Home to world-famous Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park, Montana is a state worthy only for those with a strong sense of adventure. Most of Montana untamed, with the land existing in the way nature intended. There’s still strong ties to the wild west, with modern-day cowboys and ranchers. It truly is one of the last places in the world where you can be completely wild and free.
Outdoors-loving travelers will have the time of their lives horseback riding, skiing, fishing, camping, climbing, hiking, cycling, kayaking, and more. If you can dream it, you can do it in Montana.
And if archeology and paleontology are your interests, Montana is one of the best places in the world to try your hand at a dig. Many unassuming small towns in the state host some of the world’s most impressive dinosaur fossils and artifacts. You can even visit a few of these small towns by traveling along the impressive Dinosaur Trail.
In Montana, you’ll find mountains in place of sky scrapers, ride horses instead of cars, and breath fresh, clean air instead of city smog. The best way to see the state is by visiting the small towns peppered throughout – all of which have their own unique atmosphere and appeal.
Here are the 15 best small towns in Montana:
No matter what time of the year you visit, Whitefish is a small town that is the perfect base for all of your outdoor adventures. It’s located near Glacier National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site that was beloved by the explorers Lewis and Clark.
In the winter, Whitefish is a prime skiing and snowboarding destination, with lifts and runs for snowbunnies of all abilities. Visit during the Whitefish Winter Carnival to watch ski joring (skiing behind horses), admire snow sculptures, listen to live music performances, and more.
Summer is a great time to visit as well – the small town is near plenty of places to go alpine hiking, climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, and horseback riding.
Polson is a small town on the shores of Flathead Lake, where visitors can fish, cruise, swim, kayak, and do all types of water activities. It’s known throughout the state for being a top farming community, with its most notable produce being cherries. Every year, the town celebrates with a Cherry Festival on the foothills of the Mission Mountains, where you can try all types of cherry pies, pastries, wines, and other delicious cherry-themed goods.
Polson also has the quirky Miracle of America Museum, a museum with a menagerie of strange and unique objects — with many displays being interactive and perfect for children. There are all types of WWII items and vehicle exhibits – think planes, trains, and automobiles. You can easily spend an entire day here, as it’s not your typical small town museum.
Hamilton is one of the fastest growing small towns in Montana. After a visit, you’ll see why. Hamilton has strong infrastructure, is close to incredible mountains, has spacious public land, and all types of historic buildings. It has a wild west vibe but with all the modern amenities, and is close to enough Missoula for those who need to get their occasional city fix.
Hamilton is in the Bitterroot Valley, the location of the book, “A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean. Other writers have taken inspiration here to pen novels thanks to clean air and open spaces that create the perfect atmosphere for creative thought.
Butte was once a boom town from the Gold Rush, and miners flocked to the town to mine for copper. Mining is a strong part of its identity even today, which is why travelers love visiting the World Museum of Mining, where you can learn all about the history of mining and strategies used to get these metals from the ground. A favorite feature is a display on the Copper Kings, ruthless miners who monopolized the mining industry in this region. And if that’s not enough for you, there is also the MBMG Mineral Museum with displays of interesting rocks and gems.
Immigrants came from all over the world to work at these mines. As a result, some interesting cultures have influenced the town today. You can find all types of cuisines, music genres, and small nods to foreign architecture if you look closely.
Visit during the Montana Folk Festival, an outdoor music festival that is free and attracts partiers and folk fans from all over the state to celebrate.
Choteau is on the western end of the Dinosaur Trail and is the gateway to the Rocky Mountains. If you’re into paleontology, you’d be crazy to skip over this small town during your tour of Montana. Choteau has revealed more about the Cretaceous period than any other dig in the world, which is very impressive considering it looks completely unassuming from the surface. It was once a breeding ground for dinosaurs, who laid eggs and left their remains here. You can try to excavate dinosaur fossils yourself – keep an eye out for the Maiasaura! Discover more at the Old Trail Museum – the guides there are happy to tell you everything you need to know.
Choteau is also a great home base for accessing the Teton Ski Pass area, a prime spot for skiers and snowboards that’s rarely crowded.
6. Big Timber
Many travelers want travel to new destinations – but what about traveling back in time? You can do just that in Big Timber, a small town near the Rocky Mountains with a wild western atmosphere. Here, you can stay at hotels built in the 1800s and get your sweet-tooth fix at the old-style soda fountain. Not sure where to start? Grab a drink at the Thirsty Turtle Tavern and Grill, the lively local watering hole.
Stop into the Crazy Mountain Museum, it’s completely free (operating by donation) and has a variety of exhibitions that feature findings and cultural highlights from the area. It also has an old Model T Ford as well as a diorama that depicts Big Timber in the early 1900s.
Stevensville was the first settlement in Montana and established by devout Jesuits. The Jesuits wanted to spread their message of Christ to the Native Americans, and you can visit the St. Mary’s Mission to get a full understanding of the town’s roots.
