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Missoula, Montana
City of Missoula
Downtown Missoula
Missoula, Montana
Official seal of Missoula, Montana
The Garden City
"The Discovery Continues"
Location of Missoula in Missoula County and Montana
Location of Missoula in Missoula County and Montana
Location of Montana
Location of Montana
Country United States
State Montana
County Missoula
Founded 1866
Incorporated (town) March 8, 1883
Incorporated (city) March 12, 1885
Founded by
  • Christopher P. Higgins
  • Francis Lyman Worden
 • Type Mayor–Council
 • Body Missoula City Council
 • City 29.08 sq mi (75.3 km2)
 • Land 28.90 sq mi (74.9 km2)
 • Water 0.184 sq mi (0.48 km2)
 • Urban
45.43 sq mi (117.7 km2)
 • Metro
2,618 sq mi (6,780 km2)
3,209 ft (978 m)
 • City 66,788
 • Estimate 
 • Rank US: 494th
 • Density 2,416/sq mi (932.8/km2)
 • Metro
114,181 (US: 336th)
Time zone UTC-7 (Mountain)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-6 (Mountain)
ZIP code
59801–59804, 59806–59808
University of Montana ZIP code
Area code 406
FIPS code 30-50200
GNIS feature ID 0787504
Highways I-90.svg US 12.svg US 93.svg MT-200.svg

Missoula is a city in the U.S. state of Montana and is the county seat of Missoula County. It is located along the Clark Fork River near its confluences with the Bitterroot and Blackfoot Rivers in western Montana and at the convergence of five mountain ranges, thus is often described as the "hub of five valleys". In 2015, the United States Census Bureau estimated the city's population at 71,022 and the population of the Missoula Metropolitan Area at 114,181. In the 1990s, Missoula overtook Great Falls as Montana’s second‑largest city, behind Billings. Missoula is home to the University of Montana, a public research university.

Missoula was founded in 1860 as Hellgate Trading Post while still part of Washington Territory. By 1866, the settlement had moved east, 5 miles (8 km) upstream, and renamed Missoula Mills, later shortened to Missoula. The mills provided supplies to western settlers traveling along the Mullan Road. The establishment of Fort Missoula in 1877 to protect settlers further stabilized the economy. The arrival of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1883 brought rapid growth and the maturation of the local lumber industry. In 1893, the Montana Legislature chose the city as the site for the state's first university. Along with the U.S. Forest Service headquarters founded in 1908, lumber and the university remained staples of the local economy for the next hundred years.

By the 1990s, Missoula's lumber industry had gradually disappeared, and as of 2009, the city's largest employers were the University of Montana, Missoula County Public Schools, and Missoula's two hospitals. The city is governed by a mayor–council government with twelve city council members, two from each of the six wards. In and around Missoula are 400 acres (160 ha) of parkland, 22 miles (35 km) of trails, and nearly 5,000 acres (2,000 ha) of open-space conservation land with adjacent Mount Jumbo home to grazing elk and mule deer during the winter. The city is also home to both Montana's largest and its oldest active breweries as well as the Montana Grizzlies, one of the strongest college football programs in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Notable residents include the first woman in the U.S. Congress, Jeannette Rankin, and the United States' longest-serving Senate Majority Leader, Mike Mansfield.


Jumbo teepees
Teepees at the site of Missoula, south of the Clark Fork River, facing northeast

Archaeological artifacts date the Missoula Valley's earliest inhabitants to the end of the last ice age 12,000 years ago with settlements as early as BC/BCE. From the 1700s until European settlements began a hundred years later, it was primarily the Salish, Kootenai, Pend d'Oreille, Blackfeet, and Shoshone who used the land. Located at the confluence of five mountain valleys, the Missoula Valley was heavily traversed by local and distant native tribes that periodically went to the Eastern Montana plains in search of bison, leading to conflict. The narrow valley at Missoula's eastern entrance was so strewn with human bones from repeated ambushes that French fur trappers would later refer to this area as Porte de l'Enfer, translated as "Gate of Hell". Hell Gate would remain the name of the area until it was renamed "Missoula" in 1866.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition brought the first U.S. citizens to the area. They twice stopped just south of Missoula at Traveler's Rest. They camped there the first time on their westbound trip in September 1805. When they stayed there again on their return in June–July 1806, Clark left heading south along the Bitterroot River and Lewis traveled north, then east, through Hellgate Canyon. In 1860, Hell Gate Village was established 5 miles (8 km) west of present-day downtown by Christopher P. Higgins and Frank Worden as a trading post to serve travelers on the recently completed Mullan Road, the first wagon road to cross the Rocky Mountains to the inland of the Pacific Northwest. The desire for a more convenient water supply to power a lumber and flour mill led to the movement of the settlement to its modern location in 1864.

