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8 Most Overlooked Towns in Montana

by Staff

Also known as “Big Sky Country,” the northwestern State of Montana is the fourth largest in America by total area. Ode to its nickname, the state boasts wide-open skies and large areas of raw nature, adored by outdoor enthusiasts. The natural beauty of Montana is only rivaled by its unique history and Western cultural ambiance. While major cities like Billings and Helena continue to receive their due attention, Montana also boasts a number of equally beautiful smaller towns that are great ways to experience another side of the “Treasure State.”

Whether it is the historic charm of Hamilton or the outdoor opportunities in Big Sky, these towns have plenty of hidden secrets. An exploration of these great and often overlooked towns will create the perfect holiday outing for the entire family.

Hamilton

A street in downtown Hamilton, Montana. By Itsa Ortiz – originally posted to Flickr as Main Street – Hamilton, MT, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons.

Hamilton, the seat of Ravalli County, is a cultural wonderland whose modern history can be traced to the late 19th century. With a population of just under 5,000, Hamilton offers a tranquil retreat for those seeking a taste of Montana’s rich heritage. Visitors can tour several 19th and 20th-century revival-style landmarks, including the Daly Mansion (1910) and the Ravalli County Courthouse (1900), which offers fascinating insights into life at the turn of the 1900s.

Stroll through Main Street and the Historic District, where plenty of friendly local businesses and inviting restaurants round out the day’s activities. Meanwhile, the nature enthusiast can enjoy outings like biking and hiking at the nearby Trapper Peak Trails. The best part is that with moderate summer and winter temperatures, Hamilton is a pleasure to explore throughout the year.

Libby

Kootenai Falls near Libby, Montana.
Kootenai Falls surrounded by greenery near Libby, Montana.

Libby, situated in the northwestern corner of the state, finds itself beautifully centered at the confluence of Libby Creek and the mighty Kootenay River. The seat of Lincoln County, this town of just under 3,000 residents, is known for its warm summers and cool winters and is indeed an outdoor lover’s dream. Enjoy excellent mountain trail hiking and biking opportunities while fishing is always a popular activity in the Rivers Edge Community Park.

In addition, excursions to the stunning Kootenai Falls (featured in several motion pictures) will surely impress, and chances to see wildlife like black bears and big horn sheep make for truly picture-perfect moments. Between the natural formations, tourists overlook manmade sights like the historic Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge that was constructed during the Great Depression. Here breathtaking views of the falls and surrounding forests create an impression that will not be forgotten!

Whitefish

The lively Main Street in Whitefish, Montana.
The lively Main Street in Whitefish, Montana. Editorial credit: Beeldtype / Shutterstock.com

The scenic town of Whitefish is conveniently located along the coast of Whitefish Lake, where awesome opportunities for hiking, biking, swimming, and even fly fishing attract thousands of visitors. Whitefish is also a great place for the alpine enthusiast, where the inviting slopes of the Whitefish Mountain Resort can satisfy the professional and amateur athlete alike. Meanwhile, beyond its natural allure, Whitefish is a pretty place to enjoy cultural enrichment.

Home to a modest community of 7,800, everyone is full of vibrance, palpable through the number of fun festivals throughout the year. Some of the most popular are the Taste of Whitefish, the Winter Carnival, and the Big Sky Music Festival. From amazing seafood along the glistening shores of Whitefish Lake to live concerts with amazing vibes, these events are a world of fun for everyone. End the day along the City Beach for a wonderful time in this Montana town.

Miles City

Historic buildings along a street in Miles City, Montana.
Historic buildings along a street in Miles City, Montana. Editorial credit: Traveller70 / Shutterstock.com

Miles City serves as the seat of Custer County, where just over 8,000 inhabitants reside. Known for its hot summers, this town is a friendly snapshot of small-town Montana life with a great assortment of local attractions. Enjoy time by the Yellowstone River, which passes through town, or relax at the nearby Spotted Eagle Recreation Area. Offering splendid opportunities to go camping, swimming, hiking, cycling, and fishing, this is one outdoors pitstop no nature enthusiast will want to miss out on.

Meanwhile, an afternoon at the informative Range Riders Museum is a great way to learn about Montana’s unique cultural history and special geographic features through various interactive exhibits. After the fun, visitors should stop by Tongue River Winery, where wines made only from Montana-grown fruits and grapes make this a memorable day trip excursion.

