The charming Montana town of Livingston.

6 Most Memorable Small Towns In Montana

Dubbed "Big Sky Country" by state officials in 1962, Montana certainly lives up to its nickname. Visitors continue to be drawn by Montana's spectacular unobstructed skylines, often combining exploration of the state's beautiful scenery with a visit to one or more of its most memorable small towns. From the spectacular mountain setting of Whitefish to the rustic charm of Bigfork and from the living history of Virginia City to the artistic hub that is Livingston, these memorable small towns go a long way toward capturing the true spirit of Montana and the beauty of the state's big skies.


Aerial view of Whitefish, Montana.
Aerial view of Whitefish, Montana.

Whitefish is located at the edge of the Rocky Mountains near Glacier National Park and has long been a tourist hotspot. The big draw here is Whitefish Mountain Resort, especially in the winter months when skiers and snowboarders hit this Big Mountain ski area's over 3,000 acres of skiable terrain. Come summer, the same spectacular views over Glacier National Park and Flathead Valley attract outdoor adventurers for their mountain biking, zip-lining, and hiking experiences.

More outdoor fun can be had on Whitefish Lake, a popular spot for boating, fishing, and swimming. The town's cultural attractions include the Whitefish Theatre Company and the Alpine Theatre Project, both offering high-quality professional theatrical performances. Those seeking a memorable art-filled weekend getaway should visit the Whitefish Gallery Nights event. This fun summer celebration showcases the work of local artists in galleries throughout the town.


The charming Montana town of Livingston. Editorial credit: melissamn /

Livingston's location on the banks of the Yellowstone River, surrounded by the beautiful Absaroka-Beartooth Mountain Range, makes it a great spot from which to experience the charm of the Old West. Popular among tourists for its proximity to Yellowstone National Park, it's here you'll find Yellowstone Gateway Museum with its fascinating displays relating to the region's history through Native American artifacts as well as exhibits dedicated to the legacy of the railroad.

Livingston also has a reputation as a thriving arts community, with attractions of note, including the Livingston Depot Center. Originally a train depot, this historic building now serves as a museum and cultural center and regularly hosts art exhibits and community events. Also fun are Livingston's art walks featuring local galleries and studios. For outdoor adventurers, the Yellowstone River offers world-class fly fishing, rafting, and kayaking.


A cafe in Electric Avenue, Montana.
A cafe in Electric Avenue, Montana. Image credit: Erie Bard via Wikimedia Commons.

Located in northwest Montana close to the border with CanadaBigfork's most memorable feature is undoubtedly its setting at the north end of Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake in the western United States. This picturesque 30-mile-long lake is a hub for a variety of water activities, including fishing, swimming, and kayaking, with boat rentals available from the marinas around Bigfork Harbor. Those interested in exploring on foot should head to the nearby Jewel Basin Hiking Area, with its miles of trails and views of the Flathead Valley.

Bigfork is also known for its vibrant arts scene, with attractions like the Bigfork Summer Playhouse leading the way. Established in the 1960s, this popular repertory theater attracts talent from across the country to perform in its high-quality productions. The Bigfork Art & Cultural Center is another popular spot and showcases the works of local and regional artists. Be sure to also wander the streets of Downtown Bigfork, an area known as "Electric Avenue" for its unique shops, galleries, and eateries.

Virginia City

Old brewery in historic town Virginia City, Montana
An old brewery in the historic town of Virginia City, Montana.

Ever wondered what it was really like back in the American Old West? To find out, tourists travel from far and wide to visit Virginia City, a perfectly preserved 19th-century Rocky Mountain mining town. Now a fascinating living museum, visitors can experience the history of the Montana Gold Rush era firsthand along Virginia City's main street with its over 100 historic buildings, many operating just as they did in the 1800s as old-fashioned stores and saloons.

Other top attractions in Virginia City include the historic Opera House, built in 1897 and still a great venue to catch a live performance, and the Virginia City Short Line, a narrow gauge railroad offering scenic train rides to Nevada City, another historic town a short distance away. Another must-visit is the River of Gold Mining experience, where visitors can try their hand at gold panning in Alder Gulch, the scene of the biggest discovery of gold in the Rocky Mountains in1863. For a truly memorable visit, arrive during the Virginia City Grand Victorian Ball in August for even more fun Old West re-enactments and entertainment.


The Bitterroot Mountain range in Hamilton, Montana.
The Bitterroot Mountain range in Hamilton, Montana.

The picturesque small town of Hamilton is located in Bitterroot Valley and is easy to get to off the I-90 highway. Established in 1894 and named after a member of the team responsible for the laying of the Northern Pacific Railway here, top sightseeing experiences include the historic Daly Mansion. Constructed in 1910, this elegant 24,000-square-foot mansion is set on 46 acres and features fun guided tours that provide a glimpse into the opulent lifestyles of Montana's famous Copper Kings.

The Ravalli County Museum, located downtown, is another must-see and provides plenty of information relating to the natural and cultural history of the Bitterroot Valley region. For those who enjoy outdoor adventures, the town is a gateway to the Bitterroot National Forest, with its miles of trails suitable for hiking, mountain biking, and even horseback riding. The Bitterroot River, which skirts around the town, is popular for its excellent fly fishing.


Aerial view of Philipsburg, Montana.
Aerial view of Philipsburg, Montana.

Philipsburg is another enchanting small town in Montana that offers tourists a memorable getaway. Set in the picturesque Flint Creek Valley a few miles south of the I-90, Philipsburg is popular for its well-preserved 19th-century architecture and charming main street. Popular places to visit in Philipsburg include the famous Sapphire Gallery and Montana Gems, as well as the Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine, where visitors can sift through gravel to find their own sapphires for a memorable keepsake to take home with them.

Outdoor enthusiasts are also drawn to Philipsburg for its proximity to the Discovery Ski Area and Georgetown Lake, a popular spot for fishing, boating, and camping. The nearby Anaconda Pintler Wilderness area provides ample opportunities for hiking and wildlife viewing and is another big draw.

The Final Word

Montana's most attractive small towns certainly have a lot going for them. As well as serving as gateways to some of the state's most outstanding natural beauty, these communities are each unique in their own right and boast no end of fun and fascinating attractions to visit. From Whitefish's beautiful mountain setting to Livingston's artistic community and from Bigfork's lakeside charm to Virginia City's perfectly preserved Old West past, these six most memorable towns in Montana embody the heart and soul of Big Sky Country.

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