Study: Best Cities to Live in Montana

If you're ready to exchange the fast-paced city life for miles of wide-open spaces, there's no place better than Big Sky Country. Also known as the "The Treasure State," Montana is a true gem when it comes to its natural resources, picturesque landscapes and deep historical roots. If you'll soon be making a move to or in the state, where to live is the most important decision you'll make. Take a look at how these 10 cities stack up according to the CreditDonkey experts.

In the east, you'll find grassy rolling plains while the west is dominated by the imposing peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Beautiful views abound, no matter where you set down stakes.

Just a century ago, ranching and farming served as the cornerstones of Montana's economy but tourism, healthcare, education and forestry have taken the lead in recent years. Today, the old and the new intersect in places like Billings and Missoula, located close to Native American reservations. The state's rich heritage continues to be celebrated through events like the Lewis & Clark Festival and the Wolf Point Wild Horse Stampede. For lifelong residents and first-time visitors, it's easy to see what makes Montana so unique.

10 Best Cities to Live in Montana

Study Methodology

Our study is based on these five criteria:

  1. Crime Rate
  2. Commute Time
  3. Income
  4. Education
  5. Restaurants Per Capita

Whether you're living in a major city or moving to the country, you want to know that you and your family are safe wherever you go. To pinpoint which of Montana's cities are the safest, we calculated the odds of being the victim of a violent crime.

Living in an area that's less populated has its advantages, especially when it comes to traffic. We looked at the average commute time for each city in our study and found just one where the drive to work took longer than 18 minutes.

As its population continues to grow, so does Montana's economy, offering job seekers new opportunities and increasing wages. To find those cities that pay the best, we considered the median household income as well as the percentage of residents who hold a bachelor's degree or higher.

If you're willing to step outside of your comfort zone, you'll find that Montana serves up some unusual but tasty dishes. Stop at a local restaurant and you're just as likely to find elk and bison on the menu as you are a traditional burger or steak. We looked at the number of restaurants per capita in each city to help you find those places with the most diverse dining choices.

Tip: Dining out? Consider using a credit card with rewards on restaurant purchases.

10. Belgrade

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 422.3
  • Commute Time: 17.7 minutes
  • Income: $39,398
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 28.4%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 184 inhabitants

Belgrade's business-friendly atmosphere, safe streets and excellent schools attract plenty of new residents each year. The city features a varied selection of shops and restaurants, but if you can't find something to suit your mood, Bozeman is less than 15 miles away. The Bozeman Yellowstone Airport sits adjacent to the Belgrade city limits, making air travel to other parts of the state or country convenient.

Did You Know: One of the area's top attractions is the Museum of the Rockies, which features the largest dinosaur fossil collection in the U.S.

9. Miles City

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 386.2
  • Commute Time: 13.6 minutes
  • Income: $41,386
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 20.1%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 317 inhabitants

Known as the" Cowboy Capital of the World," Miles City got its start when General Custer and his troops advanced through the area prior to the Battle of Little Bighorn. Today, the saloons and dance halls have been replaced by thriving local businesses, quaint family homes and eclectic restaurants like the Blackiron Grill and Rotisserie. Residents of Miles City have one of the shortest commutes, averaging 13.6 minutes, and median incomes are in the $41,000 range.

Did You Know: Calamity Jane Canary once owned a ranch just outside of Miles City.

8. Great Falls

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 393.1
  • Commute Time: 14.5 minutes
  • Income: $42,085
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 23.2%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 324 inhabitants

The second largest city in our study, Great Falls sits roughly 90 miles northeast of Helena. Ideally situated for nature lovers, Great Falls offers more than 50 parks and 40 miles of trails that extend along the Missouri River, making it a top pick for biking, hiking and kayaking enthusiasts. Lewis & Clark National Forest is less than 60 miles away and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex is located about 60-90 miles away. There are more than 180 dining spots scattered around the city, serving up everything from barbecue to seafood.

Did You Know: Great Falls is named after a group of five waterfalls that stretch along a 10-mile span of the Missouri River.

7. Kalispell

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 292
  • Commute Time: 14.2 minutes
  • Income: $39,371
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 27.5%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 225 inhabitants

Its close proximity to Glacier National Park (45 minutes), Flathead National Forest (3 hours) and the Whitefish Mountain Resort (1.5 hours) make Kalispell a prime target for tourists who are looking to enjoy Montana's great outdoors. In addition to tourism, manufacturing and healthcare also play key roles in fueling the city's economy. Getting to work takes just over 14 minutes on average and workers here earn a median income of more than $39,000.

Did You Know: Kalispell sponsors the annual Montana Dragon Boat Festival, which features teams of 20 racing authentic Hong Kong style dragon boats across Flathead Lake.

