Montana is full of wide-open spaces, dominating mountain ranges, and huge expanses of forest. It has a reputation of being one of the most beautiful of all 50 states, and has no doubt earned its nickname of “Big Sky Country”.
Montana is an oasis for outdoor lovers, with miles of meandering streams for fishing and kayaking, dozens of ski resorts, and world-famous national parks that beg to be explored – but it’s not just the great outdoors that makes Montana so beloved. Between all the stunning natural landscapes, you’ll find charming small towns and booming metropolises that act as exciting gateways into nature.
Scroll down for our guide to the top 20 most beautiful cities in Montana – and don’t miss them the next time you’re in Big Sky Country.
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1. Red Lodge
The small town of Red Lodge is seriously underrated and often overlooked by those planning a trip to Montana. Located on the edge of Yellowstone National Park and the Custer Gallatin National Forest, Red Lodge is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts and those looking to escape the big city life for a day or two.
Red Lodge is named for the original habitats of this community, the Crow Native American tribes, who lived in red clay-covered tepees. Coal mining brought a collection of workers from all around the world to the area, and today you can see the influence of German, Finnish, Irish, Scottish, and Italian cultures.
The downtown area is on the National Register of Historic Places, and its old buildings have been converted into charming cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops. After taking a stroll around town, you can check out the Carbon County Historical Museum or venture out to the town’s surrounding nature.
To the north, you’ll find the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary that is home to many of animals in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem – including wolves, black bears, bison, fox, porcupine, and sandhill cranes.
See these animals in their natural habitat by visiting Yellowstone National Park, which is about four hours away via the Beartooth Pass. This scenic highway is not for the faint of heart, as it’s full of hairpin turns and sits about 11,000 feet above sea level. Those who do make the trek will be rewarded with dozens of breathtaking viewpoints and stunning scenery the whole way. You might even spot some of the aforementioned wildlife along the way – in addition to mountain goats, moose, and grizzly bears.
Bozeman is one of the most beautiful cities in Montana, which may be why it’s often considered one of the best places to live in the entire country. This large town radiates small-town charm, and with the beautiful backdrop of the Bridger Mountain Range, there’s little not to love.
The mountains are good for more than just scenery, however. They provide access to endless outdoor activities including fly fishing, mountain climbing, hiking, and horseback riding. During the winter, you’ll find plenty of ski resorts in the nearby area and will also be within driving distance to Yellowstone National Park and Custer Gallatin National Forest.
The city itself is full of fun activities as well. Spend your time exploring the shops and cafes in the downtown area or enjoy some live music at one of the eclectic bars.
Located on the shores of Flathead Lake, Polson is another one of Montana’s most beautiful cities. The massive freshwater lake provides stunning views, with the snow-capped Mission Mountains in the distance adding to the incredible scenery.
You can explore the lake via boat, canoe, or kayak, and anglers can spend their time in Polson trying to reel in a massive lake trout that the waters are famed for.
The city is located in the Flathead Indian Reservation and is surrounded by verdant hillsides that grow a bounty of crops. One of the most abundant fruits of the land is cherries, and there’s a fun (and delicious) celebration every year during their harvest.
Polson is located near the National Bison Range, and if you have a few hours to spare while you’re in the area, you can drive through the loop and see some of these magnificent animals.
Bigfork is one of Montana’s most stunning cities that’s actually incredibly unknown amongst travelers – but those who make it here will be utterly amazed by the natural surroundings.
Situated between Flathead Lake and the river with the same name, the views and recreation don’t get much better than this. You’ll have the mountains as your backdrop as you bike, boat, paddle, or fish – and that’s just the beginning. Other fun activities include whiskey tasting, perusing the farmer’s markets, and attending the numerous festivals held throughout the year.
If you’re planning on spending any time in Glacier National Park, do not miss the lovely town of Whitefish. Part of what makes this town so enchanting is its many festivals held here throughout the year and friendly locals.
If you’re visiting in the summer, you’ll have access to nearby trails, streams that are great for fishing, and a beautiful beach on the shores of Whitefish Lake. The winter is perhaps the most popular time to visit Whitefish, thanks to the nearby ski slopes and the Whitefish Winter Carnival. The carnival boasts non-stop activities, including skijoring races, parades, scavenger hunts, and much more.