Ennis

Main Street in Ennis, Montana.
Buildings along Main Street in Ennis, Montana. Editorial credit: Pecold / Shutterstock.com

Ennis, home to just under 1,000 permanent residents, is a silent reprieve from the commotion of urban cities. Thus, this charming river town is a scenic destination perfect for a road trip pit stop. With the 183-mile-long Madison River flowing through town, spending time along the water’s edge is always a peaceful outing. Surrounded by the Tobacco Root and Madison Range Mountains, the picturesque ambiance of Ennis makes it an ideal place just to stop and reflect away from the busyness of the major urban centers.

Still, there is cultural excitement on offer here too, and among the events of note in Ennis include the elaborate Fourth of July Parade and the Madison Valley Arts Festival. For those who miss out on the events, a welcoming array of tasty local restaurants and other friendly businesses are available year-round. Whether this involves a pizza at Alley Bistro or fishing supplies from FishWater Outfitters, these spots make Ennis a nice little place to discover for all ages.

Livingston

A street in downtown Livingston, Montana.
Downtown Livingston, Montana. Image credit melissamn via Shutterstock.com

The picturesque town of Livingston is a veritable treasure of nature adjacent to Yellowstone National Park and along the banks of the Yellowstone River. With its breathtaking mountain panoramas, this seat of Park County is home to just over 8,000 residents, where the outdoors can be enjoyed throughout the year. Go hiking and biking at numerous trails in the area, enjoy wonderful views of Livingston Peak, or head over to Yellowstone National Park. This massive park boasts over 2 million acres of mountains, canyons, geysers, and wildlife that’ll make any nature enthusiasts rejoice.

Livingston also boasts a charming historic center, and guests can appreciate several well-preserved 19th and 20th-century buildings here. These include the former rail station, the Livingston Depot (1902), which today serves as a museum commemorating Montana’s rail past and growth in the Western United States. Whether it is to enjoy some small-town charm or marvel at the exquisite natural beauty all around, tourists in Montana often overlook a stop in Livingston.

Fort Benton

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

Fort Benton, the county seat of Chouteau County, is Montana’s oldest continuously occupied settlement (not counting indigenous peoples). It was founded in 1846, some 43 years before Montana’s statehood! Today, this historic community of 1,500 inhabitants continues attracting visitors for its ties to the past and its beautiful natural setting. A former fur trading post, Fort Benton is scenically situated along the banks of the Missouri River and maintains a charming historic ambiance that all guests can enjoy. Explore several landmarks and museums that bring one back to the latter half of the 1800s.

For example, the Chouteau County Courthouse (1883) and Grand Union Hotel are a blast to the past, echoing tales of a bygone era. Meanwhile, an afternoon at the Fort Benton Historic District is always delightful. Near the waterfront, this district designated as a National Historic Landmark is a fine place to enjoy a quiet stroll, all while learning more about Montana’s past. With cool winters and hot summers, this community is pleasing no matter the season.

Big Sky

Welcome to Big Sky sign in Big Sky, Montana.
‘Welcome to Big Sky’ sign in front of Lone Mountain in Big Sky, Montana. Editorial credit: Zorro Stock Images / Shutterstock.com

An outdoor lover’s paradise, the mountain town of Big Sky is indeed the perfect place to enjoy the wonder of nature throughout the year. With just over 3,500 inhabitants, this modest place is big on outdoor excitement, and tourists can enjoy local destinations like the Big Sky Ski Resort and the Gallatin National Forest and River. At the former, majestic views of the Rocky Mountains never disappoint, while at the latter, fantastic opportunities for cycling, hiking, and even fly fishing are on offer. Add in loads of small-town charm with a plethora of welcoming local businesses and tasty eateries, and Big Sky leaves its mark as one Montana town that should never be overlooked!

Montana is called the “Treasure State,” and examining its stunning natural geography and fascinating American history makes it easy to see why. The state’s beauty can be further appreciated through a trip to its many smaller and often overlooked towns, creating sets of memories that visitors cherish. From Whitefish’s cultural and natural allure to the historic ambiance of Fort Benton and beyond, these wonderful towns may be lesser known but are still second to none. Visit the beautiful Montana and see some of the very best of the Western United States by experiencing these wonderful small towns!

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