Geography of Missoula County, Montana

By | April 4, 2024

Missoula County, located in western Montana, is a region renowned for its stunning natural beauty, diverse geography, and outdoor recreational opportunities. From its rugged mountains and pristine rivers to its vibrant urban centers and cultural attractions, Missoula County offers residents and visitors alike a unique blend of wilderness and civilization.

Geographical Overview:

According to Mysteryaround, Missoula County is situated in the western part of Montana, bordered by the counties of Flathead, Lake, Granite, Powell, Mineral, and Sanders. It covers an area of approximately 2,618 square miles (6,781 square kilometers) and is home to the city of Missoula, the county seat, as well as several other communities, including Lolo, Seeley Lake, and Bonner-West Riverside.


Missoula County experiences a semi-arid climate with four distinct seasons. Summers are generally warm and dry, with average high temperatures ranging from the 70s to the 80s Fahrenheit (around 21-32 degrees Celsius). Winters are cold, with average high temperatures in the 30s to 40s Fahrenheit (around -1 to 4 degrees Celsius) and average low temperatures dropping below freezing.

The region receives moderate precipitation throughout the year, with most of it falling as snow during the winter months. Snowfall is common in the mountains surrounding Missoula County, providing ample opportunities for winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing.

Mountains and Wilderness:

Missoula County is home to rugged mountain ranges, including the Bitterroot Mountains to the south and the Mission Mountains to the north. These mountainous areas offer spectacular scenery, alpine lakes, and abundant wildlife, making them popular destinations for outdoor recreation and wilderness exploration.

The Bitterroot Mountains, part of the larger Rocky Mountain range, feature jagged peaks, deep valleys, and dense forests, providing opportunities for hiking, backpacking, camping, and wildlife viewing. The Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, located within the Bitterroot Mountains, is one of the largest wilderness areas in the United States, offering pristine landscapes and remote backcountry experiences.

The Mission Mountains, located to the north of Missoula County, are known for their rugged beauty and diverse ecosystems. The Mission Mountains Wilderness, designated as a wilderness area in 1975, protects over 73,000 acres of pristine wilderness, including alpine lakes, glacial valleys, and towering peaks.

Rivers and Lakes:

Missoula County is intersected by several rivers and streams, including the Clark Fork River, the Bitterroot River, and the Blackfoot River. These waterways provide opportunities for fishing, boating, kayaking, and rafting, as well as scenic beauty and wildlife habitat.

The Clark Fork River, the largest river in western Montana, flows through the heart of Missoula County, offering opportunities for fishing, floating, and recreation. The river is known for its diverse fishery, including trout, bass, and pike, as well as its scenic beauty and recreational amenities.

In addition to rivers, Missoula County is home to several lakes and reservoirs, including Seeley Lake, Salmon Lake, and Placid Lake. These lakes provide opportunities for fishing, swimming, picnicking, and water-based recreation, as well as scenic beauty and wildlife habitat.

Urban Centers and Cultural Attractions:

Missoula County is home to the city of Missoula, a vibrant urban center known for its cultural attractions, outdoor recreation, and lively downtown scene. The city is home to the University of Montana, which offers educational opportunities and cultural events throughout the year.

Downtown Missoula features a variety of shops, restaurants, galleries, and theaters, as well as parks, trails, and public art installations. The Missoula Art Museum, located in downtown Missoula, showcases contemporary art from Montana and the Rocky Mountain region, while the Montana Museum of Art and Culture, located on the University of Montana campus, features a diverse collection of art and artifacts.

Missoula County is also known for its annual events and festivals, including the International Wildlife Film Festival, the Missoula Marathon, and the Western Montana Fair. These events celebrate the region’s natural beauty, cultural heritage, and outdoor lifestyle, bringing residents and visitors together to enjoy music, food, and entertainment.

Forests and Wilderness Areas:

Missoula County is home to vast forests and wilderness areas that provide habitat for wildlife, protect watersheds, and offer recreational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. The Lolo National Forest, located in the western part of the county, encompasses over 2 million acres of forested land, including rugged mountains, pristine lakes, and wild rivers.

The Rattlesnake Wilderness, located just north of Missoula, protects over 32,000 acres of wilderness, including rugged peaks, alpine meadows, and old-growth forests. The wilderness area offers opportunities for hiking, backpacking, and wildlife viewing, as well as solitude and natural beauty.

Other notable wilderness areas in Missoula County include the Scapegoat Wilderness, the Welcome Creek Wilderness, and the Mission Mountains Wilderness, each of which offers opportunities for outdoor recreation and wilderness exploration.

Missoula County, Montana, offers a diverse and scenic landscape characterized by its mountains, rivers, lakes, and forests. Its semi-arid climate provides four distinct seasons with ample opportunities for outdoor recreation and wilderness exploration year-round. Whether hiking in the mountains, fishing in a river, or exploring downtown Missoula, Missoula County invites residents and visitors alike to experience the natural beauty and cultural richness of western Montana.