Missoula: Wilderness Gateway


When I was in college at the University of Montana in Missoula, I had a housemate named Tom. Tom was a wilderness fanatic like myself. We both loved exploring the wildlands that surround Missoula.

Tom had a map on the wall where he drew a circle that encompassed a hundred-mile radius around Missoula.  Tom used to declare is that Missoula was the center of the universe when it came to wilderness. We both used to exclaim how fortunate we felt to live in a community with so much wild country so close. Missoula was, we proudly proclaimed, the “Wilderness Gateway.”

And indeed, if you do the same exercise, you will find that Tom was right. Within a hundred miles you can visit the River of No Return/Frank Church Wilderness, Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, Rattlesnake Wilderness, Welcome Creek Wilderness, Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, Mission Mountain Wilderness, Bob Marshall Wilderness, Cabinet Mountain Wilderness, Lincoln Scapegoat Wilderness and Great Bear Wilderness.

And this was just the congressionally designated wilderness. If you throw in the large roadless areas that are proposed for wilderness designation—something we deemed perfectly fair—the list grows substantially.

There is the Great Burn Proposed Wilderness, Sapphire Mountains/Stony Mountain Proposed Wilderness, Blue Joint Proposed Wilderness, Allan Mountain Proposed Wilderness, Quigg Peak Proposed Wilderness, Jewel Basin Proposed Wilderness, Scotchman’s Peak Proposed Wilderness, Nevada Mountain Proposed Wilderness, Flint Creek Mountains Proposed Wilderness, Electric Peak/Little Blackfoot Meadows Proposed Wilderness, the wildlands in Glacier National Park and so on.

Well, you get my point. In terms of a strategic location with proximity to wildlands, there is no large community anywhere in the West that is so favorably located as Missoula.

 With the growing evidence that many people and businesses are choosing to live near natural areas, and this is translating into economic opportunity, it’s amazing to me that Missoula fails to capitalize on its unique geographical location. The old mantra of the three most important factors is real estate – “location, location, location” – certainly applies to Missoula.

When I attended the University of Montana, Missoula’s moniker as the “Garden City” certainly applied due to its relatively mild climate compared to the rest of Montana. However, if you were to ask people why they are relocating in Missoula, most would not name gardening as their prime motivation.

 I would venture to guess that proximity to wildlands and the activities these lands supports, from prime hunting, fishing, camping, backpacking and backcountry skiing, would rise to the top.

Isn’t it time for Missoula to reconsider its trademark and branding? Shouldn’t Missoula call itself the “Wilderness Gateway”?

Of course, if such a logo were adopted, Missoula could enhance its reputation by supporting the designation as wilderness of the many large roadless areas that surround it. From Scotchman’s Peak to Great Burn to Blue Joint to Stony Mountain, the opportunities for new significant wilderness areas within a hundred miles of town is great.

Missoula: Wilderness Gateway. Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

George Wuerthner has visited more than 400 designated wilderness areas, and published 38 books, including “Montana: Magnificient Wilderness.”


  1. monty Avatar

    Agree w/your comments. Our vast public lands represent physical freedom and space and hope. My neighbor, The Willamette NF, is on three sides of where I live. The down side is that Oregon is now the number one state for in migration for the reasons you wrote about.


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George Wuerthner