Creating a Vacation Capstone in Missoula, MT

Written by Julie K.

HomeTravel BlogDestinations & AdventuresCreating a Vacation Capstone in Missoula, MT

Creating a Vacation Capstone in Missoula, MT


I woke up leisurely and stretched in bed. Big snowflakes were gently falling over the river outside my hotel room window. I was tired and happy. Then, a less pleasant feeling stiffened my muscles.


It was the feeling of dread.


I was wrapping up a 4-day ski trip in Montana where I enjoyed the majestic beauty and challenging terrain of Lone Peak and Big Sky, the eclectic historic and techie downtown of Bozeman, and the rustic classic ski experience of Lost Trail ski area.



On this final night of the trip, I was in Missoula, Montana.


A Capstone


When the fun and relaxation part of a trip is behind me, I find the travel day back home can be filled with dread. Consequently, I become moody and irritable. I start worrying about the unknowns and stressors of the upcoming work week.


As this negative energy begins to consume me, my focus turns inward. This causes me to be blocked from being fully present. I miss the small bits of beautiful texture around me.


When this dread becomes a distraction, I refocus on finding a capstone for the trip – a final culminating experience that creates inspiration and joy.


loose stacked stone arch with capstone

Credit: chamey


Just as a capstone is the final decorative stone on the top of a column, wall, or building, a capstone experience serves to carry the positive energy of a fun trip through the transition back into the routine of ordinary daily life.


My Missoula Capstone


That morning while I was feeling dread, my friend coaxed me out to breakfast in historic downtown at The Catalyst Cafe.


The Catalyst Café started as a coffee stand and has grown to a full-service café that is “100% Missoula.” Known for its coffee, it serves breakfast all day with a tantalizing menu that includes numerous vegetarian/vegan and gluten-free options.



We landed at the table in the curved front window with a view of the falling snow and the surrounding historic storefronts.


Catalyst serves their own house-made jams and their raspberry jam did not disappoint. One of my favorite feelings is spreading red sticky raspberry jam on warm buttery sourdough, biting into the tangy goodness, and hearing the tiny crunch of raspberry seeds.



As we lingered over coffee and breakfast watching the snow gently fall to the street outside, I became intrigued with the architecture of a small building across the street. The black and glass storefront provided a fascinating contrast behind the falling snow. The building also had a contrasting long brick wall adjacent to a small ally and appeared to feature an art gallery.


Exterior of the Radius Gallery Missoula MT


Discovering the story of a unique architectural building is a fun part of the exploration of a town for me. This building called Radius had all the intrigue.


After breakfast, we wandered out into the snow to take a closer look at the Radius building and the art in the alleyway.


It is a two-story building constructed of brick, steel, and glass. Along the brick wall facing the adjacent alley, there are mounting clips and lights for large art installations. You can read more about the architecture in The Montana Architect.


As the snowflakes fell, we strolled along the alley wall of the Radius Gallery examining the current installation called Missoula Redux.


According to the signage, seven artists were given a different photograph of Missoula from previous local photographers. Then, the artists altered the photos using hand-applied or digital tools. The resulting art pieces were both fun, fascinating, and historically informative.




Exterior art installation of old Missoula photo


My favorite was this old black and white photo in which the artist added color and then gave the buildings and scene the appearance of being wavy. (I’m not an artist so I have no idea what was applied to create this effect but I loved the cool vibe.)


The Catalyst Café and Radius Gallery were a delightful surprise and became the capstone experience of my Montana ski trip.


I nourished myself with a warm, tasty, and unique breakfast. And then I learned a little about art and architecture in Missoula.  Enjoying good food and great architecture are two of my favorite travel activities.


Therefore, this was a great distraction from my worry and dread.


Here are four ways to create a capstone on your next trip or weekend away:


  1. Find and explore a small town or point-of-interest. Perhaps it’s a place you’ve driven by many times and never stopped. For instance, I recently stopped at the Columbia Gorge Museum Discovery Center and Museum along I-84 during a drive home from Portland, OR.


  1. Plot a more scenic, less direct route and see what you discover. On our way home from Missoula, a more scenic route took us by Palouse Falls.
Palouse Falls in WA

Credit: stevelenzphoto


  1. Find a fun café and try something outside of your normal food and drink routine. I find it helpful to ask what the café’s specialty is. Like homemade raspberry jam.


  1. When you a find a great viewpoint, stop. Take a few moments to revel in the view and breathe deeply.

Railroad trestle bridge


During the beginning and middle of a trip, it’s generally easy to be in the moment, fully focused on the fun. But as the trip concludes, worry can begin to creep in and dominate our emotions. Therefore, seeking out a capstone experience is a great way to refocus our emotions and serve as inspiration for the days ahead.


In addition, the capstone experience often adds a new idea or two to your travel wish list. I’ve added a weekend in Missoula to my list of future trips.

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