Missoula, tucked in a fertile valley and filled with students, loggers, truck drivers, and writers, is the hub of western Montana. The Missoula Valley has always been a crossroads, first for Indians, then for white settlers, and nowadays for Montana’s major highways. It remains a great focus and jumping-off point for the traveler.
The city (pop. 64,000, elev. 3,205 feet) takes its sense of confluence seriously. Practically within the city limits, the Clark Fork is joined by the Blackfoot and Bitterroot Rivers and several smaller streams.
As home to the University of Montana , Missoula is a center of learning and one of the state’s major cultural centers; it has preserved much of its historic architectural character and offers good restaurants and a full-bodied nightlife. Missoula’s nickname, the Garden City, is apt. As a locale, it’s about as temperate, fertile, and hospitable as possible in Montana.
But Missoula is more than a picturesque university town. The university and artistic population is notoriously bohemian and political, while the working core of the city is, in Montana terms, decidedly blue-collar. Depending on the perspective, Missoula is either a working-class town with a radical university imposed on it or a liberal-arts college town infiltrated by the proletariat. But the juxtaposition works: scratch a logger and find a poet.
For a traveler, Missoula is an agreeable home base for excursions into the wonders of western Montana. However, for a visitor with a little time and a taste for artistic and political ferment, Missoula can become addictive. The city’s saloons and salons  are filled with testimonials of those who planned to pass through but have yet to leave.