The lighter side of real estate

10 Best Places to Live in Montana

Montana is a beautiful state in US and if you are thinking of living in Montana then check out our table/map of Montana cities that are best for living.

Ian Douglass

46 articles, 0 comments


Source: Flickr user roger4336

The Last Best Place; it’s a nickname that more than one million people in Montana know well. But even in the Last Best Place there are some areas that are just better than others—the Best Places in the Last Best Place, if you will.

As part of an ongoing series exploring the best places to live in each of the 50 states, Movoto Real Estate gathered data to learn which place in Montana is truly the the best; the real Last Best Place. After we sifted through our data, we concluded that West Yellowstone took home the top prize. Still, West Yellowstone isn’t the only place to make the cut. Here are the 10 best cities to live in Montana, the treasures of The Treasure State:

1. West Yellowstone
2. Colstrip
3. East Helena
4. Baker
5. Big Timber
6. Helena
7. Sidney
7. Havre
7. Shelby
10. Cut Bank
10. Manhattan

How did West Yellowstone climb to the top of our list? What made Cut Bank a cut above the other places? Read on for a breakdown of our methodology, as well as detailed explanations— or, as we like to think of them, the golden nuggets—of what makes each place stand out.

Data Mining Montana’s Cities

To create our ranking, we looked at the 50 most populous cities in Montana with more than 1,000 people living in them. This means that even small places with just 1,183 residents such as Boulder were included in the study. After we compiled our list, we ranked each area based on six criteria. The criteria we used were:

  • Cost of living
  • Crime rate
  • Education
  • Median household income
  • Home value
  • Commute time

Once we had our list of cities, both small and large, we ranked each place from one to 50 for each criterion, with one being the best possible score. We then found the average rank of each city’s criteria. Readers should note our crime data is reported on a per 100,000 person basis in order to create accurate comparisons.

Here’s why each city made our list.

1. West Yellowstone

West Yellowstone - Best Places in Montana

Source: Flickr user SeattleRay

Topping our list of the best places in Montana is West Yellowstone, home to 1,271 residents, making it the smallest location we looked at. In fact, West Yellowstone’s size might be one reason it ranked so highly.

Where did West Yellowstone succeed? The town took the top ranking in commute time and total crimes per 100,000 people. It takes just eight minutes for the average West Yellowstone resident to get to work. In contrast, it takes a resident of Stevensville, the place that ranked the lowest in commute time, an average of 27 minutes to get to work. As for crime, West Yellowstone has 312 crimes per 100,000 people annually. To put this into perspective, Polson, the area that placed lowest for this criterion, has 6,670 crimes per 100,000 people each year.

2. Colstrip

The 50th Anniversary Issue of “Sports Illustrated” designated Colstrip as Montana’s official “Sportstown” on the strength of the city’s 23 parks and considerable sporting amenities including fantastic facilities for basketball and volleyball.

What catapulted Colstrip to the No. 2 spot in our study was a top ranking in median household income, slightly more than $74,000 a year. This is about $18,000 more than in Columbus, the second-ranked place for this criterion and about $24,000 more than in Hamilton, which has a median household income of about $24,000 annually.

3. East Helena

East Helena - Best Places in Montana

Source: Flickr user jamesridle

Once an infamous speed trap for people traveling to and from the much larger city of Helena, East Helena now has several things going for it that might give people greater incentive to pull over and take notice without being coerced by the flashing lights of a police cruiser.

Anchoring East Helena’s position in third place on our list were the city’s high marks in total crime, high school diploma attainment rate, and the area’s median household income. According to our data, East Helena has 849 crimes per 100,000 residents annually, good enough to have it take the No. 3 spot for this criterion. As for high school diploma attainment, 89 percent of residents of East Helena have at least a diploma or its equivalent. Residents in East Helena have a median household income of about $46,000, the 10th highest income for places on our list.

4. Baker

Baker - Best Places in Montana

Source: Wikipedia user J.B. Chandler

Nicknamed “The Friendly City,” Baker is a small farming community situated very close to Medicine Rocks State Park—an area so beautiful that no less a luminary than President Theodore Roosevelt once remarked that it was, “as fantastically beautiful a place as I have ever seen.” Although many cowboys carved their names into the sandstone in the late 1800s, modern residents might be proud to carve the city’s current statistical rankings into the rocks.

Baker, which tied for fourth place with Big Timber (more on that below) ranked particularly well in two area–its cost of living and median household income. This city of just 1,741 people, among the smallest on our list, has a cost of living rank of 83, the sixth best rank among the places in our study. The national average is 100. As for income, the typical household brings in $49,028 annually–18 percent higher than the state’s median income ($41,358).

4. Big Timber

“A River Runs Through It” and “The Horse Whisperer” are just two of the films that took advantage of Big Timber’s unique confluence of mountains and rivers in order to bring beautiful images to the silver screen. To the more than 1,600 residents who dwell in Big Timber, the combination of affordable housing, high educational achievement, solid median income, and a very low crime rate creates a praiseworthy quality-of-life tapestry.

