The staff here at Zoo Town Surfers loves doing this write up a few times a year. Our list of favorite things to do in Missoula is constantly changing, as we evolve as Missoulians ourselves. We are going to keep it basic here, since you have the Internet to guide you toward the finer details.
What else would you do on a hot summer day? There are plenty of local outfitters that will take care of the dirty work for you. If you are on a time crunch, consider a sunset float through Hellgate Canyon. If you have a full day, check out the crystal clear waters of the storied Blackfoot River, just east of Missoula.
The Rattlesnake Recreation Area is an absolute gem, situated just north of Missoula. There are endless opportunities for hiking and biking, and you can choose to go as far as you want. It’s not the greatest place for canine friends, as you’ll need to keep them on a leash within a few miles of the main trail head.
Head on down to your local bike shop andrent a bike. Then head over to Blue Mountain or the Rattlesnake and get lost for a bit! Missoula boasts some of the state’s best mountain biking, with lots of fantastic trail systems. You’ll find something for everyone!
Missoula’s ever-changing food scene is sure to please, especially if you’re seeking sustenance after your adventures. If you visit in the summertime, check out the Saturday Clark Fork Farmer’s Market at Caras Park, right along the river. The Downtown Partnership also organizes “Out to Lunch” at Caras Park, each Wednesday June through August, where you can sample local food trucks and listen to live music mid-day. At Zoo Town Surfers, we all have our favorite haunts, and we’re happy to share our suggestions with you. Just give us a call!
Missoula is nothing without its beer. We have a few stellar breweries right in town, with more popping up each year. After each Zoo Town Surfers river trip, we serve up cold ones from Big Sky Brewing Co., whose westside tap room sits next to one of our favorite outdoor music venues, the Big Sky Brewing Co. Amphitheater!. We also serve up Draught Works beer as well which usually has a food truck. We love to see summertime shows at the new Kettlehouse Amphitheater, alongside the banks of the beautiful Blackfoot River. Kettlehouse Brewing has two tap rooms in Missoula proper; our afterwork go-to is the Kettlehouse Southside. And, of course, no visit to Missoula would be complete without a game of pool and some gumbo at the infamous Charlie B’s. You’ll find Charlie’s right downtown, at the corner of space and time. A double cocktail from Charlie’s won’t do you any favors athletically (or socially), but you can marvel at the faces of the local legends preserved in portraits on the walls, soak up the whiskey with southern fare from Dino Cafe, and belly up at any time of day, before or after your Missoula adventure!
The Blackfoot and Clark Fork Rivers merge together just five miles east of Missoula and offer some of the finest rafting and scenic river tours Montana has to offer. In the heat of summertime, there is nothing more inviting than spending a day on the river.
Here are three great options for easy float trips here in the Missoula valley. All sections are a great introduction to rafting and are ideal for families with young kids, beginner rafters, or anyone who needs to cool off after a hot day of land-based adventuring!
Hellgate Canyon Float
This is our classic summertime “town float”! You’ll cruise through dramatic Hellgate Canyon and past the University of Montana, and on down through vibrant downtown Missoula. This is the most popular section for inner-tubers and stand-up paddle-boarders, as well. When you pass through Brennan’s Wave, there’s a good chance you’ll see a flock of colorful local kayakers and river surfers – always excellent entertainment!
Milltown to Downtown Float
This float allows you to experience two classic Montana rivers in one day! River users put-in on the Blackfoot above historical Milltown, then cruise through the confluence with the Clark Fork River. Floaters pass the site of the old Milltown Dam, through East Missoula, and on toward the hustle and bustle of downtown Missoula proper.
Kona to Harper’s Float
Just a few miles west, or downstream, of Missoula, this section of the Clark Fork River boasts abundant scenery on a stretch known for its tranquility, swimming holes, and spectacular bird watching.
Etiquette for River Runners
It’s important to know the local code of ethics for enjoying Missoula’s rivers. Let us know if you have any questions, or if you need a little extra guidance on how to respectfully and safely float our rivers.
- No glass. If you bring beverages, bring them in cans. Golden rule of the obvious: NEVER, EVER throw your cans or bottles in the river..
- Pack it in, pack it out. Whatever you bring to the river (or river access) with you must also leave with you.
- Change clothes discreetly. Bring a towel or sarong for an easy quick-change privacy shield!
- Do not play loud music. Please don’t ruin our wilderness experience with your music. Even though you’re in Montana, not everyone wants to hear pop country on their river trip.
- Follow the laws and rules of the area that you are using. Educate yourself about the local regulations and norms for the land and water you’re recreating on,
- Consider taking a few minutes to pick up litter left by others. Taking good care of our rivers is a community effort. Thanks in advance for your help!
This is not the first blog I have written about personal lap bags and it will not be the last. The more time I spend on the river, the more my bag evolves. It also changes with the seasons and rivers that I’m working on. I don’t guide on any multi-day trips so this is what I carry for day trips on the local rivers.
