Montana might make the list as one of the country’s largest states, but it somehow manages to be one of the least populated – which makes for a huge selling point.
Montana is known for its wide, sweeping landscapes of untouched terrain and the abundance of wildlife that easily outweigh its human population.
Because of this, tourism in the state has skyrocketed, with more people visiting this serene state each year.
Even though most cities in Montana are minuscule compared to cities in states like New York or California, the influx of tourists plays a huge role in what is considered “large”.
While these cities don’t have massive populations, their outdoor recreational opportunities make them larger than life.
Check out this list of the fourteen largest cities in Montana, where the populations may not be extreme, but the land is plentiful, and the tourism is ever-growing.
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The Biggest Cities in Montana
1. Billings: 117,116
Nestled along the breathtaking Yellowstone River, Billings has become the largest city in Montana.
Even with its 100,000+ residents, it doesn’t feel nearly as crowded as most of the country’s other big cities – you can thank the wide, sweeping landscape for that.
Because of the nature that surrounds it, Billings is a hub for adventurers looking to spend their time out in the wild mountain biking and hiking.
One of the most interesting geological features near Billings is the Rimrocks, and there are plenty of hiking trails that take you along its sandstone cliffs overlooking the river.
Another great option for outdoor recreation is Billing’s Pictograph Cave State Park, which has been ranked one of the best parks in the state.
As the name suggests, Pictograph Cave State Park stretches out over 23 acres with three massive caves that are home to thousands of artifacts.
An interpretive trail takes you to the mouth of all three caves, is less than a mile long, and is accessible to just about anyone.
Make sure to keep a close eye out for the cave art that is peppered along the trail – a close encounter with petroglyphs you won’t find anywhere else in Montana.
Other activities in Billings include diving into some history at Moss Mansion, where you can take a self-guided tour to see what life was like for the rich during the early 1900s, or stopping by ZooMontana to support the folks who dedicate their time to the care of animals like grizzly bears and wolves that are no longer able to live in the wild.
If you’re looking for an even bigger adventure, the iconic Yellowstone National Park isn’t too far away, making Billings a great starting point for an epic day trip.
2. Missoula: 73,489
Like most college cities, Missoula just keeps on growing, and local establishments are constantly evolving to keep up with the young crowds.
But Montana has the magical ability to make even the busiest places feel relaxing – and the city of Missoula is no exception.
You don’t have to go far to take in the city’s beauty, and you’ll find most people enjoying their time on the Clark Fork Riverfront Trail.
This convenient trail runs right through the city and its smooth pavement makes it a sweet escape for hikers and cyclists alike.
And when it comes to hiking trails, the city has more than you could even imagine. This may come as a surprise, considering it is such an established destination, but the surrounding area is filled with mountains to explore.
One of the most popular trails is the “M” trail, which is named for the giant “M” that is cemented into the side of the mountain.
The trail’s breathtaking views of the city and its surrounding valley win over the hearts of both locals and tourists alike.
There are also three other hubs for outdoor recreation, and each boasts its own set of unique features. They are Rattlesnake, Pattee Canyon, and Blue Mountain National Recreation Centers.
In the city, swing by Caras Park to check out the latest event, or just enjoy some time people-watching as locals scurry throughout the downtown area.
And speaking of downtown, there is nothing quite like Missoula’s Hip Strip, which is filled with charming boutiques, eccentric art galleries, trendy restaurants, cozy cafes, and much more.
3. Great Falls: 60,442
Known for being one of the largest cities in Montana, Great Falls is the perfect destination for spending time in nature while also being close to all of the typical city luxuries.
The most popular and eye-catching thing to do in Great Falls is going for a walk along the River’s Edge Trail. This scenic trail takes you right along the notorious Missouri River and stretches out over sixty miles with terrain fit for all skill levels.
There is no better way than this trail to travel from Great Falls’ busy downtown area to peaceful parks like Gibson Park and Giant Spring State Park.
And if walking just isn’t your style, you will be happy to know that plenty of adventurers take to this trail on bikes, scooters, and rollerblades as well.
In the city, stop by the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center to learn more about how these historic figures traveled through this part of America.
