The Best Places for Young Families in Montana
For most people, having a family means entering a new phase of life in which priorities shift from individual needs to what’s best for the whole brood. If living a stone’s throw from restaurants and nightlife used to be important, young parents usually want a home with good schools, solid job prospects, affordable housing and a manageable commute so they can get home in time for dinner and bedtime.
No single place can provide all these qualities, but Montana offers several communities in which young families can enjoy a low cost of living, reasonable housing expenses, a chance to own their homes and short commutes. With easy access to a host of state and national parks and outdoor adventures, such as the historic Lewis & Clark trail, families in Montana can also spend free time exploring the state’s natural beauty. To help navigate the options, researchers at LendingTree compiled a list of the best places for young families in Montana.
- Montana City is the best place to raise a family in Montana, with a final score of 66.2.
- Wolf Point and Dillon claim the second and third spots with final scores of 65.9 and 63.6, respectively.
- On the other end of the list, we found Laurel to be the most challenging place for young families in Montana, with a final score of 48.0.
- Anaconda-Deer Lodge and Hamilton finished out the bottom three towns on our list, with final scores of 48.9 and 49.2, respectively.
The top 10 cities to live in Montana
No. 1: Montana City
As Montana’s top city for young families, Montana City features the state’s highest median income, $119,000 per year, and the highest rate of homeownership among people with children, nearly 95%. Once a mining community, this historical town is now a suburb of the capital city of Helena, which means easier access to jobs, culture and conveniences. Almost one-third of Montana City residents have children, and all older teens are either enrolled in school or have graduated high school, which means you’ll likely find well-established schools and family-friendly recreation. The only drawback: At $1,316 per month, Montana City has the highest median housing cost of any city on our list.
No. 2: Wolf Point
Originally a trading outpost in the 1870s, this city got its name from trappers who piled their wolf pelts by the nearby Missouri River to be transported for sale. Tucked into the northeast corner of the state, Wolf Point is now the largest city in Roosevelt County and by our numbers boasts low housing costs, low employment and one of the state’s shortest commute times. More than one-third of residents have children, a strong indicator of an established community and school system.
No. 3: Dillon
Located in the southwest corner of the state, this community is near the site of Montana’s first major gold discovery in 1862. Situated near several rivers, Dillon offers easy access to outdoor pursuits such as hiking, camping and fly fishing, as well as gold-rush history at Bannack State Park. Almost three-quarters of families with children own homes, and unemployment is low, at just 2.3%. Dillon also has one of the lowest monthly median housing costs in the state. All these factors help make it a good choice for young families.
No. 4: Miles City
With roots in livestock and horse trading, Miles City still has the feel of a Western ranching town. Each year, the city hosts a major rodeo and stock sale. At almost $66,000 per year, the median income for families with children is about average for the state, and more than half of those families own their homes, both important signposts for young families. The community offers ample recreation and entertainment options for families, including a range riders museum, ice skating rink, town lake with swim lessons, art lessons and summer movie nights.
No. 5: Helena Valley West Central
Located near the state capital, this community offers families the appeal of a small town that is close to city conveniences as well as jobs in state and federal government, and, increasingly, in health care. The median household income for families with children here is one of Montana’s highest, nearly $74,000 per year, but housing costs are higher, too. The median monthly housing cost is about $1,000. By our numbers, Helena Valley West Central has the third-highest rate of homeownership for families with children; nearly 84% of young families own homes. Unemployment is low, too, just 0.6%, and about one-third of households have children.
No. 6: Glendive
In eastern Montana, Glendive sits in a rich agricultural area and offers the hallmarks of a stable community: It has the lowest unemployment rate for any Montana community on our top 10 list, and virtually all older teens in the area at the time of our survey were either enrolled or had graduated from high school. Compared to other top cities on our list, the median housing cost is low, which can be a boon to young families trying to establish financial stability. However, only half of families with children own homes. Located near the badlands, Glendive offers outdoor attractions, such as striking rock formations and prehistoric fossils, as well as access to the Yellowstone River.
No. 7: Sidney
A few miles from the North Dakota border and along the Yellowstone River, Sidney sits in an area rich in oil and gas production that also offers ample outdoor recreation opportunities, such as fishing and river rafting. At about $72,000 per year, the median income for families with children in Sidney is the third-highest on our top 10 list. Sidney also offers a median monthly housing cost of just $736 per month, making this an attractive locale for families worried about housing costs. The unemployment rate here is just 0.5%.
No. 8: Helena
As the state capital and the sixth-largest city in Montana, Helena offers a multitude of conveniences and activities that appeal to both parents and kids. Interstate 15 connects the city to other parts of the state, and families have easy access to both Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Unemployment among adults 25 to 44 is low, and almost all teens are enrolled in school or have graduated. With a population of about 30,000 people, Helena is the largest Montana community to crack our top 10 list for best places for families.
No. 9: Polson
Located about 90 minutes south of Glacier National Park, Polson lies at the southern end of Flathead Lake, billed as the largest freshwater lake in the West, and offers families plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities, such as camping and rafting. Polson’s roots are in agriculture, and the city celebrates an annual Cherry Festival. At about $50,000 per year, the median income for families with children is on the low end for our top 10 list, but that’s partly offset by a low monthly median housing cost. About one-third of residents have children, a strong indicator of established schools, and almost all local teens are either enrolled in school or have graduated.
No. 10: Havre
Montana’s eighth-largest city is located in an area of rolling plains, 45 miles south of the Canadian border. Named for the French city of Le Havre — hometown of the city’s original settlers — this rural community offers young families short commute times (less than 10 minutes, on average) and low median housing costs. Sixty percent of families with children own their homes, and about one-third of residents have children.
Understanding the rankings
We chose seven indicators to rank cities and towns with above 2,047 people in Montana for how good they are for young families, which were then scored to create an overall ranking of the best places for young families. The seven indicators we used were:
- Median family income: Money isn’t everything, but a place with high family incomes suggests a place with good job opportunities and a community with more resources.
- Median monthly housing costs for all households: For families already dealing with new child care expenses, reasonably affordable housing is important.
- Homeownership rate of families with children: This indicates where homeownership is both more common and — perhaps important for a family looking to buy — more practical.
- Unemployment rate of 25- to 44-year-olds: This indicates where the job market is healthy and suggests a higher quality of life locally. We focused on 25- to 44-year-olds in particular to capture the most common ages for parents of young families.
- Percentage of 16- to 19-year-olds not enrolled or graduated from high school: To estimate high school graduation rates and, therefore, school quality, we calculated the percentage of older teenagers who were not in high school yet had no high school degree. This number is not the actual high school dropout rate, but is well-correlated.
- Average commute time: Shorter commutes mean less stressed workers who have more time to spend with their families.
- Percentage of households that have children: A community with more children means that other families have already decided it’s attractive. It also usually means more educational and recreational activities suitable for children and their parents and that residents are concerned about policies that benefit families with kids.
Analysts used data from the 2017 5-Year American Community Survey by the U.S. Census. Each of the seven metrics was given a value according to its relative location between the highest and lowest values. The values were then summed and divided by seven for an equal weighting. The analysis was limited to Census-designated places with populations of at least 2,047.