The Missoula Mills replaced Hell Gate Village as the economic power of the valley and replaced it as the county seat in 1866. The name "Missoula" came from the Salish name for the Clark Fork River, "nmesuletkw", which roughly translates as "place of frozen water". Fort Missoula was established in 1877 to help protect further arriving settlers. Growth accelerated with the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1883, and the Town of Missoula was chartered the same year. In 1893, Missoula was chosen as the location of the state's first university, the University of Montana. The need for lumber for the railway and its bridges spurred the opening of multiple saw mills in the area and, in turn, the beginning of Missoula's lumber industry, which remained the mainstay of the area's economy for the next hundred years. The continued economic windfall from railroad construction and lumber mills led to a further boom in Missoula's population. A. B. Hammond and Copper Kings Marcus Daly and William A. Clark competed fiercely in the region over lumber share and Missoula investments.1 is headquartered in Missoula.

Missoula Sunset (2006-07)
View of Downtown from Mt. Sentinel

Logging remained a mainstay of industry in Missoula with the groundbreaking of the Hoerner-Waldorf pulp mill in 1956, which resulted in protests over the resultant air pollution. An article in Life magazine thirteen years later speaks of Missoulians sometimes needing to drive with headlights on during the day to navigate through the smog. In 1979, still almost 40% of the county's labor income came from the wood and paper products sector. The lumber industry was hit hard by the recession of the early 1980s, and Missoula's economy began to diversify. By the early 1990s, the disappearance of many of the region's log yards, along with legislation, had helped clean the skies dramatically.

As of 2009, education and healthcare were Missoula's leading industries; the University of Montana, Missoula County Public Schools, and the city's two hospitals were the largest employers. St. Patrick Hospital and Health Sciences Center, founded in 1873, is the region's only Level II trauma center and has undergone three major expansions since the 1980s. Likewise, the University of Montana grew 50% and built or renovated 20 buildings from 1990–2010. It is expected that these industries as well as expansions in business and professional services, and retail will be the main engines of future growth.


Missoula NASA photo labeled
Missoula Valley

Missoula is located at the western edge of Montana approximately 45 miles (70 km) from the Idaho border. The city is at an elevation of 3,209 feet (978 m) above sea level, with nearby Mount Sentinel and Mount Jumbo steeply rising to 5,158 feet (1,572 m) and 4,768 feet (1,453 m) respectively. According to the Census Bureau's 2015 figures, the city had a total area of 29.08 square miles (75.3 km2), of which, 28.90 square miles (74.9 km2) was land and 0.184 square miles (0.48 km2) was water.

Approximately 13,000 years ago, the entire valley was at the bottom of Glacial Lake Missoula and as could be expected for a former lake bottom, the layout of Missoula is relatively flat and surrounded by steep hills. Evidence of the city of Missoula's lake-bottom past can be seen in the form of ancient horizontal wave-cut shorelines on nearby Mount Sentinel and Mount Jumbo. At the location of present-day University of Montana, the lake once had a depth of 950 feet (290 m). The Clark Fork River enters the Missoula Valley from the east through Hellgate Canyon after joining the nearby Blackfoot River at the site of the former Milltown Dam. The Bitterroot River and multiple smaller tributaries join the Clark Fork on the western edge of Missoula. The city also sits at the convergence of five mountain ranges: the Bitterroot Mountains, Sapphire Range, Garnet Range, Rattlesnake Mountains, and the Reservation Divide, thus is often described as being the "hub of five valleys".

Missoula Glacial Missoula shorelines on Mount Sentinel
Ancient wave-cut shorelines are visible on the edge of Mount Sentinel.

Flora and fauna

Located in the Northern Rockies, Missoula has a typical Rocky Mountain ecology. Local wildlife includes populations of white-tailed deer, black bears, osprey, and bald eagles. During the winter, rapid snowmelt on Mount Jumbo due to its steep slope leaves grass available for grazing elk and mule deer. The rivers around Missoula provide nesting habitats for bank swallows, northern rough-winged swallows and belted kingfishers. Killdeer and spotted sandpipers can be seen foraging for insects along the gravel bars. Other species include song sparrows, catbirds, several species of warblers, and the pileated woodpecker. The rivers also provide cold, clean water for native fish such as westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout. The meandering streams also attract beaver and wood ducks. The parks also host a variety of snakes such as racers, garter snakes, and rubber boa.

