The story of Missoula began over 13,000 years ago, as an ancient glacial lake formed the luscious and enchanting Missoula Valley. Since then, numerous Native Americans, prospectors, trappers, loggers, missionaries, and train builders have been among the key players in Missoula’s recent past.
Located in Western Montana, just 45 miles from the Idaho border, Missoula’s elevation is 3,209 feet above sea level. Meriwether Lewis first visited the “hub of five great valleys” (Flathead, Frenchtown, Bitterroot, Blackfoot and Hellgate) in 1805. Soon after, fur traders and travellers would regularly stop at the site and settlers arrived in pursuit of riches after gold was discovered in Montana in the 1860s. Founded in 1860 as the Hellgate Trading Post, Missoula was renamed to its present moniker in 1866 from the Salish name for the Clark Fork River, roughly translated as “place of frozen water”. The creation of Fort Missoula in 1877 provided protection to settlers and helped stabilize the economy.
By the 1880s, the might of the Northern Pacific Railroad had helped make Missoula a marketing and logging center. The founding of the University of Montana in 1893 attracted educational, recreational, medical, and cultural growth. In 1908, the U.S. Forest Service established headquarters in the town.
Missoulians love their scenic, great outdoors, and the city offers many opportunities to ski, fish, golf, hike, or simply take in the view. When it’s time to get back from nature, concerts, sporting events, museums and fine restaurants are also plentiful pastimes.
With so much to offer its home population, the draw of the city of Missoula can’t help but attract the attention of the world. Over the years, Missoula has been recognized for many awards and accolades, such as placing number 8 in the Top 100 Places to Live (Liveability.com, 2015) and ranked in the top 5 Best Places to Raise an Outdoor kid (Outside Magazine, 2013). The Missoula Marathon was chosen as number 16 of the World’s Best Marathons (Livestrong.com, 2014), and downtown hosts one of the Best Farmers Markets in the U.S. (Tripping, 2016). Missoula also won gold status with the Bicycle Friendly America program in 2012 and was named in Urban Autumn: Beautiful Fall Foliage in Cities Around the USA (USA Today, 2016).
Recent 2017 awards include Great Places in America: Heart of Missoula (American Planning Association), Top 20 Marathons: #1 Missoula Marathon (BibRave), 25 Best Towns Ever (Outside Magazine), Top 40 Art Vibrant Communities (NCAR), 24 Coolest Towns in the USA (Matador Network), Top 10 Cities for Beer Drinkers (Smart Asset), and 20 Most Beautiful Public College Campuses in America (Thrillist).
As the second largest county in Montana, Missoula County’s population was estimated at 117,441 for 2019, reflecting a growth rate of 1.33% in the past year. Within that number, there are 47,963 separate households, with 2.31 persons per household. Of those households, 79 percent lived in the same house one year ago, proving the steady loyalty that Missoulians have for their town.
The educational reach of the University of Montana is reflected in the populace with 42.6 percent of people over 25 years old holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. This drive for scholastic success spans all ages, as 95 percent of the population are high school graduates or higher. (United States Census Bureau)