I have seen a lot of people on here wanting info on moving here. So I thought I would share a very abridged version of what I have learned since moving to Montana.
Note: My experience is in western Montana, e.g. the mountain part. I am assuming most of you will be wanting to move to this part of Montana. Unless you want to move to Miles City or something, which um…I hear is nice.
Unless you’re Ted Turner or Jim Harrison you’re probably going to need a job when you move to Montana. I STRONGLY advise you have one lined up before you move. If you don’t it may be a bit rough for you, especially in the winter. The truth is there aren’t many jobs here. Montana is transitioning (somewhat painfully) from an economy based on resource extraction/timber/ranching to tourism/service/tech. It’s not that there aren’t mines and sawmills in operation here but they have been significantly reduced over the past few decades.
Another issue here is seasonality of work. Winter jobs are tough to find, like really tough. So if you find a seasonal job for the summer, which a lot of people do when then move here. You had better be planning for winter.
I wouldn’t count on ever getting a government job in the national parks or national forests, unless you are a veteran. These entities are required by law to give preference to vets and they usually don’t get past the list of vets applying before making the hire. Even if you are more qualified they have to hire the vet. Note I said government jobs, the concessionaire in Glacier and Yellowstone is private. Xanterra now runs both. From what I have gathered you get worked to death and don’t get paid much. But that’s all second hand.
So where is the work? You can generally find work in tourism for the summer, they don’t pay well and probably won’t have benefits but it’s a start. A lot of people work the concessions in the parks in the summer, then work part time in the winter. Medicine is a good field to look into, if you are qualified. The universities are expanding as well. There’s always oil work in eastern Montana too…
A big issue is the cost of living. While not high relative to the coasts. Montana has very depressed wages. $8-$10/hour is pretty standard. You’ll probably have to find roommates or have more than one job to make it. Some summer jobs have room and board included, though.
There is work here if you are patient and are willing to take whatever jobs you can. My first job here was through a temp agency in Kalispell. It sucked, but we could pay bills. Always remember there’s always someone else wanting your job in Montana, which makes it all the more difficult to gain a toehold here. Saving money where you can is key.
Some of you probably know Montana is the size of Japan. So some parts of the state are pretty different from each other, so are the people. But generally Montana people are pretty nice. (Though deep down they really don’t want more people moving to Montana) They’ll probably give you shit about not being from here but it’s usually in good fun. People do rag on other towns a lot. Ask someone from Missoula about Bozeman and vis versa. It’s funny at first but gets old after a while, I think.
People like to hunt/fish here A LOT. If you’re into animal rights, PETA, etc. you probably shouldn’t move here. The belief in public lands and access is huge as well. (I love this) Which is a big reason Montanans don’t like California people building their private little fiefs in the hills and not allowing hunting.
In Montana, you’ll meet old miners, cowboys, farmers, loggers, hipsters, yuppies, tourists, ski bums, homesteaders, mountain men (and women!), people flat broke, billionaires, Irish, East Asians, Mexicans, Africans, and even NAZIS, plus everything in between. There is only a million people living here but I’d swear there is more diversity than most countries.
It pays to be friendly, Montana is like one big small town. Someone will know someone somewhere that could get you a job or something. Or they could keep you from getting it.
There are people who live in the mountains and think the guvmint (Montana word) is going to come get them. Just throwing that out there.
There are seven big cities (counties) in Montana. They are in license plate numbered order:
1- Butte (Silver Bow)
2- Great Falls (Cascade)
3- Billings (Yellowstone)
4- Missoula (Missoula)
5- Helena (Lewis & Clark)
6- Bozeman (Gallatin)
7- Kalispell (Flathead)
Odds are of you are going to move to Montana you are moving to the general area of one of these cities. Each of them have good and bad things. But that’s to be expected. I love SW Montana so the Butte/Bozeman/Helena triangle is my favorite area. I live in Walkerville currently and love it.
There are smaller Tourist towns scattered about the state as well. The cost of living in these towns is usually much higher than the Big 7 Cities. Though the tourist towns will have very nice amenities that you won’t usually find in a smaller town. Big Sky and Whitefish are the most famous ones. I’d recommend not moving to these places until you get a feel for the area. Rents are high and you’ll probably be driving in to the cities anyway for most things. Remember saving money is key to getting over the hump of the first few years.
People go outside all the time. I always tell people, “You don’t move to Montana if you want to stay in town.” Like I mentioned, Montanans love to hunt and fish, they also love to hike, camp, ski, drink, and bitch about tourists. If it can be done outside you can probably do it in Montana.
There is usually a thriving arts and culture scene in the bigger cities as well. Artists are a dime a dozen in Montana, I think it’s great. Not surprisingly, the land here seems to bully its way into most art you see. Lots of paintings/pictures/poems about mountains/rivers/plains. MSU and UM always have stuff going on. Towns almost always have town festivals during the summer. The bigger cities might have something going on every weekend during the summer. Brewfests are organizing a lot of places as well.
The local movement is starting to take off here. The wealth of food that can be grown in Montana is amazing. Most grocery stores will have at least some locally produced food. I’d recommend looking into a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share or if you can’t afford one, volunteer! Usually these farms will give you a bag of produce for a couple hours of pulling weeds. Small scale coffee roasters have been here for a long time. Micro-breweries/micro-distilleries/micro-wineries are popping up everywhere. Nothing like fighting the man by drinking a local brew.
