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Why Missoula:

As a recently fun-employed LA resident, I was looking for short trip to places I can´t visit for just a weekend. Missoula fits the bill. Missoula (or honestly everywhere in Montana) is typically very expensive to fly to. Historically, the only direct flight from LA is on American Airlines in the middle of the day, so take a weekend trip would require wasting a vacation day. 

However, Allegiant launched a new seasonal twice-weekly 6:00 am flight for $60 and I was able to find a return flight for just 6,000 American points (equivalent of $60, but the cash fare was over $300). So, I booked a 3-day trip leaving Monday morning and returning that Wednesday afternoon. 

While Missoula has a reputation for being a fun city, I was able to craft a road trip to visit two relatively remote National Park Service sites.

July 10, 2023: Missoula:

I woke up at 2:45 am and called an Uber to Van Nuys to catch the 3:30 FlyAway bus to LAX. From there, I checked in for my Allegiant flight in Terminal 1 and took the bus to the International terminal from where, for some reason, the Allegiant flights leave. 

The flight left on-time and 2 hours 15 minutes later, I was in beautiful Missoula! The mountain scenery to the southwest looked extremely rugged. Missoula is in the process of building a brand new airport. One concourse is complete, and it is gorgeous. A second concourse and rental car center is under construction. 

To save money, I decided to rent my car for 48 hours, thus making it a 2 day instead of a 3 day rental. That meant I had 2 hours to kill before being able to pick up the car. Luckily, there is a lot to do near the airport. 

My first stop was the Smokejumpers Museum and Base. Smokejumpers are firefighters that skydive to work in remote wilderness. Smoke jumping was conceived after a previous idea of dropping a “water bomb” failed miserably. Nine smokejumper crews operate in the Western US and there are two crews in British Columbia. Missoula was the first smokejumper base and is therefore known as the birthplace of the smokejumper. 

As part of the 45-minute free tour of the base, docents explained the extreme difficulties of the job. Smokejumpers carry 110-pound (50kg) packs on their backs and wear fire retardant clothing that does not breathe well in the hot summer weather. When they parachute, they jump from very low altitudes. Sometimes, they accidentally land in trees and use ropes to descend to the forest floor. They try to land 1/2 mile (800 meters) from the fire, and they typically fight the fire for 3 days. After their shift, they must carry their equipment up to 10 miles (16 km) to reach a suitable pickup spot. In short, this is one of the most badass jobs on the planet. 

While the most interesting part of smoke jumping is fighting the fire, there is a lot of prep work involved. Much of the smokejumpers´ time on base is getting the parachutes ready. Smokejumpers all know how to sew and personally fix the chutes. They also personally pack parachutes, a process that takes hours per chute. 

Despite the incredible demands of the job, smokejumping is a surprisingly safe job. There have only been two instances of fatalities: the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire (which caused scientists to completely rethink their understanding of fires) and the 1994 South Canyon Fire. 

I then walked over to the Big Sky Brewing Company, the most famous brewery in the state. They are best known for their Moose Drool brown ale. Montana has traditionally had strict rules for breweries limiting their production, but Big Sky was instrumental in the lobbying efforts so now breweries in the state can produce 60,000 barrels of beer per year. Big Sky, as the largest brewery in the state, currently produces around 47,000 barrels of beer per year. 

Despite being 11:00 on a Monday, the tap room was busy! I ordered a flight, like I always do. The brewery does not offer tours, but there are windows in the tap room to see the surprisingly small production facility. 

At 12:00, I picked up the rental car (a minivan hahah) and drove into town. The “downtown” was a lively commercial area with government buildings, restaurants, bars and some shops. I ate lunch at a pizza shop call Biga, which apparently uses a special type of pizza dough. 

Next, I headed to the University of Montana where my MBA roommate José did a year-long exchange. The university is the state´s flagship public university and the campus is full of historic buildings. The most unusual building was a Native American Center, which has campus resources for Native students. The mascot is the Grizzly. 

Looming above the campus is Mt. Sentinel and halfway up the mountain is the famous concrete M. The classic Missoula hike is to the M. The hike up took me 30 minutes. At the top, I was rewarded with spectacular views of the city and surrounding valley. 

With plenty of daylight to spare, I ventured to the outskirts of town to visit Fort Missoula, the original US army settlement in the area that was created to protect settlers moving west. Unfortunately, very little of the fort remains. There are a few small buildings, but not much else. The city has turned the area into a giant city park. 

It was only 5pm, so I went back into town to do more exploring, but there wasn´t much else to do. I got a scoop of huckleberry ice cream at the famous Big Dipper, drank another flight of beer at the Bayern Brewery, ate a delicious Greek gyro, and visited the large souvenir shop Rockin Rudy´s.

Exhausted, I went to bed early to rally for the next two days of the road trip. 

Final Thoughts:

Missoula is a liberal college town in an otherwise conservative state. It is 3 hours from Glacier and Yellowstone, so there are very few tourists. The town center is lively – I´m sure even more so when students are around. That said, Missoula itself does not have many attractions and seems more like a nice place to live rather than a tourism destination. For me, the most interesting thing was the smokejumper base. 

If you are visiting, there are many beautiful and interesting places close to Missoula. To the south is the Bitterroot Valley and the rugged Bitterroot Mountains. To the west is the Alberton Gorge, a whitewater rafting destination. To the east is the Garnet ghost town. So, if you want, you can easily use Missoula as a base and spend a couple days in the area.

Due to the nature of the outdoor activities, I would try to visit Missoula in summer or early fall (if you want to catch a Grizzlies football game). 


One response to “Missoula”

  1. cowpattymt Avatar

    Next time fly to Bozeman

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