Then, head over to Sluice Boxes State Park for a less populated hike that takes you through a canyon and across creeks for a scenic day you’ll never forget.
Nearby Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge also makes for a picturesque day of bird watching and fishing across its vast 12,000 acres.
4. Bozeman: 53,293
If you are flying into Montana, there is a pretty good chance you’ll be landing in Bozeman. So, you might as well stay awhile and take in its many wonderful sights.
Even though this place is as city as it gets, the undeniable charm of Montana’s great outdoors is never too far away.
There is even an entire trail system known as “Main Street to the Mountains” and provides hikers with an endless number of options to make a quick getaway into the wild.
Not to mention, the Custer Gallatin National Forest is just a stone’s throw away and offers visitors a plentiful number of canyons and mountains to explore.
Also, you don’t want to miss an opportunity to visit the Museum of the Rockies – it’s filled with dinosaur fossils that were found right in the state!
And with the Montana State University right down the road, it’s no wonder that Bozeman’s downtown area is one of the liveliest places in Montana to hang out.
Hop between shops, galleries, cafes, restaurants, and end your night with a nightcap at one of the many exciting bars.
Just make sure you get to Burke Park before dusk because there is no better place to watch the sunset over the city.
5. Butte: 34,494
Once home to a bustling copper industry, Butte gained its title for one of the largest cities in Montana back in the early 1900s and has held its ground ever since.
Due to its rich background, Butte is overflowing with history, and the state has even gone as far as naming the entire city a historical landmark.
It’s pretty impressive how the city manages to house over six thousand cultural sites while also providing the modern flare of city life.
With history around every corner, it should come as no surprise that there is a surplus of tour groups readily available to give guests the full experience.
The most popular company is Old Butte Historical Adventures because they offer tours of Butte’s hidden underground life, like the Rookwood Speakeasy and 1800s city jail.
Another great option for people unable to walk long distances is the Butte Trolley Tours, which makes stops at every notable landmark around town.
And just because you’ve taken a tour of downtown doesn’t mean you should pass up an opportunity to visit the Museum of Mining. This city is so full of great historical sites that you’ll be eager to plan your return trip!
6. Helena: 32,091
The capital of Montana, the lively city of Helena has a lot to offer with something to enjoy for all kinds of travelers.
You will find history everywhere you look, plenty of options for dining, and endless opportunities to escape into the great outdoors.
Make your first stop at the Montana State Capitol where you can appreciate some of the state’s history and admire the extravagant design of its interior.
Head over to the neighborhood of Last Chance Gulch to see how the city came to be, and enjoy hopping between plenty of shops, restaurants, and cafes as you dabble in its history.
This neighborhood has been transformed into a pedestrian mall so you can explore at your leisure, and there are some pretty cool highlights, like the historic trolley car, to be found here.
Go for a hike without ever leaving the city limits at Mount Helena City Park, where various trails stretch out over 600 acres.
The most popular of the bunch is the 1906 Trail because of its wide-sweeping views of the city – but just because it’s less than two miles long doesn’t make it an easy feat!
The trail climbs over one thousand feet in elevation and can be quite challenging but take heart knowing that there are plenty of other options to accommodate all skill levels.
7. Kalispell: 24,558
Less than an hour away from the iconic Glacier National Park, it is no surprise that Kalispell has become the largest city in the northwestern part of the state.
Even though it is home to a large population of people, you’d never be able to tell as there are so many places to escape into the wilderness.
But you won’t mind running into a few locals here because the city is known for its friendly atmosphere and visitors are welcomed with open arms.
Since you are so close to Glacier National Park, it would be wrong not to go for a drive on the picturesque Going-to-the-Sun Road.
In fact, people travel from all over the country just for a chance to take in these views, so prepare to be blown away without ever having to leave your car.
Another nearby wonder that you won’t want to miss is Flathead Lake. You can spend hours just taking in the beauty of its waters surrounded by towering mountains.
Once you’ve spent some time in the great outdoors, head down to Main Street where you will find a combination of historic buildings dating back to the late 1800s and trendy boutiques to explore.