People drive rigs in Montana usually either a big pick-up or a Subaru. Because: 4 wheel drive. It is pretty much a requirement if you get off the main roads. Unless you are a pavement princess, and in that case you’re kinda weird.
If you like bears, wolves, wolverines, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elk, moose, cougars, deer, fox, antelope, geese, ducks, eagles, beavers, swans, cutthroats, rainbows, rattlesnakes, and the biggest goddamn crows you have ever seen, and if you like seeing them all in the same day then you’ve come to the right place! Ok so you might not see all of them in the same day but you will see all of these species plus more if you look. It’s not uncommon to see bear tracks in the snow in town during the spring. I’m pretty sure we had a big kitty here in Walkerville the other day. All the dogs were going nuts.
There are a lot of wild critters here. So when you go out in the woods, always take protection. Bear spray works the best but a .44 or .357 revolver works fine too. Usually things won’t bug you. A female grizzly will mess you up if you get between her and her cubs, so will a young male grizzly if he’s looking for territory. Big kitties like mountain lions have been know to stalk people and jump them. Always being prepared is the best course of action.
Oh Montana politics. I won’t go into much detail because I’ll probably piss someone off. But generally Montana sends the Republicans to Helena and the Democrats to Washington. The rural areas tend lean to the right, while the cities tend to lean left. Montana gets a $1.50 back for every $1 it sends to Washington via taxes. Mostly because of the number of government jobs/public lands/superfund sites here.
The bar lobby (MTA) and the outfitter lobby (MOGA) are the richest in the state. They tend to get what they want. I’m not a fan of either.
Montanans tend to be vocal about their political beliefs, a political conversation usually happens at bars and around the table at home. Obama isn’t popular, taxes aren’t popular, government in general isn’t popular. But public lands, fire crews, and the universities are popular. There is a divide between east and west in terms of political belief. Eastern and western Montana are usually at odds with each other on most issues.
The western third is mostly mountains with large valleys interspersed. Most of the population of Montana lives in these valleys, usually along the creeks or rivers. The eastern two-thirds is high plains interspersed with island mountain ranges, bluffs, and rivers.
Western Montana has most of the national forests, though eastern Montana has quite a bit of BLM Land, State land, and National Wildlife Refuges. It’s kinda up to you to find which area you like best.
Yes it gets cold everywhere in Montana. Winters are long and seem to drag on and on. Spring and fall are short and are generally the best times of year. Summers are getting hotter. Not many places have air conditioning in Montana. So expect to sweat some. September is the best month of the year.
Northwest Montana will get a lot more snow than Southwest Montana. SW Montana is more high desert with mountains, NW Montana is more of a northwest climate (think Seattle) with snow. Eastern Montana is high plains. This means tornados, big thunderheads, and a lot of winter. The wind blows a lot on the plains. If you think it’s windy where you are, go to Livingston or Choteau, odds are it’s not that windy where you are.
I didn’t attend primary and secondary school in Montana so I’m not an expert on this but here is what I know.
Teachers in Montana don’t get paid well. Education funding doesn’t ever seem to hold high priority in the legislature, even though the state is running a surplus. Private schools are becoming more popular, which is good and bad. Montessori schools are in (I think) every major city. One thing Montana schools do very well is getting kids outside. Field trips seem to happen a lot.
I’ve met a lot of Montana natives and they seem to have gotten a good education growing up.
Higher education in Montana is very good. The University of Montana and Montana State are by far the largest and hold their own nationally. Montana Tech is arguably the best small engineering school in the northwest. I don’t know much about Carroll College in Helena but it seems pretty good. Billings, Great Falls, Dillon, and some other towns have extensions of MSU and UM as well. There are rumors of a 4 year college coming to the Flathead at some point. I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Montana doesn’t spend much on roads either. Most highways are crappy. Most in town streets are crappy. You’ll usually have to move downed trees off mountain roads. When the state does finally fix the road it is always in the middle of July when there are a million tourists clogging the road. Let’s just say you will road rage at some point every summer. (Especially when some idiot pulls out 200 yards in front of you and drives 45 when you are going 80, this happens all the time.)
The larger towns will have busses. Bozeman and Missoula are probably the best. Outside of that there is not much in terms of public transportation. The Flathead is the worst.
The Amtrak train runs along the Hi-Line, by Glacier, then out to Libby, then to Seattle/Portland and back to Chicago/Minneapolis. It’s usually late and more expensive than driving or flying. The cheapest airport is Gallatin Field in Belgrade, by Bozeman. (I refuse to call it Yellowstone INT) Most flights will go through Denver or Minneapolis. Generally flying in and out of Montana is expensive, in fact getting in and out of Montana in any way, shape, or form is expensive.
This is a very limited description so if anyone has anything to add or ask about Montana, let me know.
I love it here, I really do. You made the right choice if you move here. Moving to Montana is about persistence. Some days it seems so easy to pack up and head home. Sacrifice is a necessity, we don’t have the world at our finger tips here. But if you want it, you can make it work. Living in Montana is totally worth it.
EDIT: This is my first featured post, thank you! Sorry it took so long to get back on here. I added a bit to each heading and added Wildlife, Politics, Terrain, Weather, Education, and Infrastructure.