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The Best Small Towns in Montana

Trying to find the best small town in Montana is akin to trying to pinpoint the best stretch of scenery. You are spoilt for choice on both counts! Small-town living is a big thing in Montana, and each little place seems to have something of its own character and charm.

Across the state of Montana, there are so many small, scenic towns, that many of them you may never have even heard of, and populations in anything classified as a small town can be anything between a couple of hundred up to around 10,000. Many of these historic communities have stood the test of time since Montana’s historic beginnings, and some of them maintain elements of the Old West as part of their charm.

One of the things that the best small towns in Montana have in common is easy access to the great outdoors on their doorsteps. They could be surrounded by expansive mountain ranges or close to rivers and lakes, and these natural landscapes and resources make the towns surrounding them very liveable, often attracting outdoor enthusiasts from all over to some degree.

Along with the scenic surroundings, the charm of Montana’s friendly small towns is what attracts so many visitors to them, with many of them longing to return or even become long-term residents. So let’s take a deeper delve into the best small towns in Montana and see what makes them so attractive.

Small Towns in Montana

  1. Red Lodge
  2. Livingston
  3. Philipsburg
  4. Anaconda
  5. Fort Benton
  6. Choteau
  7. Ennis
  8. Polson
  9. Big Timber
  10. Libby

1. Red Lodge

red lodge

Southern Montana’s Beartooth Mountain region is where you’ll find the small town of Red Lodge, with its population of less than 3,000. Needless to say, this place has on its doorstep the great outdoors, and Red Lodge is usually associated with the Beartooth Scenic Highway that takes you all the way up to Yellowstone National Park from the town.

So Red Lodge can actually be a great place to visit, especially for anyone on any kind of Montana road trip. Aside from the picturesque and rugged natural terrains, the town has plenty to offer by way of eateries, bars, and live music, as well as plenty of accommodation options.

2. Livingston

livingston

Livingston is a scenic town in Park County with oodles of typical Montana charm. The small town with a population of less than 7,000 has many historic buildings lining the streets, including the Livingston Depot, a former train station that harks back to 1902 that now functions as a museum for Montana railroad history.

Livingston is also a popular fly fishing spot, and this is evident from the town’s Fly Fishing Discovery Center. On top of that, the Yellowstone Gateway Museum is another good place to learn about the area, with its exhibits both temporary and permanent that give further insights into the area, which is only about half an hour away from Bozeman.

3. Philipsburg

philipsburg

Philipsburg is a small town in Montana with typically scenic surroundings by way of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest on all sides, as well as Georgetown Lake which is just 15 minutes to the South of the town.

The small Montana town has some decent resources like the rich veins of sapphire gemstones which contributed to its original establishment. The stones remain one of the attractions for visitors to the town who can go digging for them or check them out in gem shops.

There are even a few nearby ghost towns that were connected to the sapphire boom and the initial prosperity that it attracted to the area.

The town has a population below 1,000 but is less than an hour from the much larger Missoula. It has a few other quirks like the downtown Sweets Palace which still exhibits the style of the Old West and is famous for its aromatic confectionery.

There are plenty of modern buildings and shops to compliment and contrast the town’s sense of its historic past, as well as the fact that the town is surrounded by some great hiking trails and ski areas, as well as hot springs.

4. Anaconda

anaconda

Anaconda is a somewhat elevated Montana small town at more than 1600 meters above sea level, in Deer Lodge County. This makes it an ideal place from which to explore the surrounding mountain terrain, as well as the forest and lakes. The dramatic cliffs and geological formations of nearby Lost Creek State Park attract many people to the area, and there is an abundance of scenic vistas around the area.

Downtown Anaconda is both pleasant and historic, with some of the buildings harking back to the late 1800s. The Hearst Free Library and the Deer Lodge County Courthouse are two of the most notable examples, and there are also other interesting buildings that were constructed somewhat later on in the 1930s like the Club Moderne.

5. Fort Benton

fort benton

Fort Benton is otherwise known as the Birthplace of Montana, and the spirit of this statement is very much alive in the small town. Located in the central part of the state just along from Missoula, Fort Benton featured on the historical route of Lewis and Clark. It was considered a key central point location-wise along the river as the country expanded more towards the west.

You won’t be long in Fort Benton before noticing that history is still a focal point in the town. This is evident from the plethora of historic buildings and commemorative statues, not to mention the many museums like the Museum of the Northern Great Plains. The Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center is another notable facility and is largely dedicated to exhibits related to the relevance of the Missouri River.

Of course also due to its location the small Montana town has some great natural surroundings, especially in terms of the Missouri River. This region includes the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River, which has been a point of interest for visitors for hundreds of years.

6. Choteau

choteau
Image: Choteau

Choteau has all the charm that you would expect from a small Montana town at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. For starters, right on the doorstep of this town is the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, a million or more acres of natural terrain ideal for wildlife and all manner of outdoor adventures.

On top of that, there is Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest which is also nearby. So as you can imagine, the opportunities for outdoor pursuits from Choteau are almost never-ending.

Choteau has its fair share of decent local diners and also a few unique accommodation options along with cultural attractions in the town itself like the Old Trail Museum. The area is also a well-known hot spot in terms of Montana’s Jurassic history. The Montana Dinosaur Center is the place to get more insights into the region’s dinosaur legacy.

7. Ennis

ennis

Ennis first came into being when gold was discovered in nearby Alder Gulch in the latter half of the 1800s. Like many of the other boom towns at that time, people started pouring into the area with the hope of making their fortune. William Ennis was one of these incoming hopefuls, and after he set up camp on the Madison River, the rest became history.

Later on Ennis and its surrounding area became a ranching country, which is apparent from the numerous ranches in operation today. The rivers are also popular rainbow and brown trout fishing spots, and seeing as Ennis is in the vicinity of Yellowstone National Park, it picks up a lot of passing trade from visitors heading in that direction.

8. Polson

polson

Polson is a small Montana town located within the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation, and it is actually on the shores of Flathead Lake. This gives some idea of what life in Polson is likely to lean towards, as the lake is one of the largest bodies of water in the region.

Needless to say, for many who live or decide to stay in Polson there is unlimited opportunity for water-based activities like boating, paddling, and fishing, as well as other pastimes likely to take place near or around a huge lake surrounded by pine forests, like camping and picnicking. The population of Polson is less than 5,000, and it is a scenic and laid back place to stop off at.

9. Big Timber

big timber

Located in southeast Montana’s between Bozeman and Billings, Big Timber gets its name from the creek of the same name, and the scenic Crazy Mountains define much of the surrounding backdrops of the town. You can find a Crazy Mountain Museum in the town, which gives some useful insights into the region and its attractions like the Big Timber Falls.

Big Timber is something of an attraction point for outdoor adventure due to its easy access into the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, but the area is particularly renowned for fly fishing. Anglers from all over have been known to come to Big Timber to fish in the Yellowstone River.

10. Libby

libby

Libby is a small and laid-back town in Montana’s Lincoln County. It is located in an area of impressively scenic mountain terrain, and the Kootenay River runs through the town, which is also in the vicinity of the popular point of attraction the Kootenai Falls.

So this is a charming little town with Montana’s great outdoors in its immediate vicinity, including the Kootenai National Forest, and the actual backdrop scenarios of the town itself include the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area.

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