The best places to live in Montana are in every corner of the state, from the Missouri River plains and badlands in the east to the rugged Rocky Mountain peaks out west. The spectacular scenery, world-class ski resorts and easy access to two national parks (Glacier and Yellowstone) are major draws. But historic downtowns and laid-back college towns have their own understated charm.
Even the state's largest cities feel safe and easy to navigate. Montana residents spend less time in traffic than the average American commuter. They also spend time outdoors. Montana is home to 55 state parks, hundreds of miles of trails, quiet fishing spots and snowy slopes.
The best places to live in Montana offer scenic views, outdoor access and an affordable cost of living. From geysers and glaciers to quaint downtowns and sleepy western towns, there's plenty to explore in Big Sky country.
Billings is Montana's largest city. It's located in southern Montana, along the banks of the Yellowstone River. Dramatic sandstone cliffs stretch into the sky above the town. Locals can hop in their cars and go skiing at Red Lodge and hiking in the snowcapped Beartooth Mountains.
History fans should visit Pictograph Cave State Park's ancient rock paintings just outside the city limits and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (where indigenous forces defeated Custer) a short drive away. Both the Yellowstone County Museum and the Western Heritage Center detail indigenous and pioneer history, while the Yellowstone Art Museum focuses on western and cowboy art. The Moss Mansion's 20th-century interiors are also worth a visit.
This mellow college town (home of Montana State University Billings) has a walkable downtown full of shops, restaurants and breweries. Almost a quarter (24 percent) of its residents work in three industries: healthcare, retail and entertainment. A relatively low cost of living and short commute times make Billings an attractive option for renters and home buyers.
Bozeman is one of the best places to live in Montana for nature lovers. It's both a friendly college town and a basecamp for Yellowstone National Park, located south of the city in the southern part of Montana.
Easy access to Yellowstone is a major draw. The park contains 3,500 miles of scenic trails, rushing waterfalls, hot springs, dramatic geysers and wildlife viewing opportunities.
Locals climb, ski, hike and bike the Bridger Range to the north and the Spanish Peaks south of the city. Two excellent ski resorts are just an hour from downtown Bozeman. Big Sky Resort (Montana's largest) and Bridger Bowl offer almost 8,000 skiable acres.
Montana State University and science and technology jobs bring young professionals, families and students to Bozeman. The average age of a Bozeman resident is just over 33, and 19 percent have a bachelor's degree. Education, retail, entertainment, healthcare and scientific jobs employ 39 percent of the city's workforce.
Butte's past is very present. Its shops, antique stores and restaurants are part of the largest National Historical Landmark District in the country. The historic layout gives Butte one of the best walk scores in Montana. It turns back time to when this southwestern city was a busy mining town.
People all over the world moved here to work in the mines. The popular St. Patrick's Day Parade, a celebration of Saint Urho (the patron Saint of Finland), and the presence of Pekin Noodle Parlor (one of the oldest Chinese restaurants in the country) show that immigrant culture still shapes the city.
The Mai Wah Society and Museum highlights Asian culture from a perch in old Chinatown. The World Museum of Mining sits right on top of an abandoned mine. The Mineral Museum displays gold nuggets, geodes and meteorites found near Butte.
There are miles of non-motorized and motorized trails near Butte, including the 3,000-mile Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. Fishing, hunting and mountain biking are popular pastimes.
Great Falls is the third-biggest city in Montana. It boasts the largest of five Missouri River waterfalls, which rushes 900 feet wide in spring and fall. Dozens of trails explore the region's lakes, cliffs and plains.
The mighty Missouri River gave the city hydroelectric power and its “Electric City" nickname. It also brought explorers Lewis and Clark to the region in the 1800s. Retrace their route along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. The National Historic Trail Interpretive Center's exhibits showcase the explorers' route through the region.
That route included a visit to the site of Giant Springs State Park. The park contains 14 miles of Missouri River shoreline, hiking trails and one of the largest freshwater springs in the country.
Great Falls is the cultural and commercial center of the region. C.M. Russell Museum displays cowboy art. The Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art features contemporary works in a variety of styles. Healthcare, retail, entertainment and sales are the city's top industries.
Montana's capital sits along the Rocky Mountain Front, where the peaks meet the plains. This former gold rush town is in the southwestern part of the state, surrounded by lakes and countless ATV, snowmobile, hiking and biking trails. Mountain biking is so popular that Helena has a mountain biking shuttle to take riders to and from the most popular trails.
Explorers Lewis and Clark passed through (and named) the Gates of the Mountains, a craggy canyon carved by the Missouri River just north of the city. Residents and visitors hike the nearby Lewis and Clark trail and take a 1 hour and 45-minute cruise to see the region from the water.
