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Montana Birding and Nature Trail
Discover the Nature of Montana...

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Riverfront Trail and the Montana Natural History Center

Where nature is the classroom

Delve into the nature of Montana at the Montana Natural History Center before setting out along the Riverfront Trail where wildlife and people mix in downtown Missoula.

 
Riverfront Trail and the Montana Natural History Center

Field Notes

A walk along the Clark Fork will reward you with more than views of downtown Missoula. In spring and summer, you'll see Osprey nesting on specially built platforms, Belted Kingfisher perched on cottonwood branches, Red-winged Blackbirds defending their willow islands from other males. Be sure to look beneath the bridges that cross the river. Colonies of nesting Cliff Swallows build their adobe nests under the Orange Street, Madison Avenue and Higgins Street bridges. In the evenings, you'll see them flying above the river hunting for aerial insects. You can see other aerial acrobats downtown; Violet-green Swallows nesting in holes in buildings and Vaux's Swifts nesting in abandon chimneys.

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Conservation

Cottonwood, willow, red-osier dogwood thrive along the river corridor. Be sure to stop along the trail to explore Toole Park's Native Prairie Restoration Area at Toole Park, which is filled with bluebunch wheatgrass, rough fescue, yarrow, and rabbitbrush. A group of dedicated volunteers, led by local botanist John Pierce, have spent countless hours planting and weeding this unique slice of prairie in the city. Nearby is the Waterwise Garden, just east of the Higgins Street Bridge, which is a great place to learn about plants native to Montana that require less watering than exotic species and support more butterflies and other native insect pollinators.

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Cultural Link

There are a number of interpretive signs along the Riverfront Trail that describe historic buildings in Missoula and the early history of the area. Of particular significance is the old Milwaukee Railroad Depot located just west of the Higgins Street Bridge. Now home to the national headquarters of the Boone and Crockett Club, the Depot, built in 1910 and designed by J.A. Lindstrand, is one of the finest architectural examples of a railroad station in Montana. The Riverfront Trail runs along the Milwaukee railroad grade.

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Viewing Tip

The Riverfront trails extend west of downtown Missoula into Hellgate Canyon, east of town along the Kim Williams Trail. You can cross the river on any one of the three street bridges across the Clark Fork within this zone - the Orange Street, Higgins Avenue and Madison Street bridges. There are also three footbridges: one off Van Buren Street, just north of the University of Montana campus, one under the Madison Street Bridge and another off California Street.

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Helpful Hint

The Montana Natural History Center is open to the public Tues-Fri., 10:00 to 5:00. Be sure to check out the natural history exhibits and the Saturday Discover field trips. The Riverfront trail is popular with bikers, runners and dog walkers.

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Getting There

From west Broadway Avenue, turn south on Orange Street. Just after the Orange Street Bridge turn right on 3rd Street, go two blocks then right on Hickory Street. The Montana Natural History Center is at 120 Hickory Street.

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Contact

Montana Natural History Center
120 Hickory Street
Missoula, MT 59801
406-327-0405
www.montananaturalist.org

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Facilities

Parking, restrooms, biking, walking, fishing.

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Species of Note

  • Great Blue Heron
  • Bald Eagle
  • Osprey
  • Cliff Swallow
  • Violet-green swallow
  • Cordilleran Flycatcher
  • Yellow Warbler
  • beaver
  • milbert's tortoiseshell butterfly
  • native prairie restoration garden
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