Native riparian plant life includes sandbar willows and cottonwoods with Montana's state tree, the ponderosa pine, also being prevalent. Other native plants include wetland species such as cattails and beaked-sedge as well as shrubs and berry plants like Douglas hawthorn, chokecherry, and western snowberries. To the chagrin of local farmers, Missoula is also home to several noxious weeds, which multiple programs have set out to eliminate. Notable ones include Dalmatian toadflax, spotted knapweed, leafy spurge, St. John's wort, and sulfur cinquefoil. Controversially, the Norway maples that line many of Missoula's older streets have also been declared an invasive species.


Missoula has a semi-arid climate (Köppen climate classification BSk), with cold and moderately snowy winters, hot and dry summers, and short, crisp springs and autumns. Winters are usually milder than much of the rest of the state due to its location west of the Rockies, allowing it to be influenced more by mild, moist Pacific air and avoiding the worst of cold snaps; however, this means precipitation is not at a strong minimum during winter. Winter snowfall averages 39.5 inches (100 cm), on average occurring between October 30 and April 20. As with the rest of the state, summers are very sunny, and the average diurnal temperature variation is more than 30 °F (17 °C) from late June through late September, due to the relative aridity. The monthly daily average temperature ranges from 23.9 °F (−4.5 °C) in December to 68.6 °F (20.3 °C) in July. There is an average of 24 days with temperatures above 90 °F (32 °C), 45 days where the temperature does not rise above freezing, and 7.8 days with temperatures below 0 °F (−18 °C).

Climate data for Missoula, Montana (Missoula Airport) 1981–2010 normals
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 60
Average high °F (°C) 33.2
Average low °F (°C) 18.3
Record low °F (°C) −33
Precipitation inches (mm) 0.85
Snowfall inches (cm) 8.3
Trace 0.0
Trace 0.6
Humidity 81.3 78.1 70.3 61.2 61.7 61.1 51.7 52.5 62.8 70.8 80.2 83.5 67.9
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 11.8 9.4 11.4 11.1 12.3 12.1 7.1 7.5 8.2 8.4 11.1 12.3 122.7
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 9.4 6.8 5.1 1.6 0.3 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.9 5.4 9.8 39.4
Sunshine hours 95.8 133.0 209.3 245.0 280.5 311.1 389.3 334.8 264.7 194.3 99.5 82.9 2,640.2
Source: NOAA (relative humidity and sun 1961–1990)


Historical population
Census Pop.
1870 400
1880 347 −13.3%
1890 3,426 887.3%
1900 4,366 27.4%
1910 12,896 195.4%
1920 12,668 −1.8%
1930 14,657 15.7%
1940 18,449 25.9%
1950 22,485 21.9%
1960 27,090 20.5%
1970 29,497 8.9%
1980 33,388 13.2%
1990 42,918 28.5%
2000 57,053 32.9%
2010 66,788 17.1%
Est. 2015 71,022 6.3%
Sources: 1870–1990, 2000–2010,
2015 Estimate
Highest Educational Attainment
Population 25 years and over (2014)
Missoula Montana U.S.
Less than 9th grade 1.2% 2.2% 5.8%
9th to 12th grade, no diploma 3.3% 5.3% 7.8%
High school graduate or equivalent 19.0% 29.8% 28.0%
Some college 24.1% 25.3% 21.2%
Associate degree 6.7% 8.3% 7.9%
Bachelor's degree 28.0% 19.8% 18.3%
Graduate or professional degree 17.7% 9.2% 11.0%
High school or higher 95.5% 92.4% 86.3%
Bachelor's degree or higher 45.7% 29.1% 29.3%

The median income for a household in the city was $30,366, and the median income for a family was $42,103. Males had a median income of $30,686 versus $21,559 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,166. About 11.7% of families and 19.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.5% of those under age 18 and 9.3% of those age 65 or over. 40.3% of Missoula residents age 25 and older have a bachelor's or advanced college degree.

2010 census

As of 2010's census, there were 66,788 people, 29,081 households, and 13,990 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,427.8 inhabitants per square mile (937.4/km2). There were 30,682 housing units at an average density of 1,115.3 per square mile (430.6/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 92.1% White, 0.5% African American, 2.8% Native American, 1.2% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.5% from other races, and 2.8% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.9% of the population.

There were 29,081 households of which 23.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 34.4% were married couples living together, 9.6% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.1% had a male householder with no wife present, and 51.9% were non-families. 35.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.18 and the average family size was 2.82.

The median age in the city was 30.9 years. 17.9% of residents were under the age of 18; 19.7% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 29.6% were from 25 to 44; 22.1% were from 45 to 64; and 10.7% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 49.9% male and 50.1% female.

