Montana : Safety by City
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The secret is out about Missoula, Montana.
If you visit here, you might end up moving here.
This mountain wonderland is a mixture of everything you want in an outdoor lifestyle while having a funky, eclectic downtown area brimming with new restaurants and boutiques.
What was once a mountain escape for busy city slickers is turning into a population boom and housing chaos as prices surge and demand swells.
“We’re calling it a ‘Zoom’ market.”
Platforms like Zoom and others allow people to work from anywhere so they’re coming from places like Washington, Oregon, California, and even Colorado,” Brian Wahlberg, a real estate agent, told the Missoula Current in 2021.
This is the home of the movie “The River Runs Through It”, but a lesser-known fact is the movie wasn’t shot in Missoula.
It was done in central Montana.
Technically, three rivers run through it in Missoula, where fishing, boating, and water activities abound in all seasons.
Nestled in the northern Rockies, this is an escape to a paradise you can’t find anywhere else.
It’s not all snow-capped perfection.
There is an underbelly of crime here that travelers need to be aware of before heading for the hills.
Warnings & Dangers in Missoula
OVERALL RISK: MEDIUM
There's a medium risk in Missoula. There's a drug problem in this town, fueling violent crime rates. There's the danger of wandering into unknown and wild territory. There's rough winter weather.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
There's low risk when taking a taxi or rideshare in Missoula. There are two taxi services and Uber and Lyft are available. Two shuttle services can take you to and from ski resorts or popular outdoor destinations.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
There's a low risk for pickpockets in Missoula. The robbery rates are down from 2018. There are other crime factors like aggravated assault and homicide that cause safety concerns and the Missoula Police Department is taking steps to address those issues.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
There's a medium risk of natural disasters given the long, cold, snowy winters and the wildfire potential. The website Hazard Ready lists the biggest concerns for natural disasters at any given address. Winter blizzards could shut down the city in a worst-case scenario, and nearby wildfires could impact air quality. There is a low chance of a tornado, but the area can get garden-variety thunderstorms in spring and summer.
MUGGING RISK: MEDIUM
There's a medium risk of being mugged in Missoula. With a lower robbery rate, but growing violent crimes, it's best not to fight with your life for one of your belongings.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
There's a low risk of terrorism in Missoula with no hard targets nearby. Montana has made news headlines the past few decades with several militia groups like the Montana Freemen, Project 7 Militia, and the Militia of Montana, but those don't have an impact on tourists in Missoula.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
Missoula gets a low risk of scams. The Montana Department of Justice lists the most common scams, and they are no different than those happening nationwide.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: MEDIUM
There's a medium risk for women traveling to Missoula. Crime statistics show rapes were down 43%, but that leaves 60 rapes reported. The biggest concern for women is domestic violence, and the city faced allegations by the Justice Department in 2014 that crimes against females were not treated with the tenacity of other crimes nor were officers trained to handle the delicate nuances of the crime. That started a more proactive approach toward the way officers handle crimes and how courts push them through the system.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
There's low risk when it comes to using tap water in Missoula. The 2021 Annual Water Quality Report showed the drinking water is at or above state and federal requirements.
Safest Places to Visit in Missoula
The Heart of Missoula is the name of the downtown neighborhood on the north side of the Clark Fork River.
There are plenty of hotels, restaurants, boutiques, and music venues in this vibrant part of the city.
There is also a growing homeless population that could lead to panhandling on the street.
With the surge in population came a surge in transients.
It’s not an immediate safety risk, but something to be aware of when you venture through an otherwise picturesque area.
River Travel Magazine rated Missoula the “Best Riverfront Community” in America and you can bet police and community leaders want to keep it that way, so they keep a close eye on crime near the water.
Some of the transients gather under a bridge near the downtown area, so it’s best to stay on the walkways during the day.
Across the river is the University of Montana with its police department monitoring safety.
Further south, the Lewis & Clark neighborhood is a gateway to several trailheads into the wilderness.
There are several casinos in Missoula and the legal gambling age is 18 in Montana, a rare break from the traditional 21-year-old rule most states have.
Places to Avoid in Missoula
The northern part of town has the highest crime rates, and chances of being a victim could go up to one in 13.
The southwest side of town is safer but isn’t near the tourism corridor of downtown.
There’s a meth problem in Missoula and it doesn’t stop at a certain neighborhood line.
When visiting, it’s best to avoid any situation that might involve someone acting erratically as they might be using the drug.
The Missoula Police Department believes the increase in violent crime across the city is mainly due to this growing problem.
Not only is a drug task force working to stop the drug pipeline, but they are also reorganizing the courts to better help addicts recover while paying their debt to society.
If you are an outdoorsy type, be careful when going into the wilderness alone and bring a buddy or guide if you can.
Bears and other wildlife pose a risk to tourists and the harsh winter conditions can easily knock down the strongest hiker.
