8 Best Small Towns In Montana For A Weekend Getaway

The Treasure State is filled with small towns, literally supplying precious gems like sapphires and historically rich architecture from Montana’s gold rush era. Many of these have not yet been discovered as significant tourist destinations, offering the perfect respite surrounded by unspoiled landscapes for the best weekend getaway.

Anaconda

Anaconda Smelter Stack in Montana is the tallest surviving masonry building in the world
Anaconda Smelter Stack in Montana is the tallest surviving masonry building in the world. 

One of Montana's most interesting small towns, Anaconda's hilly landscape is instantly recognizable by the tall, skinny smokestack reaching into the sky. The 585-foot brick tower, one of the tallest free-standing stonework structures in the world, nods at the town's copper mining industry booming past. Despite running on fumes by the 1980s, the town found a revival in tourism, now offering much to witness and enjoy during a weekend getaway. Visitors from all walks of life, including fans of old architecture and mining history, enjoy the respite in the naturally-rich locale, set remotely along Route 90 in western Montana. The Anaconda Smoke Stack State Park is great for fresh-air strolls with views of the tower from concrete patios, while the Nicklaus-designed Old Works Golf Course in the vicinity offers more fun in the outdoors. For a real authentic taste of the town, one can see a performance at the local Washoe Theater, followed by a visit to the Smelter City Brewing for locally brewed beer and live music. The getaway would not be complete without a drive down the Veterans' Memorial Scenic Highway with a stop to relax at one of the lakes along the way. Georgetown Lake is a great recreational site for a fun end-to-the-weekend surrounded by nature.

Big Timber

A sign welcoming visitors to the small town of Big Timber, Montana
A sign welcoming visitors to the small town of Big Timber, Montana. Editorial credit: melissamn / Shutterstock.com

Set between Bozeman and Billings, Big Timber offers big adventures in the outdoors, back-dropped by the gorgeous Crazy Mountains. Aside from hiking, mountain biking, and climbing the peaks, the small town is the premier getaway into the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness for endless backpacking explorations. The Natural Bridge State Park comes with many sights and activities, including waterfalls, that will suit all fitness levels, while the Yellowstone and Boulder Rivers are a dream-come-true for the fly-fishers. Anglers from all over the world flee for the ample fishing opportunities within some of the nation's best scenery, while the newbies can get all the needed equipment and advice from the many outfitters in town. The Crazy Mountain Museum comprises an educational space detailing the history of Sweet Grass County, including the time of Lewis and Clark on locale, a depiction of the town in the early 1900s, and an old Model T Ford. For family-friendly natural outings, there are the Big Timber Falls and the Yellowstone River Trout Hatchery. Big Timber's wild-western atmosphere comes through in the hotels from the 1800s, the old-style soda fountain, and the local watering hole, the Thirsty Turtle Tavern and Grill.

Fort Benton

Historic Fort Benton and Fort Benton Bridge, Montana
Historic Fort Benton and Fort Benton Bridge, Montana. Editorial credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

A fur-trading post-turned thriving town, Fort Benton grew around the fort following the discovery of gold in the 1860s. The town also developed and prospered as the last stop by boat on the journey west along the Missouri River to become known as the birthplace of Montana. Today, people come to Fort Benton to see the fort with a collection of historic buildings adjacent to a wonderful recreational area of a 1900s homestead village. One can spend the whole day perusing the sites and museums along the Steamboat Levee Walk while discovering the roles and significance of the town to the region through interpretive signs and sculptures. The mighty Missouri River flowing along offers easy access to nature for scenic picnics on the banks, going for a swim on a hot summer's day, or fishing along the shores. One can also spend the night in history by staying at the Grand Union Hotel, the remarkable state's oldest hotel. 

Hamilton

One of Montana's fastest-growing small towns, Hamilton is known for spacious public land, strong infrastructure, and historic buildings, all in the vicinity of the incredible mountains. Set in the southwestern part of the state, Hamilton embraces the southern edge of the Bitterroot Valley for a perfectly scenic getaway on locale or a basecamp into the area's rich natural offerings. Founded in the late 1800s by Copper King Marcus Daly, his expansive homestead and the surrounding grounds of the Daly Mansion are open for tours and scenic walk-throughs. In-town, one must seek to find the Stone Cottage, presenting marvel-worthy works by Montana's renowned artists for sale. The Bitterroot Valley is the locale from the infamous book "A River Runs Through It" by Norman Maclean, with the clean air and open spaces attracting many more writers to come and get inspired in the atmosphere that gets creative juices flowing. Hamilton offers a perfect respite to spend the weekend away picnicking and wandering through the scenic environment while coming back to the town for a full of Wild West vibe and all the modern amenities. For an afternoon bite, the popular Blodgett Canyon Cellars offers tastings of locally-produced wine, along with meats and cheeses.