Downtown Missoula
View of the Downtown skyline from Mount Sentinel


Missoula, often considered the cultural center of Montana, is the location of the state's first university, and an eclectic mix of loggers, hippies, college students, sports fans, and retirees. Community events generally take place downtown either outdoors or in one of the several downtown buildings listed on the National Historic Registry.

Since 2006, the River City Roots Festival has been an event each August with music, beer, food, and art, and generally attracts crowds of 15,000. The longest-standing event downtown has been the Missoula Farmers Market that was founded in 1972, which provides an outlet for Western Montana produce on Saturday mornings from May to October as well as Tuesday evenings from July to early September. An arts and crafts People's Market and a Clark Fork Market run concurrently. Downtown hosts "First Friday Missoula", a gallery walk on the first Friday of the month to feature local art from museums and galleries, such as that of Monte Dolack. Missoula celebrates "First Night Missoula" on New Year's Eve, which includes food and live entertainment. The "Festival of the Book" to celebrate the literature of the American West was rebranded the "Montana Book Festival" in 2015. Missoula's two historic theatres both hold annual film festivals: the Roxy hosting the International Wildlife Film Festival, established in 1977 as the first juried wildlife film festival in the world; and since 2003, the Wilma accommodating the largest film event in Montana, the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.

In performance arts, the Missoula Community Theatre has held performances of musical and non-musical plays since 1977, with its affiliated Missoula Children's Theatre also acting as an international touring program that visits nearly 1,000 communities per year around the world. Missoula is also home to a number of modern dance companies, including Bare Bait Dance and Headwaters Dance Company. Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre and Garden City Ballet are also based in Missoula.

The Montana Museum of Art & Culture, which became a state museum in 2001, is one Montana's oldest cultural reserves, having begun in 1894; its permanent collection of more than 10,000 original works. The Missoula Museum of Art is housed in a former Carnegie library; it features contemporary art and annually features 20–25 group and solo exhibits. Fort Missoula is home to the Historic Museum, dedicated to preserving the history of Western Montana, and to the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History and the Northern Rockies Heritage Center. The National Museum of Forest Service History is constructing the National Conservation Legacy and Education Center in Missoula as well.

Moose Drool Brown Ale (advertising image)

Opened in 1987, Missoula's Bayern Brewing is the oldest active brewery in Montana. Big Sky Brewing opened in 1995 and with a production of over 38,000 barrels in 2008, it is by far Montana's largest brewery, and produces the best-selling beer brewed in Montana, Moose Drool Brown Ale. Missoula has also been home to Kettle House Brewing since 1995 and Draught Works opened in 2011. Big Sky, Bayern, and Kettlehouse represent the first, second, and third largest breweries respectively in the state of Montana. Also in 2011, Tamarack Brewing and Flathead Lake Brewing Company from nearby Lake County opened pub houses at downtown Missoula locations. The city also holds annual the Garden City Brewfest and Winterfest, and also periodically hosts the Montana Brewers Festival.

Missoula's celebration of the outdoors can also be seen in notable non-profits based in the city such as the Adventure Cycling Association, the conservationist-hunting organizations Boone and Crockett Club and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the Outdoor Writers Association of America. In an attempt to reduce harmful emissions, the non-profit Missoula in Motion promotes environmentally sustainable transportation options for commuters, such as walking, biking, carpooling, public transportation, and telecommuting. The Western Montana Community Center supports the LGBTIQ community and the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center focuses on "nonviolence, social justice and environmental sustainability". The largest emergency homeless shelter and soup kitchen in Montana, the Poverello Center, is also located in Missoula.

Parks and recreation

Missoula Marathon in 2009

The city has over 400 acres (160 ha) of parkland, 22 miles (35 km) of trails, and nearly 5,000 acres (2,000 ha) of conserved open-space. Located at the confluence of three rivers (the Clark Fork, Bitterroot, and Blackfoot), the area is also popular for white water rafting and, thanks largely to the novel and subsequent film A River Runs Through It by Missoula native Norman Maclean, is well known for its fly fishing. Additionally, Missoula has two aquatic parks, multiple golf courses, is home to the Adventure Cycling Association, and hosts what Runner's World called the "best overall" marathon in the U.S. There are also three ski areas within 100 miles (160 km): Montana Snowbowl, Discovery Ski Area, and Lost Trail Powder Mountain. Slightly farther away are Lookout Pass, Blacktail Mountain, and Big Mountain.