Big Timber was the fourth safest city of the cities we studied, ranking behind West Yellowstone, Boulder, and East Helena. According to our most recent data, there were just 908 total crimes per 100,000 residents. Other than this, Big Timber’s median household income is high compared to the Montana average at $45,833

6. Helena

Helena - Best Places in Montana

Source: Flickr user Bruce Tuten

Originally founded by the gold prospecting “Four Georgians” (actually one Georgian, one Alabaman, one Iowan, and an Englishman), Montana’s capital city is now home to nearly 28,000 residents, making the most populous city on our list. The mining industry is stable to this day, bolstered by Montana’s second highest graduation rate, a short average commute to work given the population size, higher than average income, and affordable housing.

Of the criteria we studied, Helena fared the best in education, falling behind Bozeman (No. 13 on our list). Just shy of 93 percent of residents in Helena have a high school diploma. By comparison, about 87 percent of Montanans have a diploma.

7. Sidney

Sidney - Best Places in Montana

Source: Flickr user chuck_taylor

While Sidney has long been one of the U.S.’s top producers of sugar beets, oil production has been an on-again, off-again competitor of the sugar beet industry in recent decades. Although the two industries have not always worked in synergy with one another, with high-dollar oil production wages luring sugar beet laborers away from Sidney’s longstanding industry, the short commute time, a cost-of-living rank well above the state average, and Montana’s third highest median income work in harmony to land Sidney in our top 10.

According to our data, the median household income in Sidney is $52,460, which is contemporary with Columbus (No. 22), the second highest rank in this category. Both of these places, however, are about $10,000 beneath Colstrip’s median household income of $74,095.

7. Havre

Havre - Best Places in Montana

Source: Flickr user skrewtape

Wahkpa Chu’gn is a site in Havre where Native Americans ran bison off of cliffs in order to kill them or make them easier to hunt and skin. Fortunately, no such measures are presently required to get Havre’s current population of about 9,300 to stay put… at least not when Havre has one of the shortest average commutes and most educated populations in Montana, paired with a better-than-average cost of living and median income. For history buffs, Havre was also the site of the final battle of the Nez Perce War in 1877–the Battle of Bear Paw.

The second of our three-way tie for seventh place, Havre has an average commute time of just 12 minutes, almost half the average commute time of Stevensville (No. 43), the municipality with the longest commute at 27 minutes. Additionally, about 90 percent of residents have at least a high school diploma, good enough to help the city place seventh in this category.

7. Shelby

As a fighter, Jack Dempsey was one of the most aggressive and hardest-hitting fighters of any era, and he married these traits with heightened stamina and a durable chin to become one of the greatest boxers in history. When Shelby bet on Jack Dempsey to deliver it national exposure by hosting a world championship fight in 1923, the gamble failed. Dempsey’s abilities shone through and he was awarded the victory over Tommy Gibbons, but the fight was a financial disaster that left Shelby floored.

While missing out on its bid to become a major city, Shelby’s features are as well rounded as Jack Dempsey’s boxing talents. The diversity of wildlife and topographical features make Shelby an attraction for hunters and nature enthusiasts while short commutes, a low cost of living, and a below average crime rate round out an arsenal that makes it an attractive place to live.

LIke Harve, the average commute time for Shelby residents is a scant 12 minutes. As for the city’s cost of living rank, the city placed seventh with a score of 83. This is significantly lower than Whitefish (No. 18), the Montana city with the highest cost of living, a modest 103.

10. Cut Bank

Cut Bank - Best Places in Montana

Source: Flickr user Ethan.K

Located in the shadow of Glacier National Park, Cut Bank is eponymously named after the Cut Bank Creek that it sits alongside. Cut Bank is also located adjacent to a Blackfeet Indian reservation, and it boasts a Native American population of nearly 20 percent.

In centuries past, the Blackfeet would retreat into the nearby mountains on vision quests. However, today’s residents of Cut Bank don’t need to seek higher knowledge and understanding in order to glean that having the lowest cost of living in Montana is a pretty good thing. Add to this a short 11 minute commute time, the third lowest rank for this criteria, and Cut Bank is definitely a cut above the rest.

10. Manhattan

Manhattan - Best Places in Montana

Source: Town of Manhattan

Manhattan might be a small town with just just 1,520 residents and less than two square miles altogether, but it’s climbed our list of places with ease, thanks to exceptional scores in household income, home value, and crime rate.

The median household income in Manhattan is $52,350, high enough to have the area rank fourth in this category. Homes in the town are valued at $229,800–55 percent higher than the state’s median home value. Finally, Manhattan’s crime rate is 63 percent lower than the average for Montana.