Elevations go up quickly in this mountain area, which can impact breathing and lung capacity quickly.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Missoula
- Be “Bear Aware” when enjoying the outdoors. I’ve long joked that if I was ever a victim of a bear attack, my last words were certainly, “Who’s a good bear? You aren’t so tough, are you?” Bears are as adorable as they are dangerous and they call the Missoula mountains home. You might spot Grizzley or Black bears in this region. Never approach or chase a bear or bear cub. If you do cross paths with one, back away slowly and calmly. Make yourself as “big” as possible by raising your arms overhead and making loud noises. You can also pick up some bear spray at a local store just to be safe.
- The summer season is pretty mild in Missoula, but winters are long, cold, and snowy. The average low from December – March doesn’t even get above freezing. The high temperatures might get into the upper 40’s, but there are about 37 inches of snow that fall each year. It’s this winter season that drives much of the skiing, snowshoeing, and winter hunting activities, but you’re going to need to pack lots of warm layers from head to toe.
- From city officials to social media chatter, the transient problem of downtown is getting attention. Leaders have tried to organize areas for the homeless to live in, with pushback that encourages more homeless to come. If there isn’t a place to stay, the homeless can clutter streets and walkways. It’s best to ignore panhandling and make a donation to a local homeless charity if you want to help.
- Once the meth problem is solved in this town, there’s a good chance violent crime will go back down too. Another reason not to hand out donations is that you don’t want to fuel the drug problem. Stay away from any individuals or situations that seem sketchy.
- The population boom in Missoula wasn’t planned, so the streets didn’t keep up. This means more traffic that Missoulans are used to and that leads to more accidents. City leaders are working in every neighborhood to cut back on speeding and accidents, but do your part by keeping both hands on the wheel and laser-focused attention on the road when driving.
- Despite the surrounding mountains, bicyclists love the flat roads inside the city of Missoula. About 5% of people commute to work on a bike. Even the bike paths get plowed when it snows. The city offers a bicycle road map and parking options. This is a great way to see the city, but be sure to follow all the traffic safety laws.
- With so many river activities, you might be tempted to hop in without thinking about safety. Look for Missoula River Ambassadors dressed in bright shirts around the river. They will help you make safe, smart, and fun decisions about how to tackle these historic and award-winning rivers. Bring a bag for your trash and always wear water shoes to protect your feet from rocks and debris.
- If you are heading for a hike, prepare for safety first. Know the difficulty level of your chosen path and the elevation change. Hike with a friend if you can and don’t go off the trail path. Wear sturdy shoes that protect your ankles. Bring emergency beacons in case you get hurt or lost.
- Missoula is a college town, a microbrew paradise, and bustling with nightlife, which leads to too many DUI arrests. Missoula Police responded to more than 400 calls for drinking and driving in 2020. There are plenty of rideshare opportunities if you’ve had too much to drink. The organization Drive Safe Missoula is also working to crack down on Driving Under the Influence of Technology, which is a fancier way to say “distracted driving.”
- You can stay safe from city dangers by visiting one of the many nearby Ghost Towns. These were once bustling with people searching for gold and gems and now sit empty with their own ghost stories to tell. Some say at Garnet Ghost Town you can still hear music from saloons shuttered more than 100 years ago.
So... How Safe Is Missoula Really?
Missoula is going through a population boom it might not have been ready to handle.
With more people moving to the community, driving up home prices and the cost of living, it’s pushing out some lower and middle-class people who can no longer afford to live there.
That could be one reason the homeless population continues to grow and the city continues to find places to house them.
There’s a battle against meth on the streets of Missoula.
The drug is driving up violent crime rates and the police are struggling to keep up with the problem.
Police and community leaders are meeting probably as you read this to continue to find new and innovative ways to stop the drugs.
In 2020, more than 12 pounds of meth were seized by officers, as well as 94 grams of heroin, and 5 illegal firearms.
You could argue that with a population increase of 10% in the past decade, the city must be safe for so many people to make a move, but with any growth comes blight.
If you stay in the tourist areas, use common sense safety when walking through town or in the mountains, this should be the safe getaway you’ve been needing.
It helps to know this isn’t one of those “leave your door unlocked at night” communities, so you can best practice your safety measures.
How Does Missoula Compare?
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Getting into the United States with a visa gets you into Montana. If you are a U.S. Citizen, you might want to bring along a passport if you get inspired to drive 5 hours north to Canada.
The American dollar is the currency of this town. Be sure to bring credit cards and some cash to spend at a variety of shops or tourist destinations. Book ahead if you can to save yourself from tracking receipts and the change as you go.
In the winter, pack warm winter clothes. Then pack more warm winter clothes. It gets cold here. Blizzards can whip with intense winds shoving the wind chill down to below zero. Warm, waterproof boots are necessary for winter. Summer temperatures can get into the 80's or 90's, but when the sun goes down it can get chilly again. You'll want a jacket and jeans year-round.
Missoula Montana Airport is the closest option. There aren't larger cities nearby to fly into. The airport has non-stop flights to 16 cities in the country. The next closest city is Spokane and that airport is three hours west through the mountains.
The "wild" part of the wilderness can quickly impact travel plans with winter or spring snow storms or summer wildfires that detour flights. It's best to have travel insurance, so you know Missoula will always be there when it's safer to fly.
Missoula Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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Montana - Safety by City