Though it is landlocked, the State of Montana has an abundance of beautiful waterways that are truly charming. Situated near these picturesque rivers are several towns, each with a unique history and plenty of natural wonder. While Montana may still be best known for its cowboy culture, spending time in these great river towns reveals another side of the great diversity of “The Treasure State”.
Fort Benton is Montana’s oldest continuously inhabited town, and was formally established in 1846, some 43 years before the State’s admission to the Union. Situated on the west banks of the Missouri River, this community of just under 1,500 residents is a charming and comfortable place to visit year round. With warm summers and mild winters, spending time in its waterfront area (designated as the Fort Benson Historic District) is a wonderful way to enjoy small town beauty and a slower pace of life.
Located on the banks of the Yellowstone River, Livingston is a short one hour’s drive from the famed Yellowstone National Park. Seat of Park County, just over 8,000 inhabitants call this town home, where tourists can find an assortment of special historical attractions. Amongst the Livingston Historic District’s most notable places include the Livingston Depot (1902), a lovingly restored train station offering visitors a most special trip back in time.
Meanwhile at the Yellowstone Gateway Museum an exploration of Montana’s history and the natural wonders of Yellowstone Park are great ways to spend an afternoon. And naturally spending time near the river banks and Yellowstone National Park make a stop in Livingston, a destination worthy of remembering.
Montana’s second largest town, Missoula is situated along the Clark Fork River, and near the confluence of the Blackfoot and Bitterroot Rivers respectively. Surrounded by beautiful wilderness and forested areas, the town is also home to the University of Montana founded in 1893. With a stunning view of the Mission Mountain Range (a part of the greater Rocky Mountains), spending time outside in Missoula is always a treat. Whether near the water or on a hiking path towards the mountains, this river town is one of the State’s best treasures.
The Yellowstone River passes through Miles City, a charming town that over 8,000 residents call home. Seat of Custer County, this town with its very hot summers attracts visitors with its small town allure and unique local attractions. Stop by the Range Riders Museum which celebrates Montana’s cultural and natural history or try some of the tasty spirits on hand at the Tongue River Winery. Featuring wines made from Montana grapes and fruits, this distillery proudly defines what locally made is all about.
And of course the outdoors lover will surely relish time spent at the Spotted Eagle Recreation Area; here swimming, hiking, camping, and fishing are all on offer, ensuring that whatever the activity, amusement is sure to follow.
The town of Bigfork lies at the mouth of the 153 kilometre long Swan River and is home to a modest population of just over 5,000 inhabitants. Yet for its relatively small size, Bigfork has plenty of big time feeling with an array of activities year round. Enjoy a golf game, visit an art gallery, try a local restaurant, or take a boat out onto the water, there is really never a shortage of fun to be had here. And for the real cinema enthusiast, the Bigfork Independent Film Festival is held every fall, showcasing the very best of Montana’s filmmakers and their stories.
Named for British fur trader David Thompson, the 1,336 person town of Thompson Falls is one of the best places in Montana to go fishing. Here angler’s can enjoy the challenge of catching such fish like the Bull Trout in the waters of the Clark Fork River. Nestled within the Clark Fork Valley, Thompson Falls offers a pleasant climate with hot summers and mild winters, making it a great spot to discover no matter the month.
And when not near the water’s edge, visitors can delight in a charming small town atmosphere with tasty local restaurants, unique boutique shops, and plenty of welcoming hospitality.
The nearly 300 kilometre long Madison River runs through Ennis, a charming little town of under 1,000 residents. Known for its hot summers and mildly cool winters, Ennis is surrounded by the Tobacco Root Mountains and the Madison Range. Though in many ways a typical Anytown of the United States, Ennis still gives off a most unique character. Known for its elaborate Fourth of July Parade, the town is also a popular stop over for those on their way to Yellowstone National Park, just over an hour’s drive away.
Montana is indeed "Big Sky Country", but even within its landlocked borders, visitors can still find plenty of beautiful river waters to explore and enjoy. The river towns of Montana offer its residents and guests a unique experience full of charm, history, and stunning natural vistas. So head on down to Montana, go down to the river's edge, and take in some of the very small towns to be found in the United States.