Livingston

Historic center of Livingston near Yellowstone National Park
The historic center of Livingston near Yellowstone National Park. Editorial credit: Nick Fox / Shutterstock.com

A short drive from Bozeman, Livingston is a small mountain town filled with fresh alpine air. The vistas and close outdoors make Livingston a popular getaway that has seen the likes of John Mayer and Jeff Bridges, while many tourists return for the never-ending natural opportunities. Comprising a lively and charming downtown area, one will find themselves surrounded by nostalgia-inducing 19th-century buildings under the dominance of Livingston Peak with endless awe-inspiring views. Set in the northern end of the Paradise Valley, Livingston acts as a base for all kinds of outdoor recreation, including the northern gateway into the Yellowstone National Park. Upon re-surfacing from the great outdoors, the rapidly growing town comes with an incredibly long main street strewn with various attractions and amenities for endless perusing. 

Philipsburg

Aerial view of the rural town of Philipsburg, Montana
Aerial view of the rural town of Philipsburg, Montana. 

Just off the Pintler Veteran's Memorial Scenic Highway in south-western Montana, Philipsburg is set halfway between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks as a popular stop with much to offer on its small-town premises. Aside from the scenic surroundings, the literarily rich natural beauty has provided the area with sapphire gemstones that helped establish Philipsburg in the 1800s. There are plenty of gem shops for souvenirs, while the surrounding ghost towns, such as the Granite Ghost Town, nod at the past prosperity of the area, known as the Sapphire Country. Surrounded to all sides by the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, the great outdoors is strewn with hiking trails, ski areas, and hot springs, as well as abundant sapphire lodes. For more souvenirs, one will find the Sweets Palace in the historically beautiful downtown, featuring an old Western facade and intricate inside, beckoning one to come in with the aromatic scent of confections. The sparkling Georgetown Lake is only 15 minutes to the south for a dip on a hot-summers day following all of the explorations.

Polson

A view of Polson, Montana on a sunny day.
A view of Polson, Montana, on a sunny day.

Perched on the southern bank of the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, people come to Polson for a weekend getaway full of water sports and fun. The Flathead Lake is great for boating, paddle boarding, and fishing at Sacajawea Park, along with strolling and lounging around. Summertime brings abound of locally-grown cherries in the vicinity onto the stands of the Cherry Capital, while the many restaurants in the laidback downtown area promise to satisfy any taste. There’s the Flathead Historical Museum with intricate artifacts and cool recreations of local homes and schools. One can play a few rounds at the nearby Polson Bay Golf Course inclusive with breathtaking views of 360 degrees around, while the annual Cherry Festival in July or August is fully-dedicated to the succulent fruit.

Whitefish

A group of skiers in the scenic alpine landscape of Whitefish, Montana
A group of skiers in the scenic alpine landscape of Whitefish, Montana. 

A perfect base for year-round outdoor adventures, the small town of Whitefish is the ultimate getaway to the renowned UNESCO World Heritage site, the Glacier National Park. One of the most visited national parks in the nation, the area was explored by Lewis and Clark during their time on Montana's premises. During the warm months, there's a hiking, climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, and horseback riding through the scenic alpine landscapes. Whitefish is considered one of the nation's best for wintertime skiing, making it an incredible place to spend a holiday weekend. The Whitefish Mountain Resort is, abound with skiing and snowboarding opportunities suited to all levels, including lifts and a variety of runs. One can also watch the unique ski "joring" or skiing behind horses at the Whitefish Winter Carnival, along with checking-out snow sculptures, dancing, and watching live music performances. The area is a paradise for anglers during any season, with fly-fishing and ice fishing embraced by the picturesque Rocky Mountain appeal.

Combining historically-rich downtowns reminiscent of the Gold Rush era with all the modern amenities, these towns offer unique atmospheres abundant with attractions for the best weekend getaway. After enjoying all of the new and exciting experiences in the best of Montana's scenic outdoors, one can have dinner accompanied by mountain views or a drink on a patio in the envelopment of alpine-scented night's air.

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