8. Anaconda: 9,421
Another Montana city rich in history is Anaconda thanks to a once-booming mining industry that can still be observed all throughout the area.
The most important landmark here is the Anaconda Smelter Stack, but due to its fragile state and historic significance visitors are unable to get too close.
The best way to get a glimpse of this piece of history is by visiting Anaconda Smoke Stack State Park where there are designated viewing platforms that provide unobscured views of the structure.
Or, you can always get a view of the smelter stack while on one of the Anaconda Historic Bus Tours.
When you aren’t taking in the history, you have to go for a drive along the Pintler Veterans Memorial Scenic Highway for endless views of mountains, lakes, and more.
Not too far away is the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort so you can unwind after a long day and treat your body to an evening of rejuvenation.
Another nearby gem is Georgetown Lake, where you can find people throughout the entire year enjoying activities like hiking, fishing, and backpacking.
Its close proximity to other popular Montana cities, like Butte, makes Anaconda a great day trip or a place to rest your head in between adventures.
9. Whitefish: 7,751
Known as a popular starting point for trips to Glacier National Park, the resort city of Whitefish leaves very little to be desired. But the main attraction here is most definitely its abundance of outdoor recreation.
In the grand scheme of things, Whitefish is not an extremely large city. But for the humble state of Montana, it is considered highly populated.
This may have something to do with the thousands of visitors it sees each year due to tourist hotspots like Whitefish Mountain Resort.
The resort extends over 3,000 acres, and its ideal skiing opportunities make the city a popular vacation destination all year round.
And even though this city is highly dependent on its constant flow of tourism, all of the shops that line the downtown area are locally owned.
Enjoy hours walking the quiet streets as you stop into places like charming jewelry stores and cozy, used book shops.
At the heart of the city, you will find the picturesque Whitefish Lake. The best way to take it all in is by going for a walk along the sandy shores of Whitefish City Beach.
The city is surrounded by wide, sweeping landscapes that make for some of the best hiking adventures you will ever have; many of which will be located in the iconic Flathead National Forest.
10. Lewiston: 5,952
The thriving city of Lewiston is Montana in a nutshell, with rich history around every corner and outdoor recreation galore.
One of the best things you can do here is go on a walking tour throughout the city where you will hop between districts and admire a plentiful number of historic sites.
The first stop on your tour is the Silk Stockings District where you can check out some of the most luxurious homes that were built in the early 1900s.
Next up is the Central Business District and it is here that you can see remnants of the historic buildings that once made this city prosperous.
Then, swing by the Courthouse Square to explore the Fergus County Courthouse and City Hall building before making your way over to Judith Place where the middle class lived during this time.
The Central Montana Museum does a great job of explaining how all these little neighborhoods tie together and the significance they have to the state’s history.
Support local artists with a visit to the Lewistown Art Center, learn about the process of the Big Spring Trout Hatchery, and go for a scenic hike along the Lewis and Clark Trail.
When you’re not busy exploring the city’s many attractions, consider spending some time relaxing on any of the city’s ponds for a peaceful evening of fishing.
In fact, Lewiston is one of the best places in the country to catch trout and has even been labeled a blue-ribbon destination that attracts visitors from near and far.
Just make sure you save time to stuff your face with a slice of mouthwatering pie from Brooks Market & Deli or enjoy a couple of drinks at Big Spring Brewing.
11. Polson: 5,148
Nestled along the edge of Flathead Lake, Polson has quickly made a name for itself thanks to its natural beauty, and with a population of 5,000 people, it’s pretty big in Montana’s eyes.
Much of the activities you’ll find here revolve around the lake in some way or another, and even fun events like the Flathead Lake Cherry Festival thrive because of its presence.
With that being said, the most obvious choice for enjoying your time in Polson would be by taking a boat out on Flathead Lake.
You could easily spend all day exploring the endless waters with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and fishing opportunities aplenty.
If you don’t have a watercraft of your own, you’ll be happy to know that there are multiple marinas offering rentals so you can make the most of your time here.
All around the lake, you’ll see campers setting up their tents and hikers setting out on grand adventures.