The downtown area is a fun place to spend your time in Whitefish, whether you’re popping into the shops or just admiring the old-school architecture. Consider planning your visit during the Huckleberry Days Arts Festival or the Taste of Whitefish to get a real feel for this quaint town.
6. West Yellowstone
Situated on the outskirts of Yellowstone National Park, West Yellowstone is a gateway to all the outdoor activities and natural beauty of the park, so if you’re in the area, this beautiful little town is one you won’t want to miss.
West Yellowstone is understandably overshadowed by the park in its backyard, but the town itself has tons of fun activities for the whole family. Those looking to learn more about the history of the area and Native Americans that once called this place home can visit the museums, while those more interested in spending time outdoors can rent an ATV, go mountain biking, or raft down the Yellowstone River.
What was once a prosperous mining town is now one of the most beautiful cities in Montana. This small town is home to the largest historic district in the United States, comprised of over 6,000 buildings.
During its heyday, Butte enticed people from all over the to come and find wealth through mining, and today you can see the effect of so many cultures coming together in the architecture and cuisine.
The best way to experience Butte is by taking a trolley tour through the historical district, visiting the World Museum of Mining, or planning your trip around the annual Montana Folk Festival.
Butte is surrounded by national forests, so those looking to spend some time outdoors will have plenty of opportunities. Take a drive along the Homestake Pass (which sits on the continental divide) and take in stunning views of the surrounding area, or spend some time hiking or fishing in the surrounding forests.
As the first permanent settlement in the state, Stevensville boasts a rich history in addition to a stunning backdrop.
The town was founded in 1841 by Jesuit missionaries, and you can see some of the original structures in Fort Owen State Park on the northern end of Stevensville. A bit further north you’ll find the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, a popular area for birdwatching and wildlife viewing.
Stevensville itself is full of small-town charm, and combined with the beautiful Bitterroot and Sapphire Mountains in the distance is surely one of the most beautiful cities in Montana.
Our list of the most beautiful cities in Montana wouldn’t be complete without the state’s capital, Helena. This old mining town has a long and interesting history, and visitors will have plenty of opportunities to learn about the city’s gold mining days.
The historic district is centered around Last Chance Gulch, where prospectors struck gold and made the city rich. Today, this mile-long stretch is home to historic buildings and artifacts in addition to quaint cafes, restaurants, and shops.
Helena is located at the base of its namesake mountain, which provides incredible scenery along with plenty of options to explore the great outdoors. Mount Helena City Park and the Helena National Forest are both located at the edge of the city and boast hundreds of miles of trails for hiking, biking, and wildlife watching.
Miners didn’t strike gold in Anaconda, but they did find plenty of copper. Nowadays, this small town is one of the most beautiful in Montana thanks to its historic downtown area and stunning natural surroundings.
Located in the southwestern part of the state at over 1,600 meters above sea level, Anaconda boasts access to a large outdoor playground including mountains, lakes, valleys, and forests. Lost Creek State Park is situated just a few miles north of the town and is the perfect place to start your exploration of the area.
Those looking to stay within city limits can spend their time meandering down Main Street and admiring the well-preserved historic buildings like the library, the courthouse, and the funky (if not slightly out-of-place) Club Moderne.
One of the most beautiful places to explore the great outdoors in Montana is the small but growing city of Hamilton. Located in the western part of the state, this town sits in the Bitterroot Valley and is surrounded by forested mountainsides that are filled with opportunities for outdoor adventure.
Check out the Bitterroot River for some great trout fishing, or head to the nearby Sapphire Mountains for some hunting. If you’re more into watching wildlife than catching it, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area is teeming with native flora and fauna, and a drive along the Skalkaho Highway Scenic Byway will provide you with stunning views across the surrounding area.
The historic downtown area is also a lovely place to spend some time. Don’t miss the beautiful old architecture of the Daly Mansion, the Old Ravalli County Courthouse, and the City Hall.
The small-town charm continues in Lewistown, located in the heart of Montana. Like so many other cities in the state, Lewistown got its start during the gold rush.
Although the gold has long since run dry, Lewistown is still a treasure trove for those looking to explore the outdoors. The town is surrounded by five different mountain ranges, making it a beautiful destination to visit at any time of year.
Those visiting this quaint town can spend their time hunting, hiking, fishing, skiing, mountain biking, or simply taking in the fresh air and tranquility that this area provides.
