"I'm in love with Montana. For other states, I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it's difficult to analyze love when you're in it." -John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley: In Search of America.plant
Life in Montana

Big Sky Country. The Treasure State. Oro y Plata. However you refer to it, Montana's reputation is the only thing bigger than its expansive sky. The state's name is derived from the Spanish word for mountains: montaa. Montana is a behemoth of a state --at least in size, ranking fourth out of the 50 in the country, and equating roughly to the size of Japan. It shares borders with Canada, Idaho, the Dakotas, and Wyoming. It's 44th in population and 48th in population density, however, making it the ideal place to go if you need some space. Perhaps Carl Hiaasen summed it up best in Hoot when he wrote, "Disney World is an armpit, compared to Montana."

Finding an apartment in Montana

If you're looking for a place to live in this great state, you'll most likely find yourself in one of Montana's (few) big cities. Give yourself ample time to select the best place for you. It's a huge state, and whether you like jagged mountains or grassy plains, you'll find a corner of Montana that's just right. You'll have your choice of a variety of housing -- in urban centers, there are plenty of affordable studio, 1 or 2-bedroom apartments, while further into the country you should be able to find ample roaming space with homes for rent.

In any city, you'll need the regular renter documents: credit history, references, proof of income -- you know the drill, so get everything prepared before you start your search.

Major Montana Cities

Montana has been described as just "a small town with really long streets." Given the low, spread-out population, that sounds about right. However, there are a few spots in Montana that earn the "city" moniker.

Billings: Montana's largest city, Billings is located in southeastern Montana and is home to just over 100,000 people within city limits, and about 165,000 in the greater Billings area. It is Montana's major metropolis, and if you are looking to find an apartment for rent in Montana and you'd like to be in the thick of it, check out this city first. Nicknamed the Magic City due to its magical growth boom in the railroad years, Billings is now a major trade and distribution center, and home to many regional company headquarters. In 2009, Fortune Small Business magazine named this the best small city in which to start a business. When you visit, check out the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and Zoo Montana.

Missoula: "I stare at the train window marked with soft dust. I have awakened at Missoula, Montana, utterly happy." So wrote Robert Bly in "In a Train," and maybe you can awake there too if you find a home for rent. This city is home to about 68,000 people (though 110,000 call the greater Missoula area home). It is home to the University of Montana and is located in western Montana along the Clark Fork River at the convergence of several rivers and five mountain ranges. It got its start as a trading post outfitting western settlers traveling the Mullan Road. Formerly fed by the lumber industry, Missoula's biggest employers these days are the university and two local hospitals. Given Missoula's natural setting, residents here embrace their parks and recreation services and spend a lot of time enjoying the outdoors under Montana's big sky.

Great Falls: Vince Aiello once wrote "Everybody in Montana knows that Great Falls is the place to go. The girls are cute and the beer is cold. All are welcome, young and old." While we can't really comment on the "girls," we can say that Great Falls is located in central-western Montana and is home to about 81,000 in the greater Great Falls metropolitan area. It takes its name from a series of five waterfalls nearby. It is home to Malmstrom Air Force Base as well as the University of Great Falls, Montana State University Great Falls, and the Great Falls Voyagers minor league baseball team. Some consumer index comparisons have called Great Falls the single-most affordable housing market in all of the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Oh, and Brad Pitt fans might recognize it as a shooting location for A River Runs Through It.

Helena: Montana State capital city Helena is pretty small compared to its better-known brethren. It is a short -- by Montana measure -- 89 miles south of Great Falls. At just 28,000 in the city limits and 63,000 in the greater area, Helena keeps up with busier cities by virtue of claiming the seat of Montana state political power. Helena was founded thanks to its rich silver and lead deposits. Though a significant portion of its workforce is engaged in government work, as you might expect, 62 percent of residents work in the private sector. It's right by the Continental Divide, for all you geology fans, and is, in typical Montana fashion, home to many popular state and local parks and mountain ranges.

Life in Montana

As you might have guessed, there's plenty of interesting topography in Montana. The western part of the state is very mountainous, but you'll find smaller ranges throughout, all part of the famous Rocky Mountains. Since there are a lot of mountains and you're pretty far north, pack those sweaters. Winters hover at or below the freezing mark. Summertime, however, will see warm weather in the mid-80s with cool evenings.

Montana's economy is largely agriculturally based, with ranching and grain farming providing work for many Montanans. Oil, gas, coal, and other mining operations, in addition to lumber, contribute as well, showing just how closely tied to the land Montana is. Tourism, however, is Montana's fastest-growing economic sector, with millions each year visiting Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

American and Native American history buffs will love living in Montana. The state was home to many indigenous tribes including the Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Kootenai and Salish. Prior to statehood, the Montana territory saw the westward migration and growth of the United States, especially after the Homestead Act. It wasn't without conflict, of course.

Hope you like steak, because Montana's ranching legacy and modern economy means you can get a nice cut of meat at famed restaurants like The Grand Union Hotel in Fort Benton -- Montana's oldest restaurant in Montana's oldest town. Or check out Jake's Steak House in Billings or Silver Star Steak Co. in Helena. If you need something to wash down all that beef, don't worry: Montana ranks second nationally in craft breweries per capita (sure, that's in part because there are so few people, but hey, we're not going to knock it).

Mark you calendar for yearly events like the Sweet Pea Carnival in Bozeman, Montana, Helena's Shakespeare in the Park performances, and the Crow Fair and Rodeo near Hardin. And for the outdoorsy types -- you're literally never, ever going to run out of things to do. Skiing, snowmobiling, hunting, fishing, swimming, hiking, you name it. There's a ton of land and few people to interfere, so get out there.

MT Renter Confidence Survey
National study of renter’s satisfaction with their cities and states

Here’s how MT ranks on:

Overall satisfaction
Safety and crime rate
Jobs and career opportunities
Recreational activities
Quality of schools
Social Life
Commute time
State and local taxes
Public transit

Overview of Findings

Apartment List has released Montana’s results from the third annual Apartment List Renter Satisfaction Survey. This survey, which drew on responses from over 45,000 renters, provides insight on what states and cities must do to meet the needs of 111 million American renters nationwide.

"Montana renters expressed general satisfaction with the state overall," according to Apartment List. "However, ratings varied greatly across different categories, indicating that even though renters love Montana, some aspects can be better."

Key findings in Montana include the following:

  • Montana renters gave their state an A overall.
  • The highest-rated categories for Montana were safety and low crime rate, commute time, state and local taxes, and recreational activities, which all received an A+.
  • The areas of concern to Montana renters are jobs and career opportunities (D) and affordability (C+).
  • Montana earned similar scores to other nearby states, including Idaho (A+) and North Dakota (A), but earned higher marks than Wyoming (F).
  • Montana did relatively well compared to other states nationwide, including New York (C), Washington (B-) and Michigan (B-).
  • The top rated states nationwide for renter satisfaction include Colorado, Alaska, South Dakota, Idaho and Minnesota. The lowest rated states include Wyoming, Arkansas, Mississippi, West Virginia and Louisiana.