Six charming small towns just a short drive from Montana cities
Everyone seems to know about Montana’s scenic natural landscapes and lively cities, but the state also has as variety of charming small towns, each providing their own unique appeal. Many of these towns are just a short drive from larger cities, making them the perfect destinations for a day trip. For those looking for an under-the-radar getaway, these family-friendly towns are ready to be explored.
Augusta sits at the center of Montana’s many natural wonders, offering views of the rugged Rocky Mountains to the west and the rolling prairie lands to the east. This town is also one of the gateways to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, a sprawling landscape encompassing more than 1.5 million acres of protected land. Visitors to Augusta can pack up for a hike through this breathtaking habitat, which covers a number of rugged peaks, alpine lakes, and rushing streams. Augusta is the perfect starting point for an adventure through the unspoiled high country of Montana.
Known as “The Birthplace of Montana,” Fort Benton was established in 1846, making it the first town in the state and one of the oldest settlements in the west. In fact, Fort Benton was named a National Historic Landmark in 1961. History buffs of all ages will love the rich culture this city has to offer. There are a number of fun ways to learn more about the area, including visiting the Museum of the Upper Missouri or taking a walking tour through the historic district to Old Fort Benton, a reconstruction of the fort used by the early fur trappers of Montana. There’s even an original steamboat to explore on your history tour. Those interested in staying the night can book a room at the Grand Union Hotel, which opened its doors in 1882 to the reputation of being the finest hotel between Chicago and Seattle.
Just 45 minutes from the state capital sits Boulder, Montana, a lesser-known gem in a beautiful valley nestled by the surrounding mountains. Visitors can take a quick drive to Elkhorn State Park for a look into Montana’s past. Elkhorn was once a thriving settlement for silver mining, but is now an abandoned ghost town. Then stop by Boulder Hot Springs, a 100-year-old inn with two naturally heated mineral pools that are perfect for a relaxing soak after a long day of exploration and fun.
Red Lodge is the perfect starting point for an outdoor adventure. Located in the Beartooth Mountains and surrounded by Custer Gallatin National Forest, Red Lodge is the gateway to the Beartooth Pass and is just a short drive from the Northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Named “the most beautiful drive in America” by former CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt, Beartooth Pass takes travelers past snowcapped mountain peaks, alpine lakes, and impressive glaciers. This 53.7-mile road, which reaches heights of 11,000 feet, is open seasonally for cars and bikes. Red Lodge is truly an outdoor traveler’s dream, offering some of the best views that Montana has to offer.
Livingston, a historic train town which sits along the path of the Northern Pacific Railway, is just a short drive from Bozeman. The town sits at the foot of four beautiful mountain ranges and is considered the original gateway to Yellowstone National Park. Kids will also love visiting The Livingston Depot, a restored 1902 railway station that now serves as a family-friendly museum. Then stay the night at the famous Murray Hotel, which opened its doors in 1904 and has hosted numerous writers, musicians, movie stars, and even the Queen of Denmark. The hotel boasts a unique charm and second-to-none accommodations. In 2016, Anthony Bourdain named The Murray Hotel one of the top 10 best hotels in the world.
Philipsburg is a quaint town of 820 people, located just an hour southeast of Missoula. Founded in 1892, Philipsburg is the highest producer of sapphires in Montana. Families can immerse themselves in this town’s rich mining history by visiting Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine, which has produced over 180 million carats in its 120-year history. Then head to Sapphire Gallery, Inc. to pan for your own sapphires. This is a fun activity for the whole family, as kids and adults alike will love discovering a beautiful stone in its natural state.