The Treasure State of Montana is one of America’s most naturally beautiful and culturally splendid places. Montana, the nation’s fourth largest by total area, boasts wide open skies, large swaths of wilderness, and loads of fascinating culture and history. Though the large cities of any State still attract the most attention, the adorable small towns continue to offer some of the best-hidden gems. This holds true for Montana, the Big Sky Country, where visitors of all ages can enjoy some of the very best of the Western lifestyle any time of year.
Home to a population of around 3,000 residents, the mountain community of Big Sky is an outdoor lover’s dream. Known for its moderate winter and summer temperatures, there are many year-round activities. Take to the slopes of the Big Sky Resort (the USA’s second largest), marvel at the majestic Rocky Mountains, or relax in the relaxing and beautiful Chalet. Meanwhile, in the summer months, there are wonderful camping, hiking, biking, and fly fishing opportunities at the Gallatin National Forest and River. With a number of tasty local eateries and charming storefronts, a wonderful sense of small-town life is also one of the special highlights of this scenic Montana town.
Situated in Gallatin County, the town of West Yellowstone is a quick and easy 10-minute drive to the famed Yellowstone National Park. Home to a population of just over 1,200 inhabitants, the community was founded in 1907 as a rail town. Today, while it remains a primary stopover place for those to and from the Park, West Yellowstone is still a great place to discover small-town Montana's unique charm. Stop by the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center for glimpses of additional wildlife outside of the Park’s confines, while a fine assortment of adorable restaurants, boutique shops, and cute galleries along Canyon Street.
Founded in the late 1800s, the town of Hamilton serves as the seat of Ravalli County and is home to nearly 5,000 residents. Situated along Highway 93, visitors to Hamilton will find a great blend of outdoor fun and intriguing local history in this cute Montana destination. Enjoy lovely opportunities for hiking and cycling at Trapper Peak Trails, while a stroll through Main Street and the historic downtown is also a delightful time. View several 20th-century revival-style buildings, including Daly Mansion (constructed in 1910), and whose tours offer a unique insight into turn-of-the-century life. And with several locally run diners in town, a fresh and savory Western-style meal is never far away, ready to satisfy the appetites of all who visit the town.
Anaconda is the seat of Deer Lodge County and can trace its history back to the 1880s. Situated at the foot of the Anaconda Mountain Range, majestic landforms and exquisite views are on display for those who visit this town rich in culture and natural beauty. An ideal place for biking, hiking, camping, and even rock climbing, Anaconda’s moderate climate makes it a sought-after locale throughout the year. Meanwhile, the town’s downtown features a number of Western-inspired building facades and several spots on the National Register of Historic Places. These include the Club Moderne Bar (1937) and the Washoe Theatre (1931), where visitors can sample old-world charm and intrigue.
Surrounded by mountain peaks, lush trees, and beautiful ranches, the town of Choteau is just some 19 miles east of the Rocky Mountains. Adjacent to the Flathead National Forest and Egg Mountain, this historic town of nearly 1,800 residents is a great place to enjoy the famed Montana "Big Sky" and the hot summer sunshine. Here opportunities for biking, hiking, and rock climbing are always in demand, while exploring the area’s paleontological history is also a delight. Visit the Old Trail Museum to view a fascinating array of dinosaur skeletons and other prehistoric exhibits, which in addition to delighting young and old, is a great way to escape the heat in the summer.
The town of Libby is beautifully situated at the confluence of the Kootenai River and Libby Creek, where wonderful opportunities for fishing and mountain trail hiking are always popular. This town of just under 3,000 residents, is well known for its hot summer and mild winter temperatures, and it remains a favorite spot for those looking to discover some of Montana’s best natural splendor. Visit the nearby Kootenai Falls (featured in numerous movies) and take in the majestic sight of the pristine rushing water. One might even see big horn sheep or black bears. Meanwhile, a walk across the historic Swinging Bridge (in use since the 1940s) makes for a most memorable trek.
Philipsburg is the seat of Granite County and can trace its history to the 1860s. Today the home of a most modest population of some 841 permanent residents, this charming town remains a most unique lens of what a 19th-century mining community resembled. History-inclined tourists will appreciate Philipsburg’s assortment of historic downtown buildings, including the famed Sayrs Building, completed in 1888. Meanwhile, with its hot summers and warm winters, the town is also a great place to enjoy the outdoors, with fun hiking trails all around. And at day’s end, why not shop for special Montana sapphires and gems at any of the number of cute souvenir stores that make for quite the special gift?
The scenic and beautiful Whitefish is the proud home of around 8,000 residents who can all attest to it as one of Montana’s best small towns. Situated near the famed Glacier National Park, great hiking, swimming, and fly fishing opportunities are always popular here. Meanwhile, some of America’s best ski and snowboard slopes are at the Whitefish Mountain Resort.
In addition, a number of charming and inviting cultural events take place each year in Whitefish, including the "Winter Carnival," the "Big Sky Music Festival," and the always enticing "Taste of Whitefish." And with plenty of alpine scenery all around, there is never a shortage of a beautiful vista when in this wonderful Montana destination.
Livingston sits right on the banks of the Yellowstone River and is immediately adjacent to the famed Yellowstone National Park. With its stunning and picturesque mountain vistas, this town of just over 8,000 residents is a veritable gem of natural beauty. Enjoy breathtaking views of Livingston Peak, while splendid cycling and hiking trails invite the outdoor enthusiast with their allure. Meanwhile, in the historic downtown, visitors can marvel at a number of preserved 19th-century buildings that dot the landscape. And do not forget to explore the charming Livingston Depot (a former rail station completed in 1902), where one can learn more about the glory days of the steam engine and its role in the growth of the Western United States.
Established in the 1880s, the town of Red Lodge serves as the seat of Carbon County and is just a two-hour drive from Yellowstone National Park. Situated along the Beartooth Highway, this community of just over 2,000 residents is a charming and scenic place for intrigue and relaxation. With its warm winters and hot summers, spending time outdoors in Red Lodge is always an attractive proposal, while an assortment of welcoming local eateries, cafes, and boutique shops add to the quaint appeal. Meanwhile, one can also visit the Carbon County Museum (highlighting the region’s mining history) or see additional wild animals at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. Whether it is primarily a stopover destination, or one chooses to stay a few days, any time in Red Lodge is sure to create a most pleasant set of memories.
Montana’s oldest continuously occupied settlement, the town of Fort Benton, was formally established in the year 1846. Today the home of just under 1,500 residents and seat of Chouteau County, Fort Benton remains a charming place of historic intrigue and natural wonder. Situated along the banks of the Missouri River, this former fur trading post was a very important center of economic activity in the 19th century and spurred much growth for the famed American West. Modern visitors can continue to enjoy a plethora of lovingly restored 19th-century buildings and outposts, as well as museums dedicated to this important historical period. In addition, the town’s waterfront area (officially the Fort Benton Historic District) was designated as a National Historic Landmark in the 1960s, where even just a casual stroll makes for quite a rewarding experience.
Known as Big Sky Country or the Treasure State, it is true that Montana is a place to find a rich and rewarding experience. An exploration of the State’s great smaller towns is an ideal way to become acquainted with the rich cultural and natural allure obscured by the bigger cities. From the historic riverfront district of Fort Benton to the plentiful cultural events of Whitefish to the quiet beauty of West Yellowstone, these adorable towns are awesome reminders of why Montana is a pivotal component of the American West. So waste no further time and see why these towns make Montana earn the name of Treasure State.