Grant Creek

The lack of pressure, both in the physical space and in the way neighbors interact, makes you feel at ease.

Northwest of Missoula’s city center is a winding and beautiful drainage that traces the babbling of a high mountain creek. Nature and neighbors co-exist in the Grant Creek Neighborhood. Whether it’s the elk lingering in their winter meadow or the elementary school students, bundled against the weather waiting for the bus, you can see the connection between home and habitat. Open space characterizes this neighborhood, even in the more densely populated neighborhoods dotting the hillsides. Farther up Grant Creek Road the land is thicker forest and homes are more spread out. If you were to keep going, eventually you would come to the border of vast wilderness land that extends far beyond the road, all the way to the Canadian border. Participation in the community is available for those who want to have a social neighborhood connection, but for those who choose a more secluded life that option exists also. While this wild corridor may seem worlds away from the greater Missoula area, it’s really also quite convenient to get from Grant Creek to almost anywhere with quick access onto I-90 at Reserve Street. Neighbors often see each other on the various trails and sidewalks, exercising their dogs, pushing strollers, catching up on the latest news, or simply speculating on the upcoming ski season snowfall. Perhaps it’s due to the natural buffer of wilderness that surrounds Grant Creek, but there is a separate tranquility in this neighborhood that flows like the waters from a pristine and distant source.

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With wilderness, views, and recreation options in abundance, there’s never a restless moment in the Grant Creek Neighborhood.

grant-creek-live-hereMissoulians, at least those who like to strap skis or snowboards to their feet and tear down mountain sides, know Grant Creek as the way to the hometown alpine ski hill. Montana Snowbowl has been in operation since 1961 and is the place most Missoulians learn how to ski or board. Special events, ski races, and the unequivocal “best bloody mary in town” at the Bowl’s Last Run Inn attract locals and some out-of-towners up the hill. But there are plenty of people who live in Grant Creek that don’t ski. Trail systems weave throughout the neighborhood including one that starts near I-90 leading to the Snowbowl Road turn-off, making biking a safer endeavor than negotiating down Grant Creek Road. There is also a biking loop that extends west into the Butler Creek drainage. Mountain bikers, Folf players, and high alpine hikers can take the Snowbowl chairlifts up in the summer time to explore the area without snow cover. Birders too find an abundant and diverse array of bird species, particularly within a protected bird sanctuary near the Grant Creek Ranch. Residing in Grant Creek requires an awareness of living in a wildlife corridor. Sometimes they are not as obvious as the elk and other creatures that gather in the colder months in lower Grant Creek, but wildlife is silently there and so too is cooperation among the neighborhood’s human residents.

There is a small area of commerce that exists in the Grant Creek Neighborhood as well. Because of its proximity to the Interstate, there are several hotels and a gas station. There is also MacKenzie River Pizza, a Montana pizza place popular for delicious and creatively topped pies, some named for local rivers. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is one of Missoula’s year-round attractions for sportsmen from around the country and the world. The national headquarters is based here and is home to the foundation’s offices as well as an interactive museum about the organization’s conservation efforts. While not in the confines of the Grant Creek Neighborhood, the nearby Missoula Smokejumper Baseoften runs training drills in the Grant Creek area. It’s quite a sight to see these harrowing feats in preparation for western Montana’s fire season.

Portions of Grant Creek are heavily wooded, but others are wide open with views to the south that can extend deep into the Bitterroot Valley. There is a traditional neighborhood feel with sidewalks, ice cream socials, and lemonade stands along Prospect Drive, yet the homes winding up the open hillside afford incredible mountain and valley views. There is also cohesive neighborhood structure with strong leadership from those involved. Play groups, walking groups, dog lovers, and horse enthusiasts co-exist in the shared space of the Grant Creek Neighborhood. There is also an unspoken code of watching out for one another’s families and children and a nostalgic feel of really knowing people. In fact, the same man, along with his dog Pebbles, has been delivering the Missoulian to Grant Creek for years and is known by many neighbors. Even in the wilderness buffer, there is a neighborhood dynamic that harkens back to a simpler time.

One of Grant Creek’s earliest residents became a figure of Montana history and went on to national prominence. Jeanette Rankin, born on her family’s Grant Creek Ranch on June 11, 1880, was the first of John and Olive Rankin’s seven children. She was also the first woman elected to the United States Congress in 1916 at a time when many American women were still fighting for the right to vote. Just two years before her election, Jeanette led the women’s suffrage movement in Montana and helped secure women’s voting rights for the state. In Congress, Rankin’s famous first vote, with 50 other Congressmen, was in opposition to entering World War I. To learn more about this early Grant Creek neighbor and famous Montanan, read on here.

The heart and history of elk habitat conservation also lives in Grant Creek. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation grew from the minds of four men in Troy, Montana, who simply could not imagine or abide a land without elk and elk hunting. The notion that started in the trailer of a hunting camp in 1984 has grown to one of the nation’s preeminent conservation organizations. At one time elk lived throughout North America, but as early as the 1700s, their populations began to dwindle as settlement encroached on their habitat. The Elk Foundation is working to restore that legacy by buying and soliciting the donation of land in elk migration corridors to ensure the proliferation of these noble North American creatures and other wildlife species. Visitors to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s headquarters on Grant Creek Road in Missoula can totally immerse themselves in Elk Country at the visitors’ center and walk throughout the 22 acres owned by the foundation, free of charge.

Since 1973, Snowbowl has helped make alpine ski jumping history with its Snowbowl Cup Gelande Championship. The event, held annually the last weekend in February, brings alpine ski jumpers from around the Rocky Mountain West to compete. Spectators from around the region come to watch this gravity defying competition that boasts the only natural approach and landing in the sport and largest purse in the circuit. With camping chairs and sunglasses hundreds turn out annually for this celebration. You’ll know the competition is over when an unknown jumper makes his descent and takes flight over the crowd wearing nothing but his birthday suit – yet another Gelande tradition.  Learn more and watch some clothed jumps here.