I love my personal bag. The go to size is the Watershed Ocoee. You can fit a lot items inside the bag and it’s the most waterproof bag on the market.
Below is a list of the larger items:
- Patagonia R1 fleece
- Fleece hats
- Extra straps
- 8-1 Screwdriver
- ½ Socket
- Zip ties
- Multi tool
- Watershed Ocoee dry bag
- Snack bars
- Sunglass holders
- Energy shots
- Prussix/extra rope
- Sewing kit
- Bug juice
- Extra sunglasses
- Small first aid kit
- Stuff sack to hold items
Pen and paper, matches, cash, batteries, headlamp, lighter, earplugs, gloves, chapstick, and toilet paper (with doggie bag), hydration tablets.
We would love to hear what you carry in your bag! SYOTR!
1. Kokatat Dry Suit: Essential for working on the river and swimming in cold water.
2. Capilene base layer.
3. Kokatat Dry Top: Great option if you can’t afford drysuit and more versatile if you combine with bibs (#8). Can use all year long.
4. Kokatat Habanero Unisuit: Love this warm layer. Less bulk with uni-suit around the waist.!
5. NRS Helmet Liner: This keeps your head warm, you can also use a swim cap if you can’t afford one of these.
6. HydroFlask water bottle: Don’t forget to stay hydrated and also make sure to secure inside of boat.
7. Sweet Helmet.
8. Kokatat Bibs: Combine with dry top and stay dry. Super versatile piece of gear. I wear these more than my drysuit, especially when I’m guiding. More comfy for prepping lunch, rigging boats, and around camp if its rainy.
9. Rescue PFD: This is an industry standard for guiding. River knife, whistle (on elastic band), and watch are always attached.
10. Neoprene socks: Wear these on the outside of your drysuit/bib socks to prevent pin-holes and wear and tear from gravel/dirt that gets inside your shoes.
11. Neoprene mitts: Only ones that keep my hands warm
12. River booties/shoes: This is a whole separate topic. Just make sure you have good shoes that won’t fall off your feet if you take a swim
13. Salamander Guide Throw Bag: always on you when needed.
14. Ridgerest sleeping pad to change on: Why not spoil yourself?
15. Sprayskirt: To keep the water out and me inside my boat!
16. Personal lap bag: This contains extra layer, snacks, sunscreen, and about 30 other items. We will write another blog on what to pack inside your lap bag. I highly recommend Watershed Ocoee
17.Gear bag: Gotta put all this stuff in something. Keep some carabiners handy for strapping down, etc..The only time I forget a piece of gear is when I seperate it (usually for wash). Don’t separate your gear!
Okay. So you are heading to the legendary Lochsa River. It’s time to get fired up.
The Lochsa is a designated Wild and Scenic river in north central Idaho. It’s a free-flowing (undammed) river, and in the early spring offers some of the best whitewater in the world. The river is cold, and a typical spring day on the Lochsa presents a mixture of rain, sleet, snow, and maybe a spot of sun if you’re lucky. With these thoughts swirling through your head like foam in an eddy, it’s essential that you be prepared for the adventure. We are here to help.
Before the Trip
Gas. The Lochsa is located in the middle of nowhere. There is no gas between the Lochsa Lodge and Kooskia, ID. Fill up your gas tank in Lolo, MT or Kooskia, ID.
Food. If you plan on camping or running the river, you have to do your grocery shopping before you arrive in Lowell, ID. It’s a great idea to bring some pre- and post-trip snacks. There is also a great café in Lowell called Ryan’s Wilderness Inn.
Beer. If you think you have brought enough, double it. You can always bring surplus back home. Don’t short -change yourself here.
Yourself. You need to be a proactive self-rescuer and a willing paddler on the Lochsa River.
Camping comforts. If you’re spending the night in the Lochsa corridor (and we strongly suggest you do!), don’t forget the creature comforts you need to deck out your campsite: firewood, coffee, French press, camp chairs, pop-up tent/tarp, yard games (like corn hole or horseshoes), rain gear, and warm, dry layers.
During the Trip
Gear. Bring Capilene, merino wool, or polypro to wear underneath your wetsuit. Make sure your layers aren’t too bulky, as thick, bunched-up material will not be comfortable or keep you as warm under your wetsuit.
Camera/Go Pro. If you want Go Pro footage, bring a mount for our helmets. And you’ll want to make sure your selfie game is strong.
Snacks. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
After the Trip
Warm/Dry Clothes. There is nothing more comfortable than being warm and cozy after being on the river all day. Add a nice warm hat to your post-river kit, as well.
Extra Cash. When you’re in the middle of nowhere, cash is king. Paper bills can be used for a trade, tip, or gambling at river camp yard games.
Water/Beer. Bask in the glory of the Lochsa River: make sure you drink some water before having a beer!