11 of the most welcoming towns in Montana
Montana truly lives up to its nickname of the “Treasure State.” This state is located in the northwestern part of the United States and shares the northern border with Canada. It is one of the largest states in terms of area, with an area of more than 145,000 square miles. From the peaks of the Rocky Mountains rising above dense pine forests to the gentle prairie grasses that move in the breeze, Montana is home to eight national parks (including Glacier National Park and Yellowstone).
Many cities in the state have developed thriving tourism economies centered around the historical heritage of wildlife preservation and protection. The residents are directly connected to the land and to each other, but they are also hospitable and kind to travelers. Whether you’re planning to visit or thinking about moving there, these cities welcome newcomers.
Whitefish is a small resort town with a population of 8,492 in Flathead County in the northwestern part of the state. Located just 60 miles south of the Canadian border, and due to its proximity to Glacier National Park and Whitefish Lake, the city has built its livelihood on tourism, attracting visitors from all over the world. The community was formed as a log town (earning it the nickname “Stumptown” due to the number of tree stumps remaining throughout the area). Over the years, it has maintained a small-town feel while offering many amenities often found in larger cities.
Whitefish Mountain Resort offers rugged sightseeing, including the chance to soar over the pine trees on zip lines. While the winters in Whitefish can sometimes be harsh, the resort area offers ideal conditions for skiing and snowboarding. During the warmer summer months, visitors to the area can enjoy backpacking, horseback riding, mountain biking, or fishing in some of the most stunning scenery imaginable. There is a farmers market every Tuesday during the spring and summer, where family farms and local artisans sell their novelties.
West Yellowstone (population 1,269) is located adjacent to Yellowstone National Park and serves as a gateway for visitors and tourists to explore the region’s stunning natural wonders. The park features many attractions such as the clockwise Old Faithful (the geyser erupts every 35 to 120 minutes) and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. (Many visitors stay here and drive through the park on more than 370 miles of paved roads.) Keep your cameras close and ready because eagle-eyed adventurers often enjoy sightings of elk, bison, bears and other animals. (Keep your distance from the many tourists who get hurt every year by trying to get too close to wildlife.)
The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is open year-round and offers a chance to see grizzly bears, wolves and other animals up close. Like many towns in Montana, West Yellowstone survives on tourism dollars that support the local economy and has a rich history of hospitality and warmth. Enjoy burgers and beer at Bullwinkles Saloon or a hearty breakfast at Old Town Café. The Historic Center is located in the Old Train Depot and is a great place to get information while learning about the history of the area.
Located in the southwestern part of the state in the Beaverhead Valley, Dillion, population 3,976, was established as a railroad stop to bring supplies to the area’s thriving gold mines in the 1880s. Today, the trout fishing destinations are a major draw for visitors, with the Big Hole, Beaverhead, and Ruby Rivers all flowing into the valley. One favorite hangout is Sparky’s Garage, which serves handcrafted burgers in a fun atmosphere with plenty of old car memorabilia. The rich historical heritage is to be enjoyed as the area was part of Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition through the Rocky Mountains. Bannack State Park is the site of Montana’s first gold mine and has a ghost town with living history exhibits.
Lewistown, with a population of about 6,000, is located right in the center of the state and served as a railroad settlement to bring settlers, supplies, and prospectors west. One of the community’s unique features is the artesian spring at Big Spring Creek, where fresh water flows from one of the largest natural springs in the world. It was initially a mining town, but has a uniquely rural feel, celebrating its heritage with numerous festivals, including the annual Montana Cowboy Poetry Rally and Western Music Meet.
There are five historic areas for visitors wanting to experience some great history. The excellent Central Montana Historical Museum houses many interesting artifacts (including a large specimen of dinosaurs found in the area). Located just east of town, Bear Gulch Pictographs offers guided tours of some of the best preserved rock drawings anywhere. The Big Springs Trout Hatchery and the Charlie Russell Chew Choo Train are family experiences worth a visit. When in town, Central Feed Grilling Company is the best place for burgers and craft beer in the area.
The city of Polson (population 5,258) is located on the south shore of Flathead Lake, within the Flathead Indian Reservation. This beautiful lakeside community offers excellent recreational activities, including hiking, fishing and boating. The unusually mild climate, surrounded by the Mission and Salish Mountains, provides ideal conditions for agricultural activities, and the city has a heritage of celebrating the region’s local farmers.
