Missoula, Montana at a Glance
Location: Western Montana
Access: In western Montana on Interstate 95 and U.S. highways 12 and 93; Missoula International Airport
Major Meeting Spaces: University of Montana University Center, Hilton Garden Inn, Holiday Inn Missoula Downtown and DoubleTree by Hilton Missoula Edgewater
Hotel Rooms: 3,400
Off-Site Venues: The Wilma, Caras Park, Missoula Children’s/Community Theater, The Barn on Mullan
It’s only a modest exaggeration to say there are more reasons to meet in Missoula than there are residents of Montana’s second-largest city. The mountains, rivers and vistas add up quickly, and good air service, nice meeting hotels and notable off-site venues complement them.
“Missoula has a fun, urban feeling because of the youthful vibrancy of the University of Montana,” said Emily Rolston, Destination Missoula’s group sales manager.
“Urban,” of course, is relative in Montana. Missoula’s population is 75,000 — only 100,000 in the metro region — the trophy-trout Clark Fork River flows right through town, and mountains rise to the sky.
Missoula is in a sweet spot on Interstate 90 in the northern Rocky Mountains, minutes from Idaho, four hours from Yellowstone National Park and less than three hours from Glacier National Park. Six major carriers serve Missoula International Airport, and completion of a new terminal is expected next spring.
“We have all sorts of outdoor diversions. That’s what people think of in Montana,” Rolston said, noting that the city’s riverfront trail system is an amenity that meeting attendees can enjoy easily.
The trail on both sides of the river is flat, paved and inviting. From downtown to the University of Montana campus is about 1.5 miles, and the surface changes to gravel. From campus, you can claim some Missoula bragging rights by hiking the steep, three-quarter-mile climb to the M, a substantial white marker on Mount Sentinel that’s visible for miles.
The walk to the M has 11 switchbacks and gains 620 feet. If you’re really energetic and don’t have a meeting session right away, you can continue to the top of Mount Sentinel for views of Hellgate Canyon and Mount Jumbo.
For nonclimbers, the trail’s treat is viewing Brennan’s Wave, a $300,000 engineered wave on the Clark Fork River, where rafters, kayakers and even surfers play.
Most Missoula meetings use three hotels and a university facility, and a nearby resort attracts executive retreats.
For a return-to-college feel, the University of Montana’s University Center has 16 meeting rooms, including a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, a 288-seat theater and a boardroom. Just blocks apart downtown are the Holiday Inn Missoula, with 198 guest rooms and 20,000 square feet of meeting space, and the DoubleTree Missoula Edgewater, with 171 guest rooms and 9,000 square feet of meeting space.
The Hilton Garden Inn is the largest in terms of meeting space with 22,000 square feet. It has 146 guest rooms and 15 meeting rooms. Its largest space is 13,195 square feet.
Executive meetings can target the Resort at Paws Up, where size is measured in acres, as in 37,000 wilderness acres, including 10 miles of the Blackfoot River of “A River Runs Through It” fame. Event facilities include the Bull Barn — an authentic cattle barn converted into a conference center and venue — and the Saddle Club, a riding area suitable for special events.
The Wilma, a theater treasure built in 1921, is a Missoula landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. New owners in 2015 restored the 1,400-seat venue to its past glory, and it is a memorable space for an off-site event. If you don’t book the venue for your own events, you may find a national touring act there whose performance complements your meeting.
The Missoula Children’s Theater Center for the Performing Arts is another arts-oriented event location, although smaller. Its theater seats 302, and its lobby capacity is 350. It also has a community room that can seat 180 auditorium-style, a conference room and a meeting room.
Downtown’s Caras Park includes the rentable Caras Park Pavilion, a magnet for the eyes, with its tentlike, white-peaked roof. It can accommodate a dinner party for 150, and river entertainment is mere feet away at Brennan’s Wave.
Just six miles from downtown, the Barn on Mullan is a banquet or reception venue with a famous Montana big-sky view. Mountains surround you, and you have a 360-degree panoramic view.
After the Meeting
Despite the nearness of Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, many attractions can divert you much closer to Missoula.
The southern tip of Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake in the West, is just 70 miles north. The lake is popular with anglers — lake trout, whitefish, bass and more — and sailboats’ colorful sails against mountain backdrops offer pretty images.
Even closer is the National Bison Range, a tract of almost 19,000 acres, with driving routes to view bison, many of which are descended from a herd started by Native Americans in the 1800s to preserve the species. Whitetail and mule deer, pronghorn antelopes, bighorn sheep and black bears can also be seen, and birding is excellent.
For a ghostly but not spooky experience, head to Garnet, hailed as Montana’s most intact ghost town. The boom-and-bust mining town, whose population peaked at almost 1,000, went bust for the last time and now is preserved in a state of “arrested decay.” More than 20 buildings survive, telling ghost stories of hopes and dreams that mostly didn’t come true.