As the fastest growing U.S. city of its size, Bozeman is no longer the small town it once was. The population is increasing by more than 3.6% per year, which is four times the growth rate of the state of Montana! There is a lot of positive that has come with Bozeman's growth. We are a vibrant community where new businesses can thrive, people are friendly and the quality of life remains high. However, the Covid pandemic has pushed this into overdrive and our already growing population is booming. For some, this means it's time to move. Whether you have been priced out of the high real estate and rental prices, or you simply miss old Bozeman, here are 10 small Montana towns to consider.
Only 30 minutes from Bozeman, Livingston is a great choice if you are looking for a smaller town feel, but want to remain close to Bozeman. With the Yellowstone River running along the edge of town and the Absaroka Mountains as the backdrop, there is no denying Livingston is beautiful! They have a charming downtown with excellent restaurants, art galleries, shops, and breweries. There are historic neighborhoods with beautiful homes and several new developments around town. Sacajawea Park sits next to the Yellowstone River, with tennis courts, a playground, and plenty of picnic areas under mature trees. There is no lack of recreational activities with the Paradise Valley nearby and Yellowstone National Park a short drive away, Livingston is a lot how Bozeman was 15 years ago, with plenty to do and local events but not all the crowds! Although, it is a tourist destination, so it can be crowded during certain times of the year.
2. Three Forks
Three Forks is Montana's self-proclaimed Best Small Town. It is an ideal choice if you are looking to get away from Bozeman's boom but still want to be within a 30-minute drive. In the past year, Three Forks is seeing growth but not to the extent Bozeman, Belgrade, and Livingston have. Home prices are still affordable and it's easier to find a place with a little bit of elbow room. Downtown Three Forks is a quintessential small town with a couple of bars and restaurants and the beautiful, historic Sacajawea Hotel. There's also a golf course and the Headwaters is nearby with endless recreational opportunities.
Ennis is approximately 60 miles from Bozeman with a population of around 1,000 people. It is most well known for its access to blue-ribbon trout fishing on the Madison River. It is an agricultural community at its core but attracts tourists for hunting and fishing. For a small town, there is plenty to do with Ennis Lake and mountains nearby, great restaurants, a 9-hole golf course, and a few old west saloons. Ennis is a community all its own, but there are still some who live here and commute to Bozeman. Photo credit visitmt.com
4. White Sulpher Springs
Located about an hour and a half from Bozeman is the small town of White Sulpher Springs. With the mineralized hot springs as the center of town and access to fishing on the Smith River, this town attracts both locals and tourists. It is where the annual Red Ants Pants Festival is held which brings in a ton of people each summer. White Sulpher has everything to love about a small town with a few bars and restaurants along Main Street and a castle at the top of the hill. Another thing people love about White Sulpher is its proximity to Showdown or Bridger Bowl for skiing. Photo credit the Missoulian
Just under 2 hours from Bozeman is the small town of Dillon with a population of around 4,100. It is home to the University of Montana Western which has an enrollment of over 1,500 students. Dillon is situated in a beautiful valley with the Ruby, Big Hole, and Beaverhead rivers and blue-ribbon trout fishing nearby. They have a vibrant downtown with museums, restaurants, bars, and a Patagonia outlet! It may seem an unlikely place for this, but it has been a part of this community for over 25 years. Dillon offers a small-town vibe with great access to outdoor recreation and youthful energy thanks to the university.
6. Red Lodge
Red Lodge is a small ski town near the Beartooths a little over 2 hours from Bozeman. It's a beautiful and quaint town that brings in summer tourists driving the Beartooth Hwy to Yellowstone Park. Tourism and the skiing community keep it vibrant with plenty of restaurants and shops in their downtown. Billings is the closest city to Red Lodge, approximately 45 miles away. The population of Red Lodge is around 2,125. Photo credit cityofredlodge.net
Lewistown sits right in the middle of the state, 3 hours from Bozeman, with Billings being a closer city at 2 hours away. With a population of around 6,000, Lewistown is the perfect small-town size. They have a strong community with annual events like the Chokecherry Festival and a cute downtown with restaurants, cafes, and shops. Like Bozeman, it is tucked into a valley with surrounding mountain ranges. There is a spring-fed stream that goes through town, and historic homes throughout the mature neighborhoods. As Bozeman grows, we hear more and more about people making their way to Lewistown to find a version of "old Bozeman." Photo credit enjoylewistown.com
8. Fort Benton
Fort Benton is probably one of Montana's coolest small towns, not to mention how beautiful it is. Tucked along the upper Missouri River, the history in this town runs deep, it is commonly referred to as the birthplace of Montana. Fort Benton is a small, friendly community that brings in a certain amount of tourists, but because it is remote, it stays quiet. The closest city is Great Falls, 45 minutes away and Bozeman is a 3.5-hour drive. There are a few restaurants, cafes, and bars with the anchor being the historic Union Hotel which has a fantastic restaurant right on the river. There is plenty to do for the outdoor recreationists with fishing, canoeing, and the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument nearby. Photo credit fortbentonchamber.org
Heading to the western part of the state, Polson Montana is a small community located on the south end of Flathead Lake. In the summertime, it is a popular spot for locals and tourists to access the lake. For the rest of the year, it remains a small community on the Flathead Indian Reservation. It is a popular cherry growing region with many orchards. The closest cities are Kalispel and Missoula, both being around an hour away. Bozeman is a 4-hour drive. Photo credit City of Polson
Located in the beautiful Bitteroot Valley of western Montana is Hamilton with a population of around 4,300. The community has hundreds of small farms, ranches, and orchards. It also has several historic buildings, including the Daly Mansion. The picturesque downtown has a growing art scene, breweries, restaurants, shops and cafes. Missoula is the closest city, one hour away and Bozeman is around 4 hours away. Photo credit Hamilton Downtown Association