Montana is often referred to as The Last Best Place. It’s a term that makes the state feel like some kind of a secret, and in some ways it is. Montana is one of the least densely populated states—it’s the fourth largest state in the country and has only 1.05 million residents.
That being said, people are getting wise to just how spectacular Montana is. The cost of living is low (no sales tax!), the mountains are beautiful and the skies are—at least according to the state nickname—big.
If you’re considering a move to the land of wildflowers, wolves and cowboy hats, consider one of these seven places.
Located at the western gateway to Glacier National Park, this rapidly growing town of 7,279 people is a tourist destination that makes for the perfect permanent vacation. The picturesque community is home to a ski resort for wintertime fun and a lake for summertime swimming and paddling. Not to mention there’s easy access to Glacier National Park. Whitefish offers great restaurants and shopping plus the feeling of living in a place that most people only get to visit.
Need to take a break from the vacation and get some real world chores done? No problem; the town of Kalispell is just 15 miles away and offers an airport, larger grocery and department stores and other essentials. The cost of living in Whitefish is on the rise—the median home cost is $310,000 and one-bedroom apartments typically rent for over $1,000—so get in now before the second home owners take over.
If you’re considering becoming a Montanan, you’ve probably already heard of Bozeman. The small city of 45,250 is popular with California transplants who work remotely and enjoy mountain views. Bozeman has the feel of a small town, with a downtown populated by cute local businesses, but it also has the amenities you need, like medical services, a university and of course, Target.
If you love the outdoors—and if you live in Montana, you kind of have to—you can take a trip to nearby Yellowstone National Park or stay local and fly flsh the Gallatin River, ski at Bridger Bowl or camp in Bear Trap Canyon. The liberal town also offers a lot of cultural events and even fine dining options. Prices in Bozeman are creeping up, but the area remains affordable (compared to California) with median home prices of $293,600 and one-bedroom apartments renting around $1,200 a month.
Missoula is practically synonymous with the University of Montana—and for good reason. The school enrolls 10,987, which accounts for a decent chunk of the city’s population of 72,364. Don’t worry if you’re not a college student; Missoula is a hub of excitement for all kinds of people. Into fishing? Hit up the Bitterroot River. Adrenaline junkie? Tube the river that runs through town. Beer lover? Take your pick of awesome breweries.The large Montana city is becoming a destination for startups, remote work and tech. It’s also a destination for literary types. These two facets mesh perfectly in the form of popular literary startup Submittable. Other literary highlights include the Montana Book Festival and the impressive roster of authors—including Norman Maclean who wrote A River Runs Through It—who have called the area home. Like many of the other places on this list, Missoula is gaining popularity, so take advantage of $228,000 median home prices and $900 one-bedroom apartments while you can.
Looking for a Montana destination you haven’t heard of? Try Choteau on for size. The self-proclaimed Gateway to the Rocky Mountain Front just might be the perfect small town. Even David Letterman, who owns a nearby ranch and once compared Choteau to “everything you need to know about the spirit of the United States,” thinks so. The town of just 1,686 people features beautiful mountain scenery, access to hiking, fishing, hunting and skiing plus a great natural history museum and a slew of family-owned restaurants where you can eat pie and meet your neighbors. The median home price in Choteau is $113,500 and one-bedroom apartments rent for an impressively low $500 a month.
Are you a go big or go home type? Then go for the biggest city in Montana. Billings has a population of 110,323 and is located in the south-central part of the state, about 130 miles from Yellowstone. The city is booming, thanks in large part to its great economy which was built on oil (ExxonMobil has a large presence) but other industries include manufacturing, trucking, banking, health and human services and more. If you can’t find a job in your chosen field, maybe consider starting your own business. Forbes once named Billings the best small city to start a business in.The large Montana city also has its own airport, extensive public transportation and a scenic bicycle trail system for those who prefer to commute on two wheels. Median home prices are $263,950 and one bedroom apartments typically rent for around $850 a month.
Red Lodge is situated near the southern end of the Beartooth Highway, which just so happens to be the most scenic highway in the world (it’s a 68-mile road that stretches over the mountains from Wyoming to Montana, reaching an elevation of 10,947 feet). In addition to taking frequent breathtaking drives along this road, if you move to Red Lodge you can also enjoy a cozy downtown with modern amenities plus mountain vistas. There’s something for everyone to do in Red Lodge, from skiing at Red Lodge Mountain to getting up close with bison, wolves and bears at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. If you’re a beer lover, you can drop by Red Lodge Ales Brewing Company. If you’re a history buff, you can check out the Carbon County Historical Society and Museum.The median home price in Red Lodge is $226,546 and one-bedroom apartments go for approximately $800 per month.
Butte used to be known for having the “Richest Hill on Earth” in its mining days. After the mining boom, the town declined in popularity—but who doesn’t love a good comeback story? There’s an entire Instagram account dedicated to championing the re-emergence of Butte, but you can look beyond the grid and see how cool the town of 33,853 is for yourself. Butte looks like the set of a western movie, plus it’s practically located on the Continental Divide, making it the perfect jumping off point for western adventures.
Butte’s Uptown District is in the process of being updated while still honoring the history of the area. You can stroll the streets and browse for antiques, dine at local restaurants or attend an event. There’s the Montana Folk Festival and Evel Knievel Days, the latter of which serves as a tribute to Butte’s most famous native, who is actually buried at the Mountain View Cemetery in town. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you’ll love that Butte is halfway between Glacier and Yellowstone, but you’ll never tire of the mountain adventures that can be found locally. And the cost of living doesn’t hurt either. The median home price in Butte is just $126,000 and one-bedroom apartments rent for $500 a month—and sometimes even less.