The spires of the Cathedral of St. Helena and the Montana State Capitol dome add architectural interest to the Helena skyline. Take a self-guided capital tour, then check out the shops and restaurants of the Helena Walking Mall. It's the perfect place to see and be seen.
Kalispell is a nature-lovers paradise in the middle of the Flathead Valley. Secluded fly fishing spots, quiet hiking trails and scenic slopes surround the city. Residents can drive east to see Glacier National Park or explore 2,000 miles of trails inside Flathead National Forest.
Whitefish Mountain Resort is north of town. Blacktail Mountain Ski Area is just south of the city.
Locals love paddleboarding, sailing, fishing, sunbathing and swimming at Flathead Lake. At 27 miles long and 300 hundred feet deep, it's the largest freshwater lake in the west. See horses and bighorn sheep running wild on Horse Island. And stock up on Flathead cherries from fruit stands on the way to the lake.
Downtown's Kalispell's 1800s buildings and the ornate Conrad Mansion have plenty of historical charm. Residents stock up on local produce at the Saturday morning farmer's market and take in art that highlights northwestern Montana's spectacular scenery at the Hockaday Museum of Art.
The slower pace of small-town life draws people to Miles City. This quiet southeastern town is surrounded by silent plains, badlands bluffs and the Tongue and Yellowstone Rivers. The population swells during weekly livestock auctions and the annual Bucking Horse Sale when attendees buy and sell rodeo stock.
Miles City is a settled place. Only 32 percent of Miles City residents rent their homes and 19 percent of the neighbors are retired. Most folks work in sales, retail, healthcare, construction and entertainment.
Some report to the WaterWorks Art Museum, which showcases art and humanities exhibits or the Range Riders Museum, which celebrates local history. Residents enjoy some of the shortest commutes and one of the higher walk scores in Montana.
Locals take the kids fishing at Dean S Reservoir or fish, picnic and paddle at Spotted Eagle Recreation Area. Pirogue Island State Park promises hiking trails, fishing spots, lazy river floats and agate hunting just outside of town.
Missoula is Montana's artistic and cultural hub and the second-largest city in the state. It's located 45 minutes from the Idaho border, where five mountain ranges meet.
This is the place to go for live music, eclectic shops, busy restaurants and bustling breweries. High-energy art walks inspire as much passion as the works on display at the Missoula Art Museum. Missoula's historic downtown is one of the most walkable and inviting neighborhoods in the state.
Montana's rugged scenery is never far away. Climb Mount Sentinel and Mount Jumbo, see mountains, woodlands and waterfalls in Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness or bike the 50-mile Bitterroot Trail between Missoula and Hamilton. The movie “A River Runs Through It' captures the region's blue-ribbon trout fishing and scenic stream on film.
The University of Montana helps keep the town young — 22 percent of residents are between the ages of 15 and 24. The university and two local hospitals are Missoula's biggest employers.
Sidney is located on the plains along the North Dakota border, near where the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers meet. The badlands bluffs and rust-red scoria hills make this small town a very pretty place to live.
Locals fish for giant pre-historic paddlefish, hunt for agates along the banks of the Yellowstone River and hunt waterfowl and big game. The Lewis and Clark Trail runs north of the city to Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site. This former fur trading hub sits atop the state line.
Oil and agriculture are the biggest industries in the region. Healthcare, construction and warehousing jobs are also important to the local economy. These occupations offer higher salaries than many other industries, which pushes Sidney's median income higher than many other small towns and cities in Montana.
These industries attract young workers looking to make their mark and earn a good living. The average age of Sidney residents is just 27. That's much younger than any of the other best places to live in Montana.
Whitefish is a pretty little resort town in the northwest corner of the state. It's the gateway to Glacier National Park, which offers 1 million acres of scenic solitude that stretches to the Canadian border. Visitors come from around the world to see 25 glaciers, alpine lakes and more than 700 miles of hiking trails. The scenic Going-To-The-Sun Road is just short drive from town.
Whitefish Mountain Resort is just four miles outside of the city. The slopes are dotted with mountain bikers in the summer and skiers in the winter.
In warm weather, sunbathers, boaters and anglers flock to City Beach on Whitefish Lake and Whitefish Lake State Park. The quaint downtown district is the perfect place to window shop, dine and people watch all year long.
A Whitefish resident is slightly more likely to be a retiree (18 percent) than in other Montana cities. (The national average is 14 percent.) Just 38 percent of residents in this tourist-friendly town rent their homes.
The best places to live in Montana are all over the map. Finding apartments for rent in Montana is simple. Just pick a favorite region, city or neighborhood to find the perfect apartment in a snap.