Missoula, Montana is the second largest city in the state and one of the most picturesque metropolitan areas in the country. The University of Montana provides an academic and cultural anchor for this western Montana city. Unfortunately, Missoula lost its Amtrak service in 1979, and the only low-cost airline to the city flies directly to the southwest.
For UM students and other Missoula area residents, using a combination of Amtrak and buses is the cheapest way to travel to other parts of the country. Here are five tips / suggestions for effectively traveling to / from Missoula by land:
One: If you’re heading west to Missoula, ignore Amtrak’s recommendation to connect with the train at Whitefish. According to Amtrak’s schedule for the Empire Builder that runs between Chicago and Seattle / Portland, there is an indication that connecting service is available between Whitefish, MT and Missoula. Rimrock Stages, which is part of the Trailways system, provides the service. Unfortunately, Rimrock’s schedule doesn’t work well with Amtrak’s westbound schedule.
Whitefish’s only bus leaves at 11:35 a.m. and reaches Missoula approximately 3 and a half hours later. That works well if you come from Washington state or Idaho and the train arrives at Whitefish at 7:26 am. Not convenient if you are coming from the east and the train arrives at Whitefish at 9:16 pm. You will have to find a hotel before taking the bus home the next day.
Two: If you’re from Missoula, you shouldn’t connect to Amtrak on Whitefish in any case. The only Rimrock bus from Missoula leaves at 8:00 a.m. and arrives at Whitefish around 11:25 a.m. You’ve already missed the Empire Builder train heading east for the day. The westbound train will leave Whitefish about 10 hours later, a long wait!
Three: The best way to connect to Amtrak from Missoula is through Spokane, Washington. Greyhound Lines has convenient hours that work well with Amtrak’s. Part of the beauty of the connection through Spokane is that trains arrive and depart early in the morning from both directions. Therefore, if you are going to Missoula, your train will arrive in Spokane no later than 2:00 a.m. You can take the Greyhound bus at 5:05 a.m. and arrive in Missoula at 10:30 a.m. From Missoula, there is a bus at 9:10 pm that arrives in Spokane at 12:35 am. The first train leaves Spokane at 1:15 a.m.
Four: Getting connected in Spokane is easy as Greyhound uses the Spokane train station as a repository. Since the connections take place in the middle of the night, this is very convenient.
Five: The Empire Builder is a fully booked train. Whether you experience Amtrak’s upgraded coach service with in-seat dining and large pillows or Superliner sleeping accommodation, you need to make advance reservations. By purchasing your tickets in advance for Amtrak and Greyhound services, you may be able to receive discounted advance purchase rates or special rates for students and seniors.