The Missoula Maze


There are certain days in our year that seem to repeat, offering the same exact activities as the previous year with the same group of people. I love these days, because they are like frozen slices of life that I can use to measure the growth of my children. Without this gauge I might feel like my family is flailing around, making little headway. But, by examining these moments, I can see that we are always moving in a positive direction, even if it’s at a turtle’s pace.

The Sunday of Columbus day weekend is one of those days. For the past few years, we have spent this day at the Missoula Maze. The maze is now in its fifth year and during that time, my family has grown to six somewhat-well-adjusted-children.  You might laugh at that phrase, but somewhat-well-adjusted is a level of normalcy that I think any parent strives to attain. I don’t care if my kids are perfect – I just want them to have the tools to survive and hopefully thrive in this world.

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Entering the Maze.

For less than the price of a movie ($5 for kids and $8 for adults), my family can experience activities that are fun for all ages. There is a small straw bale maze for the little ones to run through (or on), a pumpkin patch for picking out the perfect carving pumpkin, a petting zoo with cute mini-animals, and of course, the maze. Oh, and there are swings and a playset, and a huge gravel area with some tractor tires in it.

Missoula Maze 1

A walk through the corn.

I’m going to be honest here, my kids spend most of their time digging in the gravel. If I took them to a free playground with a huge gravel area to play in, they would look at me like I was an idiot. But, because this is “special gravel” that we paid $5 to play in, it’s ok to spend the entire day burying family members in it. I have to admit – my brain works like that sometimes too.

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Playing in the gravel.

My two eldest sons and my parents spent a great deal of their time at the puzzle maze. We are puzzle people, to the degree that sometimes we won’t sleep until we’ve solved that tavern puzzle that showed up in our Christmas stocking. If you are a puzzle person, do not pass this one up. It looks simple, like it will take you no time at all to zip right through. About an hour later, you will be asking people to run you out some water and a snack because you’ve almost got it and you refuse to lose your momentum. At some point, they may try to close for the night and you’ll have to spend another $8 to try to solve it the next day.

Missoula Maze

It appears to be a dead-end.

Another thing about the Missoula Maze (and also because my birthday is coming up): I want some pet goats. Before heading to the maze, I was not aware of this. But, after spending some time in the petting zoo with the cutest little goat I’ve ever seen, I’ve hatched a plan to keep the weeds down on our property and satisfy my need for a daily dose of adorable. I might mention that I felt the same way about Alpacas a few years back until I realized that we would have to take out a second mortgage in order to get me a couple of Alpacas. So, I guess I should clarify: I want some pet goats that are cute and cuddly and eat weeds and are relatively cheap. Or maybe I will just keep going to the Missoula Maze and petting their goats.

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Playing with the goats.

So, my best “Graham family performance metric” comes when we have to walk through the maze as a family, read the clues, and work as a team to get to the end. And yes, I do this to my family every year. I try to ignore the groans and eye rolling as I announce that we are going to stick together and do this thing as a family.

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Having a good time at the Missoula Maze.

As we begin our walk through the maze (which is funny in itself because there are 10 of us, spanning three generations), we are like an amoeba having mixed emotions about reproduction. Some kids try to run off in the front, some kids try to fade away in the back, and my husband and I wrangle everyone in to somehow maintain one semi-cohesive group.

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Photo opportunity.

As we move on, though, everyone gets the hang of it. The anxiety of needing to be first subsides, clues are read and answered, and children begin to have a good time together. How do I measure success? In tantrums. Or the lack thereof. I think everyone had at least one our first year. Every year has gotten progressively better (except year three, when we added two children to our family and at that time they only knew how to do two things: tantrum and warm up for another tantrum). This year, only one tantrum. And it happened RIGHT AT THE END OF THE MAZE. It almost shouldn’t count, but I’m disclosing this in the spirit of absolute honesty. I am so stoked for next year, which I am prematurely declaring our “Tantrum Free” year at the Missoula Maze. Look for me there – I’ll be the one with the kid who is not on the ground screaming.

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Tantrum-Free Zone.

Things to Know about the Missoula Maze:

  1. Their website is
  2. They have some cool events, including a spooky Halloween maze (never been, but I plan to once my kids stop crying in the regular maze).
  3. This is a great outdoor space to have a birthday party.
  4. Yes, there’s food. No, it’s not good for you, but it’s tasty.
  5. No, there’s not an indoor bathroom. Portapottys are all you get.
  6. Do not go on Saturday. They will not be there. I’ve made this mistake before.


Learn it BioAnnie Graham and Brandon Kendall are convinced that education can be fun, exciting, and meaningful. Brandon has been a teacher in Missoula for the better part of a decade. Annie is a proud parent of six children and a home school teacher. Check out their blog for fun (and educational) adventures around Missoula. Visit their Learning With Meaning website for ideas on dynamic and project based learning at home and in the classroom.