Anyone who gets into a car in Missoula and heads out for work, shopping or appointments will probably cross over Missoula’s treasured Clark Fork River at least once, and sometimes four or six — or more— times in a single day.
A suggestion: Carve out an hour or two in the next few weeks to see the river on foot and up close, taking advantage of the riverfront trail system that runs along the Clark Fork on both sides. Thanks to yesteryear’s community leaders, there’s a wide, flat, easy-to-access, public, welcoming path for walking, biking and running.
This is an especially good time to enjoy the trail and the Clark Fork, and here’s why:
• The ice has melted off the paths.
• There are fewer people out and about, so the path isn’t as crowded as it will be in just a month or two.
• Trees are leafless, which clears the view to the bank and water.
• Birds are abundant and easy to see as they perch on a bare branch.
• If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the “whoosh” of the water as ducks land on the river.
There’s no need to make it difficult. Here’s a suggested easy outing — right to the heart of Missoula — that will take less than two hours, and one of those hours is for a meal:
• First, eat along the Hip Strip.
• Then walk east on Fourth Street (alongside the Missoulian) to encounter the Water-Wise Garden, the Clark Fork Native Prairie planting zone, John H. Toole Riverfront Park (named after a former mayor), historical plaques that give a snapshot of Missoula’s past, and a wonderful view of the river.
• Keep walking east on the path.
• Cross over the footbridge that runs under the Madison Street Bridge, toward the back of the DoubleTree-Edgewater Hotel.
• Turn west along the riverfront path toward downtown, meandering through Kiwanis and Bess Reed Parks, eyeing the backside of the new student-housing building (interesting shape!) and enjoy “Returnings,” the 1989 forged-steel fish sculpture by Bigfork artist and blacksmith Jeffrey Funk.
• Climb the stairs (about 30 of them) up to the Higgins Bridge.
• Head back to your starting spot on the Hip Strip.
Total walk is less than 2 miles (1.6 miles, according to a cell phone tracker) and takes about 45 minutes (according to the pace set by a slowpoke corgi and her short-legged owner). You’ll wonder why you haven’t done it before.
The Hip Strip has lots of eateries, although some don’t serve breakfast. One that does has been a Missoula favorite since it opened in 2002: The Hob Nob Café, at 531 S. Higgins Ave. It’s casual, small and popular — the line was 10 deep at noon this past Saturday, and tables were full. Worth the wait, though.
On weekends, breakfast is served all day (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) but lunch is available too, starting at 11. Weekday hours are 7 a.m. to noon for breakfast, 11 a.m. to the 4 p.m. closing time for lunch.
The breakfast menu has something for every taste, appetite and pocketbook. The basic breakfast — two eggs, any style, hash browns and toast — is just $5.75; a fried-egg sandwich is $4.50. Other offerings include:
• The hearty, south-of-the-border migas, made with tortillas, scrambled eggs and black-bean veggie burger, topped with cheese, salsa and sour cream ($8).
• Mom’s Favorite Veggie Browns, which are hash browns, seasoned veggies, cheese, salsa and sour cream ($7.50 for the large serving).
• Corned beef hash, made with the Hob Nob’s own corned beef and cooked with onions and potatoes, then topped with eggs and served with toast ($8.50).
• French toast, veggie burritos, sourdough pancakes and granola-yogurt parfaits, all for under $8.
Lunch fare is hearty too. A dozen sandwiches are offered, and all come with a choice of soup, green salad, sweet potato fries or shoestring fries. A sampling:
• A seared-ahi BLT with a wasabi mayo.
• A wild sockeye salmon sandwich that mixes the salmon with bulgur wheat, parsley, spices and red bell pepper.
• A burger, made with Bitterroot Valley beef.
• A grilled corned beef sandwich topped with Swiss cheese.
• Grilled chicken sandwiches, one topped with avocado, Gorgonzola and barbecue sauce and another made with mango and Swiss cheese.
• The Hob Nob’s black-bean veggie Tex-Mex burger, with chipotle sour cream, or a falafel sandwich, made with veggie burger, carrot relish, feta and cilantro sour cream.
Sandwiches run $7 to $9.75. For lighter appetites, a bowl of soup is just $3.25.
Of course, there are lots of ways to get to the riverfront trails, so find your own access point and favorite route. Every season brings a new discovery, no matter where you start or end up.