8.9 out of 10


46.8713597203822 -114.023071411205
Great for
  • Clean & Green
  • Neighborly Spirit
  • Parking
  • Parks & Recreation
  • Peace & Quiet
Not great for
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Who lives here?
  • Professionals
  • Singles
  • Families with kids
  • Retirees
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5/5 rating details
  • Neighborly Spirit 5/5
  • Safe & Sound 4/5
  • Clean & Green 5/5
  • Peace & Quiet 5/5
  • Eating Out 4/5
  • Nightlife 4/5
  • Parks & Recreation 5/5
  • Shopping Options 4/5
  • Internet Access 4/5
  • Lack of Traffic 4/5
  • Parking 5/5
  • Cost of Living 4/5
  • Public Transport 3/5
Mar 20, 2016

"A uniquely urban/rural city in the mountains"

Missoula, aka Zootown, may be a small city by American standards, but it is a big city by Montana standards—second biggest in the state, actually. This part of the west has a lot of open land, and the next biggest cities in the region are Spokane, Washington a couple hundred miles west, Billings, Montana 350 miles east, and Idaho Falls about 300 miles south. There are some smaller cities in between those big ones, but Montana’s nickname “Big Sky” definitely makes sense out here--there's a lot of open space.

People move to Missoula for the gorgeous Rocky Mountain surroundings, the lifestyle and culture, and the University of Montana.


Missoula has a very unique culture that’s quite different from most western cities. It is a blend of some of the more reserved values of the rural west with the more liberal ideology that the university brings. Rancher meets student. Rural meets urban. It’s a pretty cool blend that’s found hardly anywhere else in the country.


Much of the downtown area is pleasantly walkable, because even though it’s in the Rockies, it’s situated in a relatively flat valley, with the mountains springing up dramatically all around. This means it’s also conveniently, a bike-able city, which is especially great for students or those who prefer not to drive. There is some traffic, but it’s really not bad.

The rivers are a big part of the Missoula’s geography, with the Clark Fork River winding it’s way through downtown, and the Bitterroot River creating the western boundary of the city. There are a few popular spots to jump in and cool off in the summer—just watch out for people fishing and floating!

One fun and unexpected thing about the city is that a lot of people have urban gardens. Much of the housing is small, single-family homes that are either occupied by families or by several students sharing one house. And each has a small yard, many of which are filled with small veggie and flower gardens.


This part of the country has 4 very distinct seasons, with hot yet pleasant summers in the 70s and 80s, and snowy winters below freezing. If you’re thinking of moving here, it’s worth investing in some snow tires and maybe even all wheel drive (or at least front wheel drive) if you're a skier or snowboarder.

Wildfires are a common sight nearby in the summer, with some even threatening Glacier National Park last year.


Missoula was the first of 4 University of Montana schools, and it is also the largest. It brings in about 13,000 students, both for undergrad and graduate programs, which keeps the city young. The school is also part of why Missoula has such an interesting culture for this part of the world. Mixing together ranchers and farmers with students and university faculty definitely means this is not a dull town!

Recently, however, the school was the subject of John Krakauer’s 2015 book Missoula: R*pe and the Justice System in a College Town, which was extremely critical of the way the university handled several sexual assault cases.


Playing outdoors is a BIG part of the culture here. Here are some of the most popular ways to have fun:

Skiing and snowboarding: Being in the Rockies, this one is a given. Missoula has it’s own little local mountain right in town called Snow Bowl, to begin with. Then you have Discovery Ski Basin, Lost Trail Powder Mountain, Lookout Pass, and Blacktail, which are all within about 2 hours (depending on road conditions).

When it comes to hiking and camping, there are endless options. I’m not even going to try to make a list. But it is worth mentioning that Missoula is about 2.5 hours south of the famous Glacier National Park (which won’t have any glaciers anymore after the next 7-10 years, so go see them while you can). On the way, you pass the large Flathead lake which brings a whole other variety of outdoor fun.

Whitewater rafting and kayaking is popular in the many nearby rivers, especially Clark Fork River, Blackfoot River, and Bitterroot River. Whitewater races are also popular, as if the sport wasn’t already extreme enough!

Fishing is one of the favorite pastimes of many Montanans. Fly fishing is especially popular in the rivers and lakes, for trout, bass, pike, salmon, and other fish.

Hunting is an interesting one. All types of people take part in it, from the ranchers that you’d expect to those that are most interested in sustainable eating. Deer and Elk are the staples, but people also hunt fowl.

Overall, Missoula is a gorgeous city and one of my favorite places. It's a great base for people who love outdoor recreation but don't want to give up the perks of being in a city.
  • Great outdoor recreation
  • Unique culture
Recommended for
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  • Singles
  • Families with kids
  • Retirees
  • Tourists
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