Treasure in the Mountains

Lurking in the figurative shadows cast by larger cities like Billings and Missoula, as well as the literal shadows cast by the considerable mountain ranges, are an assortment of smaller Montana cities that can be just as appealing to live in depending on what you value. In the end, it’s only fitting for the Treasure State to remind us that sometimes the smallest gems are the most valuable; it all depends on the criteria you use to rate them.

(click to enlarge)

Best Cities in Montana Ranking

Facebook Facebook Like

posted on: December 13, 2013
315,932 views, 22 comments


  1. Lana

    Ties are weird. You have 11 cities in your “10 best places” – learn to count.

  2. Erin

    Pretty sure that most people from Montana would find this list absolutely ridiculous! So many great places left off and so many not so great places on this list!

  3. steve shay

    As an outsider, I always thought Missoula was considered one of the best places to live. It is ranked just #31. It has the university, and I am guessing a few jobs, dating opportunities, natural beauty, and bars. Unemployment is about %4.5 percent. Not bad.

  4. Adina

    I am looking for property in Montana (maybe). I would like clean air, land, low crime, not overly crazy temps ie. 30 below or 110 plus (if possible), scenic is a plus, sufficient rain to homestead – close to a body of water is even better but not necessary, not overrun by illegal immigrants (I welcome legal immigrants from all countries) and a community of like-minded individuals. By like minded I mean strong family values, you aren’t sitting on your A** letting the tax payers support you, you take responsibility for your actions, and you protect your family and your constitutional rights. Does this fit anywhere? Any suggestions for a better source? Thanks in advance for any input.

  5. Sandy

    not sure where you will find the temp qualifications in MT, but I think most of real Montanans have core family values.

  6. Carol

    I live in Baker, but there is very little housing here. Since the Bakken, rent rates have jumped to 1100-1200 for a small place. Not everyone can work in the Bakken, but the cost of living has increased for all of us. Groceries have gone up at our 1 grocery store. We have a good school system, but not the best. Still would not say it is one of the top 20 let alone #4. Is a good place to raise kids, if you keep them active in sports or church activities. Not everyone does that.

  7. mary

    Am thinking about moving..looking for info..on best towns, low crime, low rent, and a small town. .info on schools..for elementry student…I will be renting..and info on jobs…
    Thank You
    Mary Hudgins

  8. Kathy

    Adina, have grown married child with two children looking to relocate from Va. to Montana. How are the home prices there. Any suggestions as to where to look? Thanks for your reply

  9. Adina

    Hi Kathy. I don’t live in Montana. I too am looking for information. If you find any that seems reliable please share.

  10. Linda

    Whoever did these rankings are morons! There are plenty of great places to live in MT — but they sure didn’t hit the nail on the head in this one. There is a lot more to be considered than what they have. Median incomes go way up when most of the population are are few scattered ranchers or are “out of state billionaire landlords” on prime real estate. Some (not all) of the towns listed here have SHITTY weather — even by MT standards — and NO jobs. And as for East Helena — it’s a bedroom community to Helena — as is Manhattan to Bozeman. There are no jobs in East Helena or Manhattan — they’re just the low-priced longer commutes to work. This is a really BAD ranking and gives a really skewed view of where people might want to live in this state. (I love it here — moved here in 1975 from CO and would never think of leaving.)

  11. Paddy

    I live in Australia and would like to move to America to a rodeo friendly state. I was thinking montana or wyoming. Never lived in in snow by the way. Any suggestions?

  12. Sandra Perez

    I’m visiting Oct 18 to Oct. 30 to find the town I want to move to I will be moving next year after I sale my house. I can’t wait to get there. Thank you and have a great day and week.

  13. mary

    I just moved from west Virginia about 3months ago to Glendive.I’m working got a job right away I like it here

  14. katherine stewart

    I live in TN and have always wanted to move to Montana. could anyone tell me where to even start looking like in what city and what city would have jobs. thank you for your time.

  15. Sandra

    Depends on how much snow you want some areas get more snow than other areas and do you want to live in or by a large city or a small town?

  16. Caitlyn Bailey

    i love montana even though i have never been there and once i get out of highschool and then college i want to move there and own a few horses i just dont know a good town to live in and raise horses in

  17. Mo

    @ Caitlyn Bailey

    Sounds like a great dream! I hope you can work it out!

  18. Jaz

    So far what I understood from everybody’s comments here is that the only two nice places in MT are Missoula and Glendive. Are they more nice places in MT? My husband and I are planning to move their by the summer as a retirement place and to have land and horses! Where is the best place, please, Thank you so much for all suggestions. God bless!

  19. Mark

    Housing costs in Mt are abnormally high. If you bought a house 20 or 30 years ago, you probably got a relatively liveable price. Lately, though, housing got Californicated.

  20. Kiva

    Husband and I looking to relocate.
    From Cali.
    Never been to Montana. Looking forfriendly people low rent and easy commute to work…done with crazy traffic lol
    Please let us know..thank you


Leave a Reply