Known as “Big Sky Country”, Montana is famous for wide-open spaces, skiing, and mountain ranges. The Montana Rockies and Bitterroot Mountains run through the state.With just about a million people, Montana is fourth in the U.S. in area but 44th in population. There are huge parts of the state that are undeveloped and devoid of human residents, including Glacier National Park, a giant natural preserve that overlaps the Canada border.
The Treasure State is rich in mineral deposits and close to other national parks, especially Yellowstone, just to the south. It offers a varied climate, some of the greatest scenery in the world, and abundant outdoor recreation opportunities. Fly-fishing in the Yellowstone and Bitterroot Rivers is popular. Another popular pastime is skiing in resorts like Big Mountain.
The cost of living in Montana is slightly higher than the national average. It is also somewhat remote: the largest city is Billings, with 104,170 people. Bigger cities are far away – Spokane is the closest at 200 miles. The Montana climate is characterized as steppe, a higher altitude climate. There is generally plenty of sunshine and low humidity. Summers can be hot, except in the mountains which tend to be cooler than at lower altitudes. Winter temperatures are severe. Bozeman averages 91 inches of snow per year.
The real estate cost is below average compared to the total U.S.; the median home value was $198,400 in 2015. Unemployment is also lower than the national average.
With a tax burden of 8.6%, Montana ranks 13th lowest of 50 states. The Montana top marginal income tax rate is 6.9%. Montana does not exempt Social Security and federal, state, or local pensions from state income tax, except for some minor exemptions for people with lower incomes. Montana has no state sales tax, but its property taxes are $1377 per capita, or 18th highest nationally. All properties have a 34% exemption available, and a homestead exemption applies to $250,000 of the home value. There is no estate or inheritance tax.
The residents of Montana have a decidedly proud and independent frontier mentality, but the sparse population and severe weather also lead to a strong sense of community and helpfulness.
Here are several places that are attractive to many retirees in Montana.
Bozeman combines the activity and energy of a vibrant mid-size city with outstanding natural scenery and outdoor recreation offerings. US News listed Bozeman as one of its Best Places to Retire in 2007, and other major national publications have cited its outstanding quality of life and desirability as a retirement destination. With a population of 42,000 Bozeman has a small-town atmosphere but has developed into a hotspot for high tech companies, artists, and businesses.
Bozeman is just 90 miles north of Yellowstone National Park and surrounded by three mountain ranges. Numerous outdoor activities are close by. Skiers can choose from two outstanding locations: Bridger Bowl Ski Area or Big Sky Resort. Fly-fishing enthusiasts have easy access to world-class trout fishing on the Gallatin, Madison and Yellowstone Rivers. The Gallatin Canyon also is good for a drive to explore spectacular vista.
In the area are miles of trails and open spaces for hiking, biking, and camping. Additionally, several golf communities have been developed in and around town. Those looking for recreation closer to home can explore the Museum of the Rockies, Montana’s premier natural and cultural history museum with exhibits on dinosaurs, geology and Montana history, as well as a planetarium and a living history farm. There is also the Montan Arboretum and Gardens, the American Computer Museum, and the Pioneer Museum.
Kalispell is the largest of a collection of small, historic towns in northwest Montana that are gaining national attention as attractive and reasonably-priced retirement destinations. Kalispell, a town of 21,000 was recently named among America’s top ten “dreamtowns” for affordability and quality of life.
Northern Montana is remote and somewhat isolated, but is among the fastest growing areas of the state. Its natural setting is part of the appeal for many people. The region has an abundance of scenic vistas and recreational opportunities. A half hour away is Glacier National Park and nearby is vast Flathead Lake.
The population of the area has grown 25% over the last ten years and new developments are being built, many of them aimed toward active retirees who are seeking to retire near the lakes and mountains. Some of the former cattle ranches have been acquired by developers for resorts and residential communities. Housing options include new neighborhoods with golf course lots, to mountainside retreats, to older renovated residences in one of the historic towns.
Despite the development, less than 6% of the 3 million acres of the Flathead Valley area has been built out, leaving vast open spaces and spectacular views of the mountains. Whether enjoying the 27-hole course at Buffalo Hill Golf Club or one of the area’s seven other golf courses, skiing Whitefish Mountain Resort and Blacktail Mountain, or sailing on Flathead Lake, residents have many outdoor recreation options to choose from.
The city also is home to Kalispell Regional Medical Center, which boasts a 150-bed facility. Throughout the area, there is an abundance of excellent places to eat and specialty shops.
The region also has many artistic and cultural offerings. The local symphony orchestra and chorale have been performing for over 25 years and there are over 2,000 artists and craftsmen residing in the region. The nearby village of Bigfork, 20 minutes away, has been named as “One of the 100 Best Small Art Towns in the Nation” because of its 12 art galleries and playhouse.
Located in western Montana, Missoula is the second largest city in the state and the home of the University of Montana. It is located at the intersection of the Bitterroot and Blackfoot Rivers and at the convergence of five mountain ranges. The film “A River Runs Through It” was set in the nearby Blackfoot River.
This town of 70,000 offers many outdoor activities and recreation due to the many rivers and mountains in the area. In and around Missoula are 400 acres of parkland and nearly 5,000 acres of open-space preserve. Missoula has an extensive trail system extending over 22 miles that connects the downtown with outlying neighborhoods, the university, and city parks.
The town is proud to have a number of micro breweries. The city is also home to both Montana’s oldest and its largest active breweries. The city hosts the annual Garden City Brewfest and Winterfest, and the Montana Brewers Festival.
Other regular events include the River City Roots Festival, which attracts more than 10,000 people, and the Missoula Farmers’ Market that has been sponsoring producers of Western Montana harvest during the spring and summer since 1972. More recently, the city has added an arts and crafts People’s Market and a Clark Fork Market. The downtown area also hosts a First Friday Gallery Night on the first Friday of each month to exhibit art from local museums and galleries.
Missoula’s two historic theatres both hold annual film festivals. The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, held annually since 2003, is the largest film event in Montana. The Missoula Community Theatre, formed in 1977, gives performances of musicals and plays.
Those interested in history can visit the Montana Museum of Art & Culture, one of Montana’s oldest museums with a permanent collection of more than 10,000 original works dating back to 1894. Historic Fort Missoula has the Historic Museum, dedicated to preserving the history of Western Montana, and also contains the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History and the Northern Rockies Heritage Center. Healthcare is available to Missoula residents through the St. Patrick Hospital and Health Sciences Center and the Community Medical Center.
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