In town, there are two breweries you have to visit that are both lively and comfortably decorated. The first is Blacksmith Brewing Company, best known for its India Pale Ale. The other is the Wildwood Brewery, a fun tasting room where regulars love ordering the stout. Aside from the breweries, there are antique shops and buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Outside of town, walk along the Kootenai Creek Trail and go fly fishing, or explore the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, a rugged, scenic, sanctuary for migratory birds and endangered species beloved by locals who often volunteer on the grounds.
Anaconda is another mining town in Montana that was established thanks to the pursuit of copper and other metals. It’s the perfect small town for travelers in need of an outdoor vacation – as there area is surrounded by many types of wilderness terrain. You can swim in the lakes and river, explore the timber lands, go skiing at the Discovery Ski Area or Lost Trail Powder Mountain, kayak across Georgetown Lake, and much more. If you’re in need of ultra-chill time, check into the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort for the full package.
In town, you have to see a performance at the Washoe Theatre. Not only is the style of the building impressive, the local talent is some of the best in the entire state. Who knows, maybe they get their skilled acting inspiration from being surrounded by some of Montana’s great beauty?
9. Deer Lodge
Deer Lodge is for travelers interested in seeing things that go beyond your typical top-ten must see lists. For example, there are whispers of UFO sightings and their main attraction is a prison complex. Oh, and there’s a museum devoted to old dolls if that’s the type of thing that strikes your fancy.
The Old Montana Prison Complex is not as dark as it might seem. Guides ensure that you feel comfortable, all while acting as living history. You can see the cells, guards’ grounds, and learn all about how life once was for the prisoners here. Your ticket is valid for four other nearby museums.
At Grant-Kohrs Ranch, you can learn all about the history of Native Americans that once called the region of Deer Lodge home. It’s perfect for families and those with a penchant for history. When it’s open, expect cattle ranch and cowboy performances and old chuck wagon rides. It is still a working ranch.
10. Fort Benton
Fort Benton is a small town filled with historic attractions, museums, and nods to Lewis and Clark. History comes alive in many places of Fort Benton, like on the Old Forts Trail, where you can follow in the footsteps of fur traders and Native Americans. Old Fort Benton, the fort itself, used to be one of the most important trading posts in the past and is now open during summer months for visitors to explore.
If you’re into the outdoors, you’ll love spending time on the Upper Missouri River, a prime spot for water sports, fishing, huge and boating. Hike along the shoreline and keep your eyes open for native wildlife.
If you’re heading to Yellowstone National Park, Livingston makes a great base without the high-prices for lodging and food. It’s everything you could want without the crowds. It’s one of the most underrated small towns in the whole state, overshadowed by its more glamorous Yellowstone neighbors.
The Yellowstone River runs through the western style town and it often attracts outdoorsmen who like to go peak bagging, hiking, swimming, mountain biking, climbing, and more in its wild surroundings. Even in winter, you can come to go skiing, dogsledding, snowmobiling, wildlife watching, cross-country skiing, alpine climbing and camping.
12. Columbia Falls
Columbia Falls is a totally unspoiled small town that’s the perfect Gateway to Glacier National Park. It attracts adrenaline junkies of all types, who use all of the adventure activities in Columbia Falls to get their fix. Here, you can go ziplining, snowmobiling, and white water rafting.
For something strange, travelers need to step into the Montana Vortex and House of Mystery. This venue is a weird place where the groundskeepers do everything they can to make you see life in a new or magical perspective. Think tarot card readings and mind mind-bending illusions.
In town, pop into the Bad Rocks Books bookstore and spend half a day perusing old books. Or, walk through the main square and stop at whatever restaurants or shops catch your eye.
This town bordering Canada has stayed true to its old-time charm. Many of the buildings were built in the late 1800s, like an old school, general store, library, and roads of log cabins. Because of this unique flair, locals seemed to have embrace their unique identity. It’s common to have events every day of the week – often many of them are rodeo themed.
For some fresh air, walk down the Eureka Riverwalk Trail, go climbing at Stone Hill, and stroll through the forests of Christmas trees surrounding the area.
Augusta is a tiny town of just 300 residents that’s the last “cow town” in the west. This means it’s one of the last (if not the last) town that relies solely on cattle-wrangling as its main industry. You truly can’t get any closer to the old western lifestyle than by vising here. Backcountry wranglers are happy to share their tips and insight about their way of living while small talking in one of the town shops.
Augusta is on the trailhead of “The Bob,” officially known as the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, a wildlife preserve. There are over 1.5 million acres of rugged peaks, lakes, cascades, and more that are waiting to be explored.
15. West Yellowstone
West Yellowstone is the type of place for travelers who need to be near all the action. And being so close to one of the nation’s best national parks, it’s no stranger to tourists. There are all types of accommodation options that suit every travel style and budget.
In West Yellowstone, you can go ziplining, rafting, visit the Yellowstone River and Earthquake Lake, and go on any outdoor adventure imaginable. The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is an educational sanctuary devoted to conservation and education where you can learn all about the state’s most intriguing predators.
If you finally need some time inside, head to the Playmill Theater to witness the small town’s incredible local talent.