A system of public parks was developed in Missoula in 1902 with the donation by lumber baron Thomas Greenough and his wife Tessie. They gave a 42-acre (17 ha) tract of land along Rattlesnake Creek for Greenough Park, on the condition that "the land forever be used as a park and for park purposes to which the people of Missoula may . . . find a comfortable, romantic and poetic retreat". In a follow-up nine years later in a letter to the Missoulian, he stressed his interest in having the park remain in as close to a native state as possible. That request, along with the discovery that non-native Norway maples were inhibiting the growth of native trees and shrubs such as cottonwoods, ponderosa pines and Rocky Mountain maples, led to the controversial decision to remove Norway maples from the park with the hope of returning it to its natural state.

In 1924, Bonner Park was created out of John L. Bonner's estate near the university. The park today has multiple athletic fields and courts in addition a band shell used by the Missoula City band through the summer. The Kiwanis club set up a park downtown in 1934, making Kiwanis Park the first of a string of parks which line both sides of the Clark Fork River. One of those parks on the southern bank of the river is McCormick Park, which was created with WPA funds out of surplus highway land, a parcel from the American Hide and Fur Company, and land donated from the Kate McCormick estate. The 26-acre (11 ha) park, named for Washington J. McCormick and his wife is home to a skate park, aquatics center, a free bike check-out and a children's fishing pond. Other popular parks include the Jacobs Island Bark Park, a designated area for dogs to play off-leash; the Montana State veterans' memorial rose garden; Waterwise Garden, a "living laboratory" garden utilizing water conservation techniques; and Splash Montana Waterpark at Playfair Park.

Clark Fork River
The Clark Fork River in Caras Park

Caras Park

Caras Park is located just south of the historic Wilma Theatre downtown. It is located on land reclaimed when the Higgins Avenue Bridge was widened from two lanes to four in 1962. Before the reclamation, the Clark Fork River divided to create an island with the north channel's bank extending to nearby buildings such as the Wilma Theatre. The south channel was deepened for the increased water flow and the infilled land later became Caras Park. Events in the park were not common until the early 1980s and permanent fixtures like "Out to Lunch", which began in 1986. The Missoula Downtown Association took over from Parks and Recreation for management of the park and made improvements to make Caras Park more event-friendly. Seating, event circles, brick plazas, restrooms, and storage structures were added. Large temporary tents were used for events until 1997 when a permanent pavilion was constructed. The park is a hub of city festivities including include "Out to Lunch", the International Wildlife Film Festival, First Night Missoula, Garden City BrewFest and offered intimate concert settings for artists such as Jewel, Chris Isaak, Santana, Ziggy Marley, and B.B. King. Located next to Caras Park is A Carousel for Missoula, a wooden, hand-carved and volunteer-built carousel; and Dragon Hollow, a children's recreational area adjacent to the carousel.

Sister cities

Missoula's Sister City relationship with Palmerston North, New Zealand, began after Missoula resident and later University of Montana professor Harold Bockemuehl returned from obtaining his PhD from Massey University. The relationship was made official in 1983 after a meeting between then UM President Neil Bucklew and officials from Massey University. Each May, Missoula celebrates "New Zealand Day" in honor of the relationship with rugby, food, and entertainment. Missoula's second Sister City relationship began in 1991 after a Neckargemünd delegation, led by Mayor Oskar Schuster, visited Missoula following a Fulbright-sponsored faculty exchange between Heidelberg University and the University of Montana. Every September the Missoula Cultural Council holds an annual "Germanfest" to celebrate German culture and this relationship.

Portrayal in media

Insert the text of the quote here, without quotation marks.

Author Norman Maclean grew up in Missoula and wrote about it in his 1976 autobiographical novella A River Runs Through It. The work was adapted into a 1992 motion picture of the same name, directed by Robert Redford, starring Brad Pitt and Craig Sheffer.

There is a lengthy study of Missoula in the title essay of Jonathan Raban's Driving Home: An American Journey: despite writing that on his arrival, "I had the powerful impression that I had driven deep into the Rocky Mountains and somehow arrived in Rotherham or Barnsley," and that "the overall effect [of the city] was oddly unsettling; the streets too open for comfort, the town too closed in, inducing mild claustrophobia and agoraphobia at the same time", he notes the literary heritage of the city and its reputation as a "kindly town" (evidenced by its being a place where "odds and ends naturally collected and cohered").

Missoula was portrayed in an episode of the CBS show Criminal Minds. The episode aired on November 5, 2014.

Missoula (as well as Jermone, MT) was also portrayed in the movie Chill Factor released in 1999 starring Skeet Ulrich and Cuba Gooding, Jr.

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