Montana's second largest city, sits at the confluence of three rivers—the Bitterroot, Clark Fork, and Blackfoot—and enjoys views of five distinct mountain ranges. Combined, these spaces make for some incomparable opportunities to immerse your kids “in a sea of wilderness even if you don’t have a car,” says writer Teresa Ponikvar, who went to college in the town. The downtown area is bike-friendly, and the Clark Fork Riverfront Trail is an ideal spot to introduce your young one to a bike; most of the trail is flat and wide. Rattlesnake National Recreation Area in the Lolo National Forest is so close to downtown that the city bus will drop you and your little one off at the park’s entrance.
Many sports and activities in Missoula are pegged to the seasons, with river rafting and fishing on one of more than 200 rivers and streams in the summer and cross-country skiing and other snow sports in the winter. For smaller kids or busier days, there are also plenty of park and rec spaces in the city proper, including McCormick Park, which offers free bike rentals in the summer and ice skating in the winter, as well as a skate park and ropes course.
With critters from mink to mule deer roaming the nearby woods, Missoula gives parents plenty of opportunities to teach kids respect for wildlife. “You know how in most places if you see the neighbors all gathered on the corner, it's usually because there's been a fire or a robbery or a heart attack?” she says. “In Missoula, it's usually because there's a wild animal doing something cool.”
The average home price in Missoula is about $200,000; rentals can be had for under $700.