
On a whim, I also repeated the “L” hike on Mount Jumbo that we had done during week 1. It was the last day before leaving town, and I wanted to get in a little cardio before sitting in the car for two days. I was pleasantly surprised to find paragliders taking advantage of the nice day as well. Tough to get good pictures, but I enjoyed watching them (eight total) for about 30 minutes.
Skalkaho Pass and Philipsburg
Bill and I did a full day driving loop that took us south from Missoula just past the small town of Hamilton, then east for 45 miles on the Skalkaho Highway Scenic Byway that goes over Skalkaho Pass and connects the Bitterroot Valley with the Philipsburg Valley.
Skalkaho Road has both paved and gravel sections, and it’s quite narrow in spots. Though sparsely traveled, we still encountered a few vehicles, which required one party to pull off to the side so the other can pass. The road is heavily forested, although a huge 350,000 acre fire in 2000 opened up the views on the west side of the pass. It appears that the forest is recovering nicely. Just before the 7,250 foot summit, the impressive Skalkaho Falls suddenly appears alongside the road. Unfortunately, you can’t do much more than snap a quick photo and keep going, as there isn’t any place to pull off the road.
We found a campground with a few tables and “facilities” just past the summit, so we stopped, stretched our legs, and enjoyed our picnic lunch. We opted not to check out the hiking trail that was adjacent to the campground, as we had neglected to bring bear spray, and there wasn’t another soul in sight.
So we headed down the hill to Philipsburg, a 19th century mining community that is currently home to about 950 residents and serves as the county seat for Granite County. It’s experienced a renaissance over the past decade or so as a tourist destination. We rolled into town about 2:00 in the afternoon. After window shopping and enjoying a snack sitting outside the historic Broadway Hotel – a local brew for Bill and ice cream for me – we headed back to Missoula.
It was a fun day!
University of Montana
The University of Montana, a public university founded in 1893, currently has about 12,000 students. Given Bill’s background in higher education, he was keenly interested in exploring the campus, which was just a short walk from our apartment across the Madison River pedestrian bridge. Besides meandering through campus, we checked out the music building, which according to a poster located inside the entryway, has an interesting architectural design:
“This red brick building was designed to look like a grand piano. The west side has louvered walls, made of Indiana limestone, made to resemble piano keys.”
We attended a home football game during our stay in Missoula. Playing in the Big Sky Conference, UM is frequently a contender for the NCAA national championship in its division. The game was well attended, the fans were loud, and the home team won. We enjoyed being Grizzlies for an afternoon!
Sadly our time in Missoula came to an end after two weeks that just flew by. We look forward to our next visit during the week of Thanksgiving, when our entire family will be together. Time to start thinking about the menu!