And just when you think the views can’t get any better, you will be amazed by the Kerr Dam, which stands over 200 feet tall with fourteen openings that send gushing waters pouring down.
Right off the lake, you’ll find a bustling downtown area filled with restaurants, bars, and shops that will keep the influx of tourists busy for weeks.
Grab lunch at Cherries BBQ Pit for some of the best slow-cooked pulled pork you’ll ever have and be warned: the menu starts selling out by dinner.
To make room for dessert, browse charming shops selling artisan goods and works of art before making your way over to Scoops Ice Cream Shack.
Then, end your night off right at Salish Point Park where you can watch the sunset over the water in serene silence.
12. Glendive: 4,873
A big city in Montana’s eyes, Glendive is one of the most unique places you will visit in the state – and that is mainly because it’s a hub for dinosaur discovery.
The city is a paleontologist’s dream, and some of the many dinosaur fossils that have been found in the area can be admired at the Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum.
So many fossils have been discovered here that Glendive soon became home to the largest dinosaur museums in the country.
One step inside will leave you mesmerized as you are welcome by the bones of t-rex standing nearly fifty feet tall.
But this isn’t the only dinosaur-related museum in the city! The Frontier Gateway Museum is just as interesting and takes a different approach to educate its visitors.
This museum is completely free of charge, and you can spend hours walking amongst the many exhibits located both in and outdoors.
While you’re at it, you should definitely stop by the visitor center to grab a Dinosaur Trail Passport so you don’t miss any of the exciting stops in the area.
The main attraction in Glendive, however, is undoubtedly Makoshika State Park, which is not only the largest state park in Montana but is also the location where most of the fossils have been discovered.
Paleontologists even believe that there are more fossils waiting to be uncovered which would only add to the ten species already documented.
There are plenty of hiking trails for visitors to explore, but if you only have time for one, make it the Diane Gabriel Trail.
This trail is short in length but packs a punch as it climbs up a mountain to breathtaking views of badlands and the remnants of a dinosaur fossil.
Start each morning with a tasty breakfast at Bloom & Vine paired with a locally roasted cup of coffee and end each night with a rotating selection of microbrews at The Gust Hauf.
13. Bigfork: 4,668
Another popular city located on the iconic Flathead Lake is Bigfork, and it only seems to be getting larger by the year.
As outdoor travel continues to grow in popularity, so does Big Fork, thanks to its close proximity to Glacier National Park and quick access to the lake.
Its ideal location makes it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state and the abundance of activities will have you coming back for years to come.
Despite the tens of thousands of people who visit each year, the Big Fork Village always gives off laid-back vibes and the humble storefronts warmly welcome you.
Much of the town is made up of local artists and there always seems to be new art galleries popping up throughout the city for visitors to enjoy.
Go for a hike on the Wild Mile Trail to get up close and personal with river rapids and enjoy the many vistas you’ll see on your four-mile journey.
And of course, you can’t go wrong with spending your day on the water, whether it be partaking in some world-class fishing, paddling around in a kayak, or trying your hand at some stand-up paddle (SUP) boarding.
14. Hamilton: 4,659
Tucked away at the foot of the Bitterroot Mountains, Hamilton doesn’t have the largest population, but it makes up for it with the thousands of tourists that visit each year.
While much of the city is focused on outdoor recreation, the continued growth of tourism has led to a variety of other attractions to keep visitors constantly busy throughout their stay.
Take a tour of the Daly Mansion to see how the wealthy owners of the nearby mining industries lived their lives in the late 1800s.
Fly fishing is all the craze in Montana and there is no better place to do it than Bitterroot River. There are even guides available to help beginners get started.
Since the city is surrounded by the Bitterroot National Forest and its many mountains, it is no wonder that there is an overflowing amount of hiking trails to choose from.
Lake Como is another great place to go for a hike and allows visitors to cool off in its crystal-clear waters after a busy day in the wilderness.
The downtown area is designed with the hungry hikers in mind so there is no shortage of places to grab a quick bite or enjoy a hearty meal.
There are even fine dining options like Taste of Paris for those nights when you feel like splurging or spending a romantic evening with your significant other.