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Montana Life - Moving to Montana - Columbia Falls, Hungry Horse, and West Glacier City Guide

Flathead Valley boasts an airport, Amtrak station, 2 ski resorts, 8 golf courses, mountain bike trails, cross country skiing and snowshoeing trails, over 269 lakes and reservoirs, campgrounds, diverse wildlife, fishing, hunting, and more. It’s easy to see why this county draws new residents every year. But, is it the right location for you and your family? 

It’s easy to see why this county draws new residents every year. But, is it the right location for you and your family?

In this series of blog posts and videos I hope to answer those questions and help you determine not only if Flathead Valley is the best place for your family, but which city or area within the county best fits your needs. Be sure to subscribe and reach out with any questions you may have about Montana living.

Historical Site - Columbia Falls, Montana

This week’s blog post is dedicated to Columbia Falls, Hungry Horse, and West Glacier Montana. If you prefer to watch a video with this information click here.

Columbia Falls Montana recently surpassed 5,000 residents and sits within a prime location between Glacier National Park, Whitefish, and Kalispell. Just to the West is Hungry Horse, a much smaller community (less than 1,000) with incredible mountain vistas, the well known 564 foot Hungry Horse Dam overlooking a breathtaking reservoir, and is where the paved Gateway to Glacier bike trail begins. 

Just to the West is Hungry Horse, a much smaller community with incredible mountain vistas and the well known 564 foot Hungry Horse Dam overlooking a breathtaking reservoir.

West Glacier is an even smaller community located along Highway 2 at the West Entrance to Glacier National Park. In this city moving guide I will discuss housing costs, schools, recreation, amenities, and pros and cons of choosing Columbia Falls, Hungry Horse, or West Glacier over other cities in Flathead County.

Hungry Horse Reservoir Recreation Area - Montana

I have done my very best to give accurate information regarding areas of the city and corresponding school districts, taxes, etc. but please consult professional real estate agents before moving to verify accuracy, as this information is subject to change.

Columbia Falls

In Columbia Falls residents will enjoy a decent selection of dining options along Highway 2 and Nucleus Avenue, along with parades, rodeos, and a weekly Summer farmer’s market with a beer garden. For shopping, residents can visit some specialty shops such as fly fishing, used books, thrift stores, garden centers, a ranch and home supply store, and a couple grocery store options.

Columbia Falls - Montana

Home Prices in Columbia Falls, Hungry Horse, and West Glacier Montana

According to Zillow, the median price for a home in Columbia Falls, Hungry Horse, and West Glacier MT is currently $323,147. However, Bestplaces.net breaks this down further by location. They say the median home price for Columbia Falls is $281,800, Hungry Horse is $84,800, and West Glacier is $422,400. This simply means that half of the homes listed for sale are above this price and half of them are below it. 

Median Home Price Calculator for Columbia Falls Montana

Commute Time

According to bestplaces.net the average one-way commute time for Columbia Falls is currently 18.4 minutes, Hungry Horse and West Glacier are 19.1 minutes. However, I feel like the number for Hungry Horse and West Glacier isn’t quite accurate. Columbia Falls, the closest city with a population of over 5,000 is 20 minutes away from West Glacier. Whitefish and Kalispell are a bit further. So, it’s possible a good amount of residents here are retired or work from home in order to get that 19.1 number. The national average is 26.4 minutes.

Commute Time Calculator - Bestplaces.net

Public Transportation

The Amtrak train comes directly into West Glacier, providing easy access for family and friends. Check out the Empire Builder line which runs from Chicago to Seattle. For local transportation residents can hop on the Tri-city commuter bus line providing service between Columbia Falls, Kalispell, and Whitefish. All vehicles are ADA accessible and equipped with lifts. Most routes are $1 each way. You can view the routes here

West Glacier - Montana

Schools

Students residing in Hungry Horse and West Glacier are currently within the Columbia Falls Junior High and High School district.

School Boundaries Map (please consult a local real estate agent as this is subject to change) - Columbia Falls High School Montana

Columbia Falls Junior High School

Columbia Falls Junior High School is a 6th-8th grade establishment with a great schools rating of 7 out of 10. The junior high currently offers a variety of sports and extracurricular activities.

Columbia Falls Junior High School - Montana

Columbia Falls High School

Columbia Falls High School is a 9th-12th grade establishment with a 4 out of 10 rating. Columbia Falls High School offers Fall, Winter, and Spring sports along with band, choir, and speech and debate activities.

Columbia Falls High School - Montana

Unfortunately, Columbia Falls High School is the worst rated high school within Flathead County. School ratings can be found at greatschools.org. The response I got from locals within the school district however was conflicting. One said “It is very middle of the road. The school has nice teachers and is a relaxed environment as long as you fit in the box, kids who are from outside of the traditional blue collar family might struggle with feeling out of place. I don’t think there’s a huge support for kids who are really bright or who struggle.” 

Unfortunately, Columbia Falls High School is the worst rated high school within Flathead County.

But another said “Son is in high school and I love it, just with his being autistic how much help they give him in regular and aspire classes plus all around just great teachers this is Columbia falls high school.”

