Make some memories in Missoula


(Photo by Forrest Rhinehart)

I write the dates of Fall Break into my calendar on the first day of school, just so I have the motivation to power through the first half of the semester. Now, as fall weather has begun to settle over the Wasatch Front, it’s finally on the horizon. This is my chance to unwind and get out into nature.

For me, hopping in the car for a road trip is the perfect way to spend this time. During the past two breaks from school, I have road tripped up north to Missoula, Mont.

This is a dynamic destination for a fall trip. Missoula is about an eight-hour drive north from Salt Lake City. Though this may seem long to some, it’s an easy and relaxing drive. You can stay on Interstate 15 north for almost the entire duration of the trip, until about the last hour. The route also consists of ample 80-mile per hour speed zones, which means you can hit cruise control and enjoy the journey.

The scenery along the way is beautiful: picture wide-open fields. It is a much-needed change of pace from driving around the city in the hectic commute to and from school.

The rich colors of fall greet your arrival into Montana’s autumn splendor — it feels as if you’ve entered a postcard. Missoula is similar to Salt Lake in that the city rests inside a valley and is just a few minutes away from nature.

There are lots of great spots for adventure in Missoula, and the fall weather is a great time to take advantage of these locations in the cool mid-October air. The mornings can actually get a little frosty, though, so bring a warm jacket.

The daytime temperatures are ideal for hiking, and there are plenty of awesome trails. One of the easiest to access, if you are staying in town, is the “M” trail. This is a steep switchback trail that takes you up to the letter “M” representing the University of Montana. The top of the trail gives you great views of the city, the Clark Fork River, and the college’s campus. This trail can get pretty popular, so it’s better to go during the week (and avoid it altogether on football game days).

Another popular outdoor spot close to Missoula is Lolo National Forest, home to many hiking and climbing spots. I tend to stick to the trails and enjoy some nice autumn strolls. Pattee Canyon is a great place to start. You’ll find plenty of locals and dogs on the well-maintained trail.

Even if you don’t feel like heading out into the wilderness for a hike, the town itself is extremely pleasant. There are plenty of unique shops and delicious restaurants sprinkled around downtown. Don’t miss Rockin Rudy’s, a one-of-a-kind store that sells everything from huckleberry candy canes to goofy rubber masks and drinking games. I also recommend going down the street for some ice cream from Big Dipper — it’s some of the best I’ve ever tasted, and it’s a great way to relax after a day on the trails.

If you want to get some good distance from Salt Lake and experience awesome fall scenery, consider spending a few days of your Fall Break in Missoula this year. With a perfect mixture of outdoor adventure and a vibrant downtown scene, it is well worth the eight-hour drive. You may just find yourself making it an annual fall destination.

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