The Flathead Cherry Festival is held every July (over the last weekend), to highlight the peak season, and many local farms will let you choose from their orchards. For those interested in a one-of-a-kind conversion, the America’s Miracle Museum houses an eclectic collection of cars, motorcycles, and airplanes. After enjoying the museum, experience Glacier Brewing Company with their amazing selection of craft brews.
Red came down
Recently, Red Lodge has become a thriving community for retirees and tourists. This small town of 2,217 is located about 70 miles north of Yellowstone National Park and is home to the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the region’s species. While the community has a true Western feel, with plenty of romantic B&Bs and dining spots, there is also a vibrant nightlife. Many local saloons offer live entertainment, such as the Snow Creek Saloon, where tourists can mingle with friendly locals.
During the winter, Red Lodge Mountain features more than 70 trails to thrill skiers and snowboarders of all experience levels. Check out Red Canyon Wild Mustang tours in the warmer months and hike miles of trails maintained by the Beartooth Recreational Trails Association.
Livingston is a small, scenic community located just 25 miles east of Bozeman, and over the years it has become home to many celebrities. The city, ranked as the windiest city in Montana, is located in Paradise Valley, where cool winds blow from the high Yellowstone Plateau to lower elevations. The downtown area is spread out along the Yellowstone River and has plenty of pubs, bars and restaurants. Try TruNorth Cafe for some of the best coffee in the area. Before heading to the national park, visit the Yellowstone Gateway Museum in town.
Miles City (population 8,354) was formed as part of the United States’ response to the Battle of the Little Bighorn. In the years following Custer’s last stand, the government built several forts and encouraged settlers and ranchers to move to and farm the land. With the advent of railways in the 1880s, the city was founded and established itself as a major place of commerce. Today, the community is a vibrant city with a strong heritage that celebrates the open range. Visitors will find one of the best examples of a cowboy at the Range Riders Museum.
This city is located just east of Helena (the state capital of Montana). The city was formed when gold was discovered in a long creek that prospectors called “Last Chance Gulch.” While fortunes have come and gone, the region has produced some of the best gold, silver and precious metal mines in the country. The new wealth immediately created many millionaires who saw opportunities to bring the Victorian lifestyles of the East to the “untamed” West.
Today, the town of 1,944 has a rich historical heritage and offers plenty of recreational activities at nearby Canyon Ferry Lake or the Helena National Forest. The East Helena Rodeo is an excellent family activity that occurs every July. As one of the largest rodeos in the Northwest, this event attracts cattle and competitors from all over the country. Although the golden days have passed, the city still welcomes visitors as it has for more than 135 years.
Nevada City and Virginia City
This place on Montana Highway 287 is a favorite spot for tourists interested in walking through a living history museum and exploring the days of the Wild West. Both locations were gold rush towns during their heyday. Today, they are beautiful examples of pioneer/western life. Nevada City has 108 buildings filled with historical memorabilia.
Visitors can wander through old log cabins, view the largest collection of music boxes you will ever find, or watch blacksmiths hammer horseshoes and other items. Be sure to check out the Virginia City Players for a family-friendly comedy show or take a real stagecoach ride as you peruse the different boutiques and shops mixed with interesting historical places.
Ennis is located along the banks of the Madison River and is home to excellent fly fishing. With a population of about 900 people, it is known as the “drinking town with a fishing problem,” where visitors can taste authentic Montana liquor from Willie Distillery. Many tackle stores cater to anglers, and locals are happy to direct you to the many great trout fishing spots along the rivers and streams that flow nearby. For those who want something with a more Western flair, Madison Valley Ranch is a popular fishing lodge.
Montana features some of the best outdoor experiences in the country, whether hiking, fishing or skiing. With mountain peaks reaching into the sky and icy-cold streams filled with trout, this state is one of the country’s best treasures. However, despite the splendor of the scenery, the state is also known for its hospitality and friendliness. The people of Montana have learned the value of embracing the constant influx of tourists the state receives each year, and their commitment to the land and each other is a refreshing reminder of the value of protecting our environment.