Taxes

Columbia Falls Montana does not currently have sales tax but just passed a vote to incorporate a 3% resort tax on most purchases. 

Property taxes in Columbia Falls Montana are similar to other Flathead County cities where according to smartasset.com, the average for Flathead County is currently .811% which is lower than the current national average of 1.19%. Discuss this with your real estate agent for specifics.

Flathead County Tax Rate via SmartAssest.com - Montana

Crime

Moving to Flathead County from our highly ranked suburb in the Midwest was a bit scary for me when comparing the crime ratings. Even now, as I look at them it concerns me. But, I can say that I've never felt unsafe in the area or felt that my daughters were in danger. The crime rating is based per 1,000 residents. Columbia Falls Montana has a crime index rating of 38 meaning it is safer than 38% of towns in the country. Here is the neighborhood scout link for your investigation. Feel free to message me if you have further questions.

Recreation

Big Sky Waterpark

Big Sky Waterpark is Montana’s largest waterpark featuring 10 water slides, a whirlpool, kiddie pool, bumper cars, putt putt golf course, carousel, climbing wall, balloon battles, and beach volleyball. Residents can purchase a season pass or just enjoy visiting for the day and park facilities can be rented out for groups and parties. The park itself is a bit tired looking and could definitely use a refresh, however local students love visiting the park and soaking up the sun.

Big Sky Waterpark - Columbia Falls, Montana

Blue Moon Rodeo and Dance Lessons

The Blue Moon Nite Club and Grill features live music every Friday and Saturday night beginning at 9:00 pm, Ladies night Wednesdays (free champagne) along with free dance lessons for everyone, beginning at 7:30 for beginners and 8:30 for intermediate dancers, and if you still have energy after all that dancing, stick around for karaoke starting at 9:00 and continuing until after midnight. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed more than during our dance lesson here. The type of dance rotates weekly, but for some reason I thought it was always line dancing and told our guests as much. Well, it was rumba night and none of us knew what we were doing, but we had some good laughs and great memories. 

The club also features a pool table, poker table, jukebox, and free wifi. The rodeo takes place every Thursday at 7:00 pm beginning Memorial Day and continuing into September. 

Blue Moon Bar, Dance Hall, and Casino - Columbia Falls, Montana

Barstool Ski Races

Every February for the last 41 years, locals come out to spectate and participate in the barstool ski races. The races take place during Cabin Fever days in Martin City, Montana just between Hungry Horse and West Glacier. All one needs to participate is a bar stool, skis, and maybe a beer or two or three.

Hungry Horse Dam and Reservoir

This 564 foot dam is currently the 10th highest in the U.S. The visitor center offers free tours of the dam’s crest, however guests are free to drive, bike, and walk across the dam taking in views of the gorgeous 34 mile long reservoir with breathtaking mountain views. Most visitors and residents stop here, but there is a land of untouched beauty ripe for exploration surrounding the area. Camping, hiking, and backcountry trip opportunities abound here. 

Hungry Horse Reservoir - Montana

July 4th Firework Battles

Hungry Horse residents go all out for the 4th of July. (I’m fairly convinced the state of Montana spends more on fireworks than at least 10 other states combined, but that’s a story for another day.) Legend has it that residents stand on either side of the main thoroughfare and take turns lighting their fireworks…. sometimes into the air, sometimes across the street, and sometimes whichever way the wind blows. I haven’t been to this event yet, mostly because we usually have somewhere else to be, partly because I value all of my limbs. However, if my 72 year old neighbor could survive it, maybe just maybe I can too.

Glacier Ziplines

At Glacier Ziplines you can book the 7 zipline canopy tour and soar through the air while taking in views of the surrounding mountain peaks, Flathead River, Great Northern Railway, and Badrock Canyon. 

Glacier Ziplines - West Glacier, Montana

Glacier Guides and Montana Raft

If you’re looking to fish, hike, bike, raft, horseback ride, or maybe want to combine your favorite activities, Glacier Guides and Montana Raft will be there to support you the entire way. They offer multi-sport and mult-day experiences, equipment rental, lodging, and shuttles.

Glacier Guides - West Glacier Montana

Swan Mountain Snowmobiles

Swan Mountain Snowmobiles offers snowmobile rentals and tours through Canyon Creek, Crane Mountain and Desert Mountain. Tours range from 2-6+ hours and apparel rentals are offered if needed. Snowmobiles can be rented in 3 hour or 6 hour time increments.

Montana Vortex and House of Mystery

Entertaining visitors for 50 years, the Montana Vortex and House of Mystery offers visitors and residents a different perspective, one where typical gravitational pulls may be a bit skewed. The slanted walls and floors enable a strange shrinking and growing appearance when traversed, and golden doors, labyrinths, aura spots, and hexagons all offer a little something here out of the ordinary.

Montana House of Mystery - West Glacier, Montana

Amazing Fun Center

En route to Glacier National Park it’s hard to miss the Amazing Fun Center. Test your skills in the Glacier Maze, a life size 3-dimensional maze with 1-½ miles of passages and overhead bridges. Guests can also enjoy mini golf, bumper boats, go karts, and bankshot basketball here. 

