Montana Small Towns You Must Visit
The beauty and lack of people are often two things for which Montana is touted. Montana doesn’t have any huge metropolises. Instead, most people make their community among little towns dotted all over the state.
These Montana towns often have charming and even historic main streets plus incredible surrounding scenery to feast your eyes on. With so many towns in Montana it can be hard to narrow down which ones to stop in during your Montana vacation.
We’ve made it easier for you.
Our personal favorite small town is the one where our family’s farm is located, of course! But we love getting away to many of the small towns around Montana.
Read on for our top 10 favorite towns in Montana that we love and think travelers to Montana will also have an incredible time visiting.
Bigfork: A Small Town Montana Gem
Bigfork is our favorite little town along the banks of one of our favorite places in Montana: Flathead Lake.
Bigfork has a cute downtown area that is compact and easy to walk around. Take time to explore the little side streets to discover all the excellent boutiques, coffee shops, breweries, and eateries. We especially love Laked Baked for morning pastries and its beer garden for a fun evening out.
From Bigfork you can also walk down to the lakefront via Wayfarers State Park. I also enjoy walking to the river and across the historic one-way bridge on the southern edge of downtown.
Big Timber: Small Town Mountain Life in Montana
Big Timber is the gateway to the Boulder River and Gallatin National Forest. It has a strong community feel which you can sense at Lions Club Park, home to an expansive playground, gazebo, and outdoor community pool.
Big Timber’s downtown area has a popular bar called Timber Bar & Grill, which is a fun place at which to get a bite to eat and a stiff drink.
If you go into Gallatin National Forest from Big Timber, you’re close to the interesting Natural Bridge viewing area and trail.
Big Timber also has an excellent gas station called The Fort, which has a large convenience store, grab-and-go sandwiches, a great gift shop with unique finds, and clean bathrooms. My family always stops there on the way to our cabin on the Boulder River.
Glendive: Montana’s Dinosaur Mecca
Glendive is on the eastern edge of Montana, right off I-94 about 30 minutes from the North Dakota border. It is in the heart of the Montana Badlands and is right by the entrance to Makoshika State Park, the largest of Montana’s state parks.
Makoshika State Park is known for its badlands aesthetic with hoodoos, coulees, and more otherworldly rock formations. The park is also where many dinosaur discoveries were made (and are still being made!).
Glendive is a big stop on Montana’s Dinosaur Trail because of Makoshika State Park plus the Frontier Gateway Museum and the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum in town. Both museums house a number of different dino skeletons and artifacts from archaeological digs.
Visit the small town of Glendive and you’ll too be walking in the big footsteps of dinosaurs!
Fort Benton: Small Town Rich in History
Often hailed as the birthplace of Montana, Fort Benton was once a bustling trading post along the Missouri River.
Today, Fort Benton is a small town known for its welcoming downtown and historic attractions.
It’s probably no surprise that the most popular attraction is the fort, which is open to the public to walk around and explore the old buildings. It’s also adjacent to a wonderfully done recreation of a homestead village in the early 1900s.
Back downtown, walk along Main Street and check out the impressive architecture of the Fort Benton Grand Union hotel, called the oldest operating hotel in Montana.
Livingston: Bozeman’s Little Cousin
Livingston has been rapidly growing in recent years to the point where I had to think for a minute: is it still a town…or a small city?
With a population of just over 7,500 and a strong community vibe, Livingston still makes it onto this list, but it’s definitely one of the larger towns in Montana!
Livingston is located just 30 miles east of Bozeman, but it’s location on the northern end of the Paradise Valley plus some wild weather patterns keep it away from the tourist hordes. (Livingston is known for incredibly strong winds so come prepared with the right jacket and accessories!)
Livingston’s Main Street is long so you’ll probably want to drive from one end to the other while exploring. Luckily there’s lots of street parking.
For a central location, park close to the Depot Museum. Tour it to learn more about Livingston’s railway past and appreciate the beautiful architecture. Then, head right across the street to Katabatic Brewing Company or to Livingston’s famous Murray Bar in the historic Murray Hotel.
My other favorite part of Livingston is Sacagawea Park. It borders the mountain-framed river and is one of the best photo spots in Livingston. It’s also home to a fun wooden playground if you’re traveling with kids.
Whitefish: Small Town with Big Vibes
Whitefish is the other “large” small town on this list. When it’s teeming with visitors during the peak season for Glacier National Park it probably doesn’t feel that much like a small town. But rest assured that it is and when all those visitors leave, it’s a tight knit community that prides itself on the arts, homegrown cuisine, and an outdoor lifestyle.
