Destination Missoula’s blog writer, not-so-newcomer-anymore Kathleen Goodwin, first wrote “A Newcomer’s Guide To Missoula” last August, documenting her first experiences in town after living here for only one week. Now, having spent all four seasons in Montana, Kathleen is back to share her updated take on Missoula, the place she now calls home.
Written by Kathleen Goodwin
When I first arrived in Missoula, I knew that I had landed some place special. Initially, the quality of the community stood out to me the most: from the markets to the focus on outdoor recreation to the kindness of the people, Missoula was an easy place to be, and that made me want to stay. Now that I have spent all four seasons living in Montana, I reflect back on that first article I wrote for Destination Missoula about my first week in town. I am certainly still a newcomer to Missoula still compared with the folks who have lived here for years or even generations, but I do not feel like a newcomer anymore because the community embraced me so quickly. I go to the grocery store and see people that I met at the community garden or through mutual friends. People are always friendly and willing to lend a helping hand without question. And that is the beauty of Missoula—everyone is welcome to be themselves and everyone is accepted for exactly who they are.
Bowman Lake in Glacier National Park after a three day backpacking excursion with friends.
I arrived in Missoula in August and knew that I had found myself somewhere that would be hard to ever want to leave. Missoula is bustling with activity, and I tried to immerse myself in that activity immediately. I rode my bike around town on the Riverfront Trail to the all (and I do mean all) of the breweries. I ate at the food trucks. I tried Big Dipper and Sweet Peaks (and the jury is out on which one I loved more: more taste tests are needed)! I listened to live music at the River City Roots Festival. I went to the Saturday markets every weekend. I floated in the river. I went on a backpacking trip in Glacier National Park with friends. I went on hikes up Waterworks and Mount Jumbo. I really took in all that Missoula had to offer before the weather started to turn into fall. It wasn’t long before I started calling the mountains surrounding town by name and sharing stories of my time from the top. Missoula is truly an outdoor enthusiasts haven, and the energy and passion for outdoor adventure is contagious.
My adventure dog Sadie quickly became the unofficial mascot for Destination Missoula, posing for pictures in the sun and snow and here on Rattlesnake creek in the perfect fall colors.
There is perhaps not a more beautiful sight in all of Missoula than watching the leaves change colors in the fall. I had seen pictures, but nothing prepared me for the festival of color that fall brings to the valley. We are talking unbelievable yellows and oranges, and not just in the mountains. The streets are lined with changing trees, and the hillsides are like an artist’s palette. Fall also brought new color to the farmers markets, with the multi-colored corn, leafy greens, and late season crops. In September I traded out my shorts for my jeans and my light cardigans for my down jacket, broke out my beanie, and put on my boots (which remained my go-to footwear until about March). Fall brought beautiful hikes and lots of times at Western Cider enjoying harvest parties and yummy local ciders. I visited natural hot springs and savored local cuisines at Top Hat and Scotty’s Table. I fell in love with (and became border-line obsessed with) the hot bar at the Good Food store, too. People ask me what season they should visit, and I think fall might be the winner. Fall is cool enough to bundle under a blanket around a campfire at night but still warm enough to hit the trails, and the town is a little quieter, it moves a little slower, and you can tell that everyone is settling in for the cold season that is to come.
The cloud formations in winter are always beautiful. A photo taken on the top of Waterworks Hill in between two snowstorms in early December.
I was the most nervous about living in Montana in the winter. Growing up in the Southeast, “winter” means 40-degree days with some highs in the 70s sprinkled in and the occasional ice-rain storm. After spending the winter in Montana, I am proud to say that I am actually looking forward to the next one. Yes, it is cold. And yes, driving can be a slow-moving endeavor (especially for someone who’s never had to drive in snow before), but my-oh-my, Missoula in winter is pure magic. The hillsides are covered in white, it stays just cold enough for fresh snow to sit perfectly on the evergreen tree branches, and the sunsets are full of vibrant pinks and blues. The days are shorter in the winter, which means time outside is even more special. I traded in my hiking boots for a pair of Yak Tracks and would spend as much time as I could up in the north hills or the Rattlesnake area. I was unable to try cross-country skiing, but it is something that I cannot wait to try this upcoming winter. Missoulians are driven indoors to enjoy craft brews or local music which means that there is an even-more-cozy community feel than usual, and there is something really special about watching the snow fall on the streets of downtown Missoula, full of people, on a First Friday Gallery night. The town does not slow down in the winter, either which I grew to appreciate. Nothing was cancelled for weather. People would bundle up and take to town regardless of the weather, and I grew to find comfort in the snow that would fall almost every day. The river froze over almost entirely, which was a really cool sight to see, and as the days started to turn into spring, I found myself happy to see the sunshine but already missing the beauty of winter in Montana.
The hills are alive with color in the springtime! A photo taken on the way up Mount Jumbo in May.
They say summer in Montana is the best, but personally, I am in love with spring. The signs of springtime come slowly, and then all at once. I was standing on a trail when I heard a gaggle of geese squawking overhead, and I broke into a full grin. It was a cold and cloudy day in early March, but spring was certainly on the way. I’ve always loved the song “Here Comes the Sun,” but it took on a whole new meaning as the white hillsides slowly started to turn green and then became freckled with wildflowers. They days begin to grow longer, and suddenly a post-work hike was totally realistic. The sun stays out until past 9 o’clock at night, and with great excitement I brought out my warm-weather wardrobe. Springtime brings the start of the markets and the beginning of growing season, which means lots of delicious mornings eating Waffle Brie sandwiches and picking out tomato plants while browsing artisan made jams and honeys. The air is crisp, the mountains are stunningly green, and the growing days means more time the glorious sunshine. The anticipation for summer builds, but for me personally, spring is a magical time. The weather is perfect and a slight chill remains in the air at night, but that makes for enjoyable 70-degree days in the bright sunshine. Patios are packed, and people are out and about on the streets in their wide-brimmed hats and shorts. I went camping and foraging for morel mushrooms and started hanging my laundry outside to dry again. Springtime brings brewfests and outdoor concerts and excitement for months of long, warm days in the sunshine.
Moral of this story is, there is no bad time to be in Missoula. And there is no bad way to spend your time in Missoula. If you are into shopping, Missoula is the place for you with its bustling downtown districts and wide variety of shops at Southgate Mall. If you like music, Missoula is the place for you with its impressive concert series and local live music throughout the year. If you are a foodie, or if you love craft beverages, Missoula is the place for you. The people will embrace you and want to hear your story, and that makes Missoula an easy place to be but a hard place to leave. I consider myself very lucky that I landed in western Montana, somehow, and cannot wait to experience all the seasons again and again.