Wayfinding: Finding Your Way To And Around Missoula


Remember when you first moved to Missoula? Did you find it difficult to navigate your way around town? Couldn’t understand why some streets followed a true North-South-East-West grid and other streets ran parallel to the river? One-way streets force you to circle the block once or twice? Ever notice how other communities have beautiful navigational signs that help guide you to your destination? Ever wonder why Missoula doesn’t?

Wayfinding – finding your way – is one of the ways in which a community can establish its identity and assist visitors and new residents in navigating their way around town. Wayfinding is a comprehensive system of pre-arrival technologies and on-site signage that helps folks understand a community and its major attractions, and helps drivers and others in navigating their way to places and spaces they want to visit.


Photo courtesy of Merje Design.

A wayfinding system connects a community’s assets in ways that makes sense to the visitors, helps welcome folks to the community, and enhances that sense of place for communities. It also serves as an economic driver by improving the experience, lengthening the stay, or influencing an individual’s decision to relocate.
Missoula leaders have been working for more than a year to develop a comprehensive, community-wide wayfinding system for the Garden City that will improve the navigational experience for residents and visitors, enhance Missoula’s sense of place, showcase our community’s best assets, and bring an organized and attractive system of signs that reflect Missoula’s outdoor, artistic and diverse culture throughout the valley.

From Downtown to Midtown, from the airport to the university, from streets and trails to parks and parking lots, the wayfinding system will be a welcome addition to Missoula’s infrastructure.

Over the course of 2013, the Missoula Wayfinding Committee – comprised of representatives across the community – has raised $80,000 for the planning process, hired a national consultant who specializes in wayfinding, and spent the last nine months planning and developing a comprehensive system for Missoula. As this planning process wraps up in the next couple of months, the team will begin implementation in 2014.

Wayfinding 2

Photo Courtesy of Merje Design.

The system will include gateway signage at Missoula’s entry points; directional signage to area destinations and parking; bicycle-pedestrian markers showcasing Missoula’s parks and trails systems and their connectivity and distances; information kiosks at destination points; interpretive panels depicting Missoula’s history; and online mapping systems to match.

The system will be designed with natural materials such as Montana rock, concrete and steel beams that showcase an artistic flair and Native American in some locations. The information kiosks will have solar panels for nighttime lighting. Information and graphic design examples for the proposed system can be found online.

As we look to implementation, we anticipate a multi-year partnership approach, knowing the City of Missoula will maintain the system once it is in place.

wayfinding 3

Photo Courtesy of Merje Design

Partners may include Destination Missoula, the Tourism Business Improvement District, the Downtown Business Improvement District, the Missoula Downtown Association, the Missoula Parking Commission, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, Missoula County, Missoula Parks & Recreation, the Missoula Airport Authority, the Missoula Cultural Council, the Montana Office of Tourism, the Montana Department of Commerce, Missoula-area non-profit destinations and others.

All told, we are anticipating the system will cost fewer than one million dollars to design, build and install.

The Missoula Wayfinding System will build on our community’s sense of place, the natural amenities in the valley, and the cultural assets of this special place.

Finding your way around our community will be a much better experience for all.


LindaMcCarthyMissoulaLinda McCarthy has been a Missoula resident for more than 25 years and serves as Executive Director of the Missoula Downtown Association, a private non-profit, membership-based organization dedicated to promoting, supporting and enhancing the vitality of Downtown Missoula. She and her family live in the Farviews Neighborhood, and her husband, Tom Gallagher, is a computer science professor at UM’s Missoula College. Linda holds two degrees from The University of Montana and was the 2008 Montana Alumni of the Year.





MIM NewsletterLike this blog? Don’t miss another one. Sign up for our E-Newsletter.  It provides you with a list of all the week’s stories/blogs and is delivered to your inbox every Tuesday morning.