Part of that outdoor lifestyle is two miles from downtown where you’ll find Whitefish Lake and City Beach. It’s a great place to enjoy a hot summer day in Whitefish or launch a boat.
The other big part of the Whitefish lifestyle is skiing and snowboarding since Whitefish Mountain Resort is right up the mountain. From the top you have views all the way down to the lake far below. In summer, the resort transforms into a mecca for mountain biking and hiking.
—> Read More: The Best Things to Do in Whitefish, MT
Red Lodge: Epic Skiing by Small Town Life
Red Lodge is the mountain playground for those in Billings and surrounding areas, and visitors will love it, too.
Red Lodge has a long, charming main street lined with shops and eateries and several hotels. Main Street is just a few minutes away from the main lodge for Red Lodge Mountain, a medium sized ski resort by Montana standards, but one that packs in epic runs for every level.
Libby: Bridges, Waterfalls, Eagles, and More
Libby is a small town that serves as the gateway to the northwest corner of Montana. It’s a few hours west of Glacier National Park and its surrounding towns, but still feels far enough west from Kalispell and Whitefish, Flathead Lake and Glacier National Park, that it manages to keep a tranquil, middle of nowhere vibe — despite being smack dab in the center of some epic scenery.
One of the best reasons to stop and stay a while in Libby is a natural attraction right outside of town: Kootenai Falls.
The Kootenai Falls trailhead is right off of Hwy 2 with a small parking lot. The trail comes to a T: to the right you’ll come to the rushing falls. To the left, a trail will lead you to Kootenai Suspension Bridge, one of the most Instagram-worthy spots in Montana.
Choteau: River Excitement East of Glacier
Proclaimed as “where the Rockies meet the plains” Choteau is close to the eastern entrances to Glacier National Park and the plains of north-central Montana.
Choteau has incredible opportunities for outdoor pursuits, such as rafting and fly fishing, since large Spring Creek runs right through town. Lots of hiking trails are also located around Choteau.
Choteau is also known for being a stop on both the Montana Dinosaur Trail and the A.B. Guthrie Trail as well as being close to the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Hamilton & Stevensville: Small Towns of the Bitterroot Valley
Hamilton and Stevensville are just 30 minutes apart in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley that’s less an hour’s drive south of Missoula. So we’re combining the two and giving you a bonus best town in Montana to visit!
Read More: Best Things to Do in the Bitterroot Valley
Coming from Missoula, you’ll hit Stevensville first.
Stevenville is known as the birthplace of Montana along with Fort Benton, though Stevenville’s tagline is “where Montana began” at St. Mary’s Mission. You’ll have to visit both and study their histories yourself to decide which one you think is really the birthplace of Montana! One thing is for sure: Stevensville is a lovely town surrounded by awe-inspiring scenery.
In town, some might find equally inspiring the St. Mary’s Mission Cathedral. My great-great grandmother so loved that cathedral that she painted a picture of it; that painting is still hanging in my grandma’s home.
The cathedral has an adjacent museum where you can learn more about the history of the town.
The short Main Street of Stevensville has a historic playhouse, a few restaurants, bars, and shops.
On the edge of town is a roaring hiking trail called Kootenai Creek Trail. Roaring because it goes right alongside a rushing river, far above, until you make your way to a waterfall.
20 miles south down Hwy 93 from Stevensville is Hamilton, MT.
Hamilton is an artsy Bitterroot Valley town framed on its western edge by the towering Bitterroot mountain range. Hamilton has a long Main Street lined with an assortment of shops and restaurants. Check out the family run Big Sky Candy for a sweet treat.
You also don’t want to miss touring the Daly Mansion, once home to one of Montana’s famed “copper kings” who made their fortunes in the mining industry of Butte and Anaconda. The grounds are lovely and free to walk around. You can also pay to do a tour inside the meticulously preserved house.
Have extra time? Then we have one more bonus town for you in the Bitterroot Valley: Darby, Montana.
Darby is about 20 minutes south of Hamilton and we wrote all about it in our Darby travel guide here. Darby’s main street area is pretty small, but it’s big on old west charm.
Which Small Town in Montana is Your Favorite?
So there you have it! The ten best towns in Montana. Trying to connect the dots of these towns would certainly result in an epic Montana road trip, and one that would no doubt take you through some of our other favorite MT towns. In fact, we talk about more in our 30 Coolest Towns to See in Montana article, in which we highlight 30 must-see Montana towns to put on your bucket list. a