Study: Happiest Cities in Montana

Read more about Can Money Buy Happiness

Between the spectacular views and truly epic sunsets, Montana really is a little corner of paradise on earth. The winters may be cold, but the people are warm, especially those living in our 10 favorite spots in Big Sky Country. These are the places where residents have the most reasons to be happy, from the range of dining options to the low crime rates, lower likelihood of divorce, and housing they can actually afford. Read on to find out which cities made our list.

Study Methodology

To get our final list, we collected U.S. Census data and FBI crime statistics for all of Montana's incorporated cities and towns. Each one was ranked on the following seven factors:

  1. Restaurants
  2. Crime rate
  3. Commute
  4. Departure time
  5. Income
  6. Divorce rate
  7. Housing

If your idea of a good time is having dinner or drinks with the people who are most important to you, we've got you covered. The first thing we considered for our study is the number of restaurants per capita in each city.

Knowing which locales are the safest can ease your peace of mind. The second factor we used in determining our rankings is the odds of being the victim of a violent crime.

Montana is the perfect escape if you're tired of dealing with heavy traffic on the drive to work. Check out how each city ranked based on the average commute time.

An early wake-up call can boost your energy and your mood, according to researchers. For our next study measure, we chose the percentage of residents who leave for work before 5 a.m.

The amount of money you take home at the end of the day can influence your level of fulfillment. We ran the numbers to see where workers earn the highest median household income.

Montana may not be your first choice for a honeymoon destination, but it's a pretty good place for married couples to settle down. To see how relationships fare in each city, we looked for the lowest percentages of divorced men and women.

Nothing is more annoying than watching the bulk of your money go toward rent or mortgage payments. The more you can shrink that amount, the happier you’ll feel. Our last rankings factor is based on the percentage of income residents spend on housing.

10 Happiest Cities in Montana

10. Missoula

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 320 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 306.6
  • Average commute time: 14.8 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.7%
  • Median household income: $39,076
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 12.2% of males, 13% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 24.7%

Nestled in the heart of the Lolo National Forest is the city of Missoula, which boasts a population of about 68,000 people. This college town is home to the University of Montana's main campus, and it's undoubtedly an action-packed place to hang your hat. It's got a low violent crime rate, and the average commute takes less than 15 minutes, which is a boon for working professionals.

Did You Know: Some of Missoula's most famous native sons include actor Dana Carvey and filmmaker David Lynch.

9. Belgrade

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 184 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 422.3
  • Average commute time: 17.7 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 5.9%
  • Median household income: $39,398
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 8.8% of males, 15.8% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 27.7%

Belgrade is a quaint little town of about 7,500 people, about 13 miles northwest of Bozeman. It made it to the number nine spot on our list for having the highest percentage of residents who head out to work first thing in the morning. The city also rated well for its average commute time and low violent crime rate, although housing does cost a little more than other places in the state. If you're in the mood for authentic Italian fare, Damasco's can't be beat.

Did You Know: Belgrade is named for Serbia's capital as a nod of appreciation to the Serbian financiers who helped to finance the surrounding area's development.

8. Whitefish

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 137 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 378.1
  • Average commute time: 18.4 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 5.5%
  • Median household income: $43,643
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 8.6% of males, 14.3% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 25.5%

Whitefish styles itself as "Montana's Outdoor Playground," and it's truly a delight for the 6,500 people who call it home. From biking to golfing to skiing, there are plenty of ways to stay active in every season. Housing takes up a little more of residents' income, but it's a small price to pay to live in such beautiful surroundings. Whitefish also has the most number of restaurants per capita. Try Loula's for a slice of made-from-scratch huckleberry pie.

Did You Know: This town is all about the huckleberries. It has a yearly arts festival named after the wild fruit, plus an abundance of picking options along the mountain range during the summer.

7. Billings

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 401 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 287.5
  • Average commute time: 17.1 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 3.5%
  • Median household income: $48,074
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 12.4% of males, 16.2% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 20.6%

Billings is Montana's largest city, with right around 107,000 residents and thousands of visitors pouring in each year to take in surrounding attractions like the Custer National Forest and the Little Bighorn Battlefield. Aside from being packed with things to see and do, Billings is also an outstanding choice if you're on the hunt for a job or looking for a good place to raise a family.

Did You Know: Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh once worked as a mechanic at the Billings Municipal Airport.

6. Laurel

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 433 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 623.7
  • Average commute time: 18.4 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.1%
  • Median household income: $49,143
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 15% of males, 11.7% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 18.1%

Just under 7,000 people reside in Laurel, and they're sold on its small-town atmosphere and exceptional quality of life. The trip to work each day takes slightly longer than in some of our other cities, but residents are rewarded with the second highest median income. The safety of local neighborhoods and plenty of moderately priced housing means you won't lose sleep at night.

