Photo: Kayakers on a river

Local kayakers wait their turn to surf Brennan's Wave on the Clark Fork River, which runs through downtown Missoula.

Photograph by Woods Wheatcroft

Pop. 67,165
GPS: 46°52'N 114°01'W

An eclectic college town and Rocky Mountain retreat: World-class hiking, skiing, biking, and white-water paddling are all within minutes of town. Find your own options along miles of trails in mammoth Lolo National Forest. Also a mountain-bike-touring hotbed, Missoula is home to Adventure Cycling Association (www.adventurecycling.org), which maps and maintains multiple cross-country road-bike routes. Glacier's three hours away and Yellowstone's about five, and the town is a mecca for fly-fishermen, where brook and rainbow trout thrive in the Rock Creek, Bitterroot, Clark Fork, and Blackfoot Rivers, all within a short drive of town.

PLAY

You cannot come to Missoula and not go mountain biking. There are countless trails to choose from (check out a great listing here), but for starters our pick is the Sam Braxton National Recreation Trail, a 3.4-mile (5.5-kilometer) beginner route. If you really want to see what Missoula has to offer, take on the Sheep Mountain trail, a remote 18.7-mile (30.1-kilometer) stretch across high ridgelines to the highest peaks in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area. Missoula Bicycle Works can outfit you with a bike ($25 a day; www.missoulabicycleworks.com).

EAT

The Keep Restaurant has a cozy stone fireplace, panoramic views of the Missoula Valley, and a delicious grilled buffalo steak topped with Gorgonzola butter (www.thekeeprestaurant.com).

SLEEP

Goldsmith's Bed and Breakfast is a gorgeous 1911 brick mansion right on the banks of the Clark Fork River (doubles from $89; www.goldsmithsinn.com).

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