Few things get my heart racing more than the prospect of diving headfirst into a destination known for its outdoor adventures and unequaled natural beauty. What really moves me and speaks to my soul is immersing myself in the natural world. And Missoula exudes natural splendors and adventures in spades! With everything from gold and gem mining to river surfing to snowshoeing in the winter, where does one begin to plan their explorations?
With the experts of course! With only a few days to take on Missoula and all its glory, I needed help to narrow my focus, ensuring I made the most of my time in Missoula’s backyard.
Montana River Guides
Under the guidance of Montana River Guides, we slipped our bright yellow raft in the frigid emerald water of the Clark Fork River beneath the looming shadow of the Cyr Bridge. Our expert guide and whitewater rescuer, Leon, used the first few calm minutes of our float to brief us on the river and upcoming rapids.
Ranging between Class II to Class IV and with names like Boat Eater, Roller Coaster, and Tumbleweed we needed all the prepping available. Within minutes the soft roar of The Shelf and Potter’s Plunge reverberated off the steep cliffs of Alberton’s Gorge.
The rapids carving their way through “The Gorge”, just 30 minutes west of Missoula, reign supreme as Montana’s premium whitewater run. And since 1995 Montana River Guides have not only been guiding on these waters but also teaching swift water rescue courses. That means no one knows these waters better or more intimately.
In between rapids, rafters float serenely through sheer cliffs carved by glaciers while watching for eagles, osprey, river otters, beaver and other wildlife inhabiting the river and surrounding forest. After several hours of floating and running legendary rapids like Cliffside and Fang, we stepped out of the crystalline waters completely soaked but also completely stoked.
While we opted for the adrenaline-filled half-day whitewater rafting trip, Montana River Guides offers several more options. Ranging from relaxing to heart-pounding, other options include standup paddleboarding, scenic floats, kayaking, and riverboarding.
Grizzly Hackle Fly
When you visit one of the prime trout fishing destinations in the world, you want one of the best outfitters and guiding services in the nation. You want the pros at Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop.
Not only do they offer quality rods, reels, flys, and waders but they offer unparalleled knowledge along with unsurpassed customer service. Whether you are a complete novice or a seasoned professional, they provide assistance, instruction, and encouragement every step of the way.
Having never seen a fly rod in my life much less touched one, my stint as a fly fisher could have easily turned into a mess of tangled lines and soggy clothes. Fortunately, Sam, my guide and consummate pep-talker, had my back.
We slipped into the placid stretch of the Clark Fork winding its way through the middle of Missoula. In no time flat, Sam had us casting our stonefly nymphs and mending the lines effortlessly. While he paddled and steered, we bounced between banks in search of troat while the midday sun glinted off the rippling surface of the river.
After only a couple hours on the water, we had managed to land several trout and kindle my everlasting love of flyfishing.
To truly experience the rugged wildness of Montana, one must set out into the wilderness like the natives and pioneers. On horseback. And just like in the days of the Wild West, horses were more than just mounts. They were vital partners and family.
And the herd over at Dunrovin Ranch, just 8 miles outside of Missoula, remains precisely that. Each of the horses, ponies, and donkeys provide an essential service both to each other and guests visiting the ranch. Luckily, guests get plenty of opportunities to meet the herd through numerous activities such as River and Ranch rides, half-day and full-day rides, Historical rides, riding lessons and corral lessons.
We opted for the Dunrovin’s most popular River and Ranch Ride. In the safety of the corral, we introduced ourselves to our mounts while covering the basics of horsemanship. After mounting Razz, my handsome partner for the day, we left the dust of the corral behind and headed out into swaying grasses of the fields. Surefooted and steady, our horses sashayed along the trail toward the Bitterroot River.
River Riders would ford the river and follow the trail as it continues onto adjacent public lands and follows the river upstream into the shelter of the forest, and across again into open meadows. Before heading back toward the ranch the ride rounds off with a short up-hill trek for views of the Heavenly Twins, the Bitterroot, Ch-paa-qn Peak, the Rattlesnake Wilderness and a small part of the Lewis and Clark Trail.
We Ranch Riders meander alongside the Bitterroot River and through a beautiful wetland meadow dotted with willow bushes and apple trees. After a couple of hours in the saddle, we sauntered back into the corral in time from a picnic lunch and fresh-picked apples.
From scaling mountains to leisurely tubing the Clark Fork in summer, there’s still so much left to experience! Fortunately, the dedicated and enthusiastic local guides ensure visitors like me can always come back and explore Missoula’s backyard like a pro!