6. Missoula

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 306.6
  • Commute Time: 14.8 minutes
  • Income: $39,076
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 43.4%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 320 inhabitants

Missoula, one of Montana's larger cities, is also one of the state's most educated, with more than 40% of residents holding a college degree. Considered an economic hub for western Montana, many of the city's residents are employed in white-collar positions, although manufacturing and education also account for a significant number of jobs. Despite its size, the average commute is relatively short, at just under 15 minutes.

Did You Know: Missoula is the setting for Norman Maclean's 1976 novella, A River Runs Through It.

5. Billings

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 287.5
  • Commute Time: 17.1 minutes
  • Income: $48,074
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 30.6%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 401 inhabitants

With nearly 107,000 residents, Billings is Montana's largest and busiest urban area. Some of the most important industries include engineering, energy, tech, agriculture and healthcare. Residents here earn some of the highest median incomes of any city in our study, falling just short of $50,000 annually. Billings also boasts an active nightlife scene, along with nearly 270 restaurants including the award-winning Burger Dive.

Did You Know: Several must-see attractions are located in and around Billings, including ZooMontana, the Yellowstone River and the Little Bighorn Battlefield, site of General Custer's famous last stand.

4. Havre

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 155.9
  • Commute Time: 13.7 minutes
  • Income: $44,446
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 23.9%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 283 inhabitants

Tucked away in north central Montana, Havre is a quiet little town of approximately 9,600 residents. Ranching and farming still play a solid role in the local economy, but a satellite campus of Montana State University also supplies a number of jobs. While it features all the trappings of a modern city, Havre continues to maintain a small-town feel thanks to its close-knit community and welcoming people.

Did You Know: "Havre Beneath the Streets" is a museum which recreates the underground business district that sprang up following a devastating fire in 1904.

3. Whitefish

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 378.1
  • Commute Time: 18.4 minutes
  • Income: $43,643
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 44.9%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 137 inhabitants

Roughly 15 miles north of Kalispell, Whitefish is truly a city for all seasons. In winter, residents and visitors alike hit the slopes at the Whitefish Mountain resort while summer brings plenty of white water rafters and kayakers to the Flathead River. The moderate temperatures in spring and fall are excellent for exploring the area's seemingly endless nature trails. Homes here tend to be a little more expensive compared to other Montana cities, but median incomes are also slightly higher.

Did You Know: Both Whitefish and Whitefish Lake are named after a species of fish that call the lake home.

2. Bozeman

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 390.7
  • Commute Time: 14.1 minutes
  • Income: $44,818
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 53.3%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 317 inhabitants

The city of Bozeman attracts people from all walks of life, including families, professionals, entrepreneurs, retirees and students. As a gateway to the Yellowstone area, Bozeman also receives plenty of visitors, and it's never difficult to find something to do. The downtown area is especially popular among locals, who enjoy the variety of restaurants, shops and art galleries found along Main Street.

Did You Know: The main campus of Montana State University is located in Bozeman.

1. Helena

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 226.7
  • Commute Time: 13.5 minutes
  • Income: $49,445
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 46.2%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 237 inhabitants

Montana's capital city lands the top spot in our rankings as the best all-around place to settle down. Helena features the most educated residents of any city in our study, as well as the shortest average commute and the highest median income. What began as a gold rush town has grown into an important commercial center, with the state government employing nearly one-third of the local population. Aside from being a great place to work, Helena's natural beauty, paired with its low cost of living and affordable homes, also make it a fantastic place to live and play.

Did You Know: In 2013, Helena was ranked as America's top city for geocaching by Rand McNally and's Best of the Road series.

Living in Montana means breathing a little easier, especially if you're moving here for the first time. By putting each of these 10 cities in the spotlight, we hope to make finding your next hometown a relatively painless process.

Data Sources:

  • U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates
  • FBI, Uniform Crime Reports
  • U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey
  • U.S. Census Bureau, Economic Census

Rebecca Lake is a journalist at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Rebecca Lake at

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Comments about Study: Best Cities to Live in Montana

  • cathy from Montana
    on August 21, 2014 7:41 AM said:

    too many people moving into Montana. "breathing a little easier " for the newcomers, means less air for us. all my favorite fishing, camping and hunting areas are all crowded now. wealthy people moving here buy up all the land and restrict access for the locals. to quote one homeowner with California license plates while we were rafting the Blackfoot, "this is my river, you should not be floating it, I own it" every event is packed now, folks are bringing their big city mentality and attitudes here and most locals are getting tired of it. but what to do? very frustrating and it continues to grow ratidly with all this promotion

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