Did You Know: Laurel's annual Fourth of July fireworks display is one of the largest in the state.

5. Great Falls

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 324 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 393.1
  • Average commute time: 14.5 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 3.2%
  • Median household income: $42,085
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 12.6% of males, 14.4% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 19.4%

With almost 59,000 people, Great Falls is one of the largest cities in our study and in the state. It managed to climb to number five on our list based on how it rated for the average commute time, the violent crime rate and housing costs. There are plenty of things to do here, both indoors and out, as well as nearly 200 bars and restaurants where you can whet your whistle or your appetite.

Did You Know: The Roe River, which runs just north of the city, has been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's shortest river.

4. Helena

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 237 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 226.7
  • Average commute time: 13.5 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.3%
  • Median household income: $49,445
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 15.6% of males, 17.3% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 18.1%

Helena began as a gold rush town, but today it's a thriving city of around 29,000 people. It scored the fourth place spot on our list, with both the best commute time and the highest median income. Houses sell for a little more compared to some of the other cities in our study, but you won't have to part with too much of your hard-earned cash for housing. The historic downtown is where you'll find some of Helena's most eclectic restaurants, such as Benny's Bistro and the Windbag Saloon & Grill.

Did You Know: Helena became the capital of the Montana territory in 1875 and the official state capital in 1889.

3. Bozeman

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 317 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 390.7
  • Average commute time: 14.1 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 1.9%
  • Median household income: $44,818
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 6% of males, 9% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 23.8%

Based on how low the combined divorce rate is, we'd say Bozeman is an ideal place for couples, but singles should feel at home too. The city is home to about 39,000 residents who are all too happy to tell you why they like it here. For workers, it's all about the 14-minute commute and the $44,000 median payday. If you're raising a family, you'll be tickled pink at how safe and affordable the city is overall.

Did You Know: A number of movies have been filmed in and around Bozeman, including The Horse Whisperer and A River Runs Through It.

2. Havre

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 283 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 155.9
  • Average commute time: 13.7 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.2%
  • Median household income: $44,446
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 10.9% of males, 9.9% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 15.7%

Havre slides into second place, largely thanks to how inexpensive housing is. The 9,600 people who live here spend the least amount of their income on a home and they collect some decent bucks on payday. Havre also gets the thumbs-up from residents based on how little time it takes to get to work. Once of the city's best-kept secrets is the 5th Avenue Grind, where you can enjoy tasty sandwiches and gourmet coffee.

Did You Know: Havre is located near Bear Paw Battlefield, where Chief Joseph famously surrendered to U.S. military forces following the end of the Nez Perce War.

1. Miles City

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 317 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 386.2
  • Average commute time: 13.6 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 5.3%
  • Median household income: $41,386
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 13.3% of males, 12.7% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 15.8%

Miles City is miles ahead of the competition when it comes to overall livability and the happiness of the 8,500 people who call the city home. An average commute of under 14 minutes and housing costs that total less than 16% of income are definite crowd pleasers. If you want to try some great tasting food and enjoy cozy ambience, a trip to Hole in the Wall is just what the doctor ordered.

Did You Know: Every year, crowds flock to Miles City to attend the Bucking Horse Sale, one of the state's oldest rodeo events.


These 10 cities are a diverse bunch, ranging from tiny little towns to bustling urban centers. Size aside, the reason they all made our list is because they each display the kinds of qualities that contribute to a happier, more satisfied population.

The Top 10 Happiest Cities in Montana

RankCityPeople per Restaurants and BarsViolent Crime OddsAverage Commute Time% Leaving Before 5amMedian Household Income% Male Divorce1% Female Divorce1Income Spent on Housing
1Miles City317.41 in 386.213.65.3%$41,38613.3%12.7%15.8%
2Havre282.91 in 155.913.72.2%$44,44610.9%9.9%15.7%
3Bozeman317.21 in 390.714.11.9%$44,8186.0%9.0%23.8%
4Helena236.91 in 226.713.52.3%$49,44515.6%17.3%18.1%
5Great Falls323.61 in 393.114.53.2%$42,08512.6%14.4%19.4%
6Laurel433.21 in 623.718.42.1%$49,14315.0%11.7%18.1%
7Billings400.61 in 287.517.13.5%$48,07412.4%16.2%20.6%
8Whitefish137.41 in 378.118.45.5%$43,6438.6%14.3%25.5%
9Belgrade184.31 in 422.317.75.9%$39,3988.8%15.8%27.7%
10Missoula319.61 in 306.614.82.7%$39,07612.2%13.0%24.7%

1Treated as one combined metric for ranking purposes (at a 50:50 male to female ratio).

Rebecca Lake is a journalist at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Rebecca Lake at rebecca@creditdonkey.com. Our data-driven analysis has been recognized by major news outlets across the country and has helped consumers make savvy decisions. (read more)

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