Located just 20 miles east of Glacier National Park and the Rocky Mountains, Choteau boasts a beautiful backdrop and easy access to some of the best nature areas in the country.
Downtown is home to charming shops and cafes, and even if you don’t feel like heading into the park there are plenty of hiking trails that start right in town. Take a scenic drive through the area via the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50-mile stretch with incredible views of the park and surrounding mountains and valleys.
Choteau is also a noteworthy spot for dinosaur lovers, as an important fossil type was discovered in the nearby Egg Mountain. For more information and to see the fossil up close, be sure to check out Choteau’s Old Trail Museum.
Situated just north of Lake Flathead on the opposite side of Polson is the beautiful city of Kalispell, the perfect home base to explore some of Montana’s best outdoor scenery with Glacier National Park and Whitefish Mountain Resort just a short drive away. Spend your time here hiking in the scenic Jewel Basin or fly fishing along the Flathead River.
Although the outdoors are what draw people to Kalispell, the town itself is also worth spending some time in. The downtown area is full of historic buildings and museums, and once you work up an appetite you can head to one of the many restaurants along Main Street.
With just over 100,000 residents, Billings is by no means a massive city, but it is the biggest one in Montana. It’s also one of the most beautiful in the state, in part due to the staggering sandstone cliffs that cut through the city.
The Yellowstone River adds to the beauty as it runs through the area, and is the last free-flowing river in the continental U.S. The river is the main source of recreation in Billings, so you can reel in massive trout, go for a paddle, or simply enjoy a picnic along the scenic shores.
The downtown district holds a large host of museums, riverfront parks, and vibrant music venues.
16. Great Falls
Situated on the banks of the Missouri River in central Montana, Great Falls is one of the most beautiful cities in the state.
Most of this big town’s best attractions can be found along the river, so a trip along the River’s Edge Trail is a rite of passage for anyone visiting. This paved walking trail stretches 60 miles long, so there are scenic views no matter where you decide to walk.
The Lewis and Clarke Interpretive Center is located off of the trail and is a great spot for all ages, kids or adults. Other popular museums around town include the C.M. Russel Museum, the History Museum, and the Children’s Museum of Montana.
If you prefer to spend your day in nature, both Gibson Park and Giant Springs State Park can be found along the River’s Edge Trail, and there are plenty of riverfront bars, cafes, and restaurants downtown.
The city of Libby is one of the most beautiful in Montana. It’s surrounded by mountainous terrain and thick pine forests, and the lovely Kootenay River flows directly through the town.
The city is extremely laid back, but that doesn’t stop more adventurous souls from coming and exploring the outdoor oasis that surrounds it. The massive Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area is a popular place for wilderness backpacking, and those looking for a less extreme experience in nature can spend the day at the Kootenai Falls located just outside the city.
18. Fort Benton
Fort Benton is a rural town in northern Montana located on the banks of the Mississippi River. This historic town is known as the “Birthplace of Montana”, as it’s the oldest settlement in the state.
The incredible landscape is part of what makes this town so beautiful, but it’s also full of old historic buildings that have been around since the Gold Rush. It won’t take long to explore downtown, so once you’ve had a gander, head to the river.
Canoeing and kayaking are some of the most popular activities in the area and are the best ways to view the famous White Cliffs located along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. These limestone cliffs have been carved by the river for thousands of years, and now stand as tall monuments over the river bank.
19. Big Sky
Nestled amongst the ridges of the Rocky Mountains in southern Montana, Big Sky is one of the most beautiful areas in the state. Most popular with outdoor sports enthusiasts, this picturesque area offers a little something for everyone.
Skiing is perhaps the most popular activity here thanks to the numerous runs available at both Big Sky Resort and Lone Mountain Ranch. The Gallatin River flows through the area, enticing anglers, rafters, and paddlers from all around. Hiking is another popular pastime for visitors who Big Sky, and the Gallatin National Forest offers up gorgeous trails and plenty of wildlife watching opportunities.
If all that didn’t give you reason enough to visit, this beautiful town is just 15 miles from Yellowstone National Park.
Ennis is another must-see small town near Yellowstone National Park. Perched along the beautiful banks of the Madison River, anglers are amongst the top visitors to this tiny town. Common catches include rainbow trout and brown trout. You’ll be treated to incredibly scenic views even if you don’t reel anything in. The area is also famous for ranching, so you’ll likely drive past various sheep and cattle ranches on your way to the park.