Amazing Fun Center - West Glacier Montana

Glacier Heli Tours

If you’ve always dreamt of soaring over incredible lake and mountain scapes this is the place to do it. Choose from 30 minute to 1 hour flights providing aerial views over Hungry Horse Dam and Reservoir, Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, Whitefish Mountain and Lake and the Continental Divide.

Shopping and Dining

In Columbia Falls residents will enjoy a decent selection of dining options along Highway 2 and Nucleus Avenue. My favorite is Gunsight Saloon for the outdoor seating and live music, but Backslope Brewing is great as well, try the Bistro Burger or Veggie Burger with parmesan fries here. And, although it’s not my cup of tea The Back Room has a long standing reputation as the place to be for their bbq and fry bread. 

My favorite is Gunsight Saloon for the outdoor seating and live music, but Backslope Brewing is great as well.

Columbia Falls also hosts parades and a weekly Summer farmer’s market with a beer garden. For shopping, residents can visit some specialty shops such as fly fishing, used books, thrift stores, garden centers, a ranch and home supply store, and a couple of grocery store options.

Gunsight Saloon - Columbia Falls, Montana

In Hungry Horse we absolutely love stopping by the Huckleberry Patch for a slice of huckleberry pie a’la mode, a french dip, hamburger, fries, ice cream cones, and a bit of shopping for huckleberry items and souvenirs. Glacier Distillery specializes in small batch whiskeys and is a fun stop for tasting flights, cocktails, and consumable souvenirs. Next door, Josephine's Bar and Kitchen gets rave reviews for delicious food and drink options. 

Next door, Josephine's Bar and Kitchen gets rave reviews for delicious food and drink options.

And don’t miss Packer’s Roost, although at first glance you may just drive on by. As one reviewer says “This place looks like a mess but after passing it a few times and noticing the large amount of cars in the lot we gave it a try. The burgers were incredible-among the best I’ve ever had.” There are pool tables inside, but be sure to head out back if it’s a nice day to enjoy watching guests try their hand at horseshoes and the ax toss. And, bring an extra dollar bill to leave your mark on the ceiling, just ask for a sharpie and a staple gun at the bar.

Glacier Distilling - Hungry Horse Montana

West Glacier village has a restaurant, several gift and souvenir shops, a general store, laundromat, gas station, post office, and a golf course. 

West Glacier Cafe - Montana

Pros and Cons of Choosing Columbia Falls, Hungry Horse, or West Glacier (over other cities in Flathead County)

Columbia Falls Pros

Columbia Falls is large enough to provide for basic daily needs and is perfectly situated between the skiing and fun Whitefish has to offer, the practical needs such as shopping, an airport, and necessities that Kalispell affords, and the West entrance to Glacier National Park for endless beauty and recreation. The city has one of my favorite local Farmers Markets thanks to the beer garden and dancing and one of my favorite places to dine outdoors while listening to live music. (Gunsight Saloon)

Columbia Falls Farmer's Market Beer Garden - Montana

Hungry Horse Pros

Hungry Horse has amazing hiking trails, camping opportunities, epic mountain and lake views, fishing, boating, biking, and more. The median home price here is lower than many other cities and communities within Flathead County and while tourists will be passing through, it’s not typically a resting place for them. If you are looking for some space to roam this may be the place for you.

Hungry Horse Reservoir - Montana

West Glacier Pros

Living in West Glacier provides residents with endless recreational opportunities literally on their doorsteps, along with small town living and incredible natural beauty. The middle fork of the Flathead River runs through the community and there is easy access to the Amtrak Empire Builder line.

Flathead River - West Glacier Montana

Columbia Falls Cons

I feel like Columbia Falls has so much potential to be the next up and coming city. Unfortunately, with the High School rating at a 4 that potential is currently capped. The downtown area could also use a much needed facelift. While several updates and beautiful newer builds have come in, the city is still a bit tired looking. 

Columbia Falls Downtown Nucleus Avenue - Montana

Hungry Horse Cons

The unemployment rate in Hungry Horse is currently 1% higher than the national average and unfortunately, public transportation here is non-existent. There is also a vast discrepancy here in the housing market. Some homes and areas are heartbreakingly poverty stricken driving down the median home price, but acreage and nicer homes in Hungry Horse are currently on the higher end of the $/sf range within Flathead County.

Hungry Horse Welcome Sign - Montana

West Glacier Cons

While living in West Glacier affords endless beauty on your doorstep, it comes with a price... tourists all Summer long. The line for entering Glacier National Park can get quite long at certain times of the day and you may end up waiting in it to access your driveway or street. The cost of living here is also on the high end due to its proximity to the park, and access to big box shopping, dining, and amenities will require a drive to Kalispell.

West Glacier - Montana

Commute Times

Approximate commute times from downtown Columbia Falls are as follows.

Columbia Falls Commute Times - Montana

Approximate commute times from Hungry Horse are as follows. 

Hungry Horse Commute Times - Montana

Approximate commute times from West Glacier are as follows. 

West Glacier Commute Times - Montana

Hopefully, this answers some of your questions about the area. If you feel I’ve missed something please leave a comment below. If you have a question, feel free to leave that below as well.

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