Montana : Safety by City
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Butte, Montana, is named for the towering rocks that rise with the mountains around the city, which is tucked into the southwest section of the state.
Whether you want to visit the “Richest Hill on Earth” or have concerns about it being one of the most infamous Superfund Sites in EPA history, there’s a lot to unpack about this unique town.
The mining history defines Butte for better and for worse.
More than a century of mining created wealth beyond belief, as gold, silver, copper, and ore lavished the landscape.
It also created one of the worst mining disasters in history in 1917, with a memorial now standing where the tragedy occurred and letters of those who perished on display.
Dear wife, this may be the last message you will get from me.
The gas broke about 11:15 pm, I tried to get all the men out, but the smoke was too strong.
You will know your Jim died like a man and his last thoughts were for his wife that I love better than anyone on earth.
We’ll meet again, tell mother and the boys goodbye.”
Butte is located on the Continental Divide and provides endless outdoor activities away from the Superfund Site with the lure of Yellowstone and Glacier National Park close enough to consider a road trip.
The 90-foot-tall Our Lady of the Rockies stands over the city.
This is also where the Yellowstone prequel 1923 is filmed, with Darby being the Yellowstone site two and a half hours away.
Butte (rhymes with scoot, not pronounced “but”) offers the small western town vibe with a lot of history and a few safety concerns we’ll address, but it’s still one of the most beautiful places in Big Sky Country.
Warnings & Dangers in Butte
OVERALL RISK: LOW
There's a low overall risk in reality, but it might not seem that way when you research parts of the city. There are structural and blight problems, with ongoing questions about water and air quality. However, if you like the great outdoors, Butte is definitely a good choice.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
The Butte Bus provides free public transportation around town and through Walkerville. Rides are fixed routes or on-demand, but visit the Butte Bus website for updated information. Taxis and rideshares are available. A rental car is the best option to explore the outdoors, but remember the rugged terrain and tough weather—get a four-wheel drive vehicle if you can.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
There have been six pickpockets or purse snatchings in the past five years, making this a low risk. You are exponentially more likely to have your vehicle broken into than be pickpocketed, but don't let your guard down, especially during events, rodeos, and festivals.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: LOW
Oof. There are a lot of them. Wildfires and winter weather are the most common and dangerous. Earthquakes, severe thunderstorms, flooding, landslides, and avalanches are up there too. Visit the City-County of Butte-Silver Bow Emergency Management website to review the disaster plan and prepare for the risks during your visit.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
Robberies reached a 21-year-high in 2021, but the average is still 40% lower than the national rate. Half of the robberies happened in homes, so there's a low risk of a mugging on the street. You are much more likely to be panhandled than robbed in Butte.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
While mining still happens here, there are not a lot of hard targets here. One thing to note is that Mexican cartels have moved into Butte, which isn't technically a defined terror organization, but they're definitely terrorists by the standard definition. Just keep your eyes peeled and report anything suspicious you see.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
A new scam in 2023 involved people approaching customers outside of local businesses or gas stations and trying to sell gold. The scammer makes up a sob story and pressures the victim to make the purchase at a "deep discount." It was one vigilant would-be victim who scared off the scammer and reported it to the police. The police department will keep updated on the newest scams on its website. If you're skeptical and not easily tricked, you'll have a low risk, but being aware is the safest bet.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
There's a low risk, provided the women know about wilderness and weather safety/survival. I will admit, as a woman who has researched a lot about Montana, Butte wouldn't be my first pick, but I wouldn't feel unsafe there. It's just a little more sketchy than places like Bozeman or Billings.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
You might raise an eyebrow when I saw it has a low risk, and I don't blame you. Let me offer a quote from the water treatment supervisor to explain how the contamination from the Superfund Site into the groundwater doesn't impact the tap water. "The groundwater that lies below the community has been adversely affected by years of mining practices and is unfit for consumption. The Berkeley Pit directly affects the groundwater but has absolutely no impact on any of our sources of our water supply. The groundwater is significantly below our transmission and distribution water mains. Also, these water mains are pressurized, and the likelihood of a foreign substance entering the water main is near impossible."
Safest Places to Visit in Butte
Butte Elevated is the name of the official tourism website.
You can download a free visitor’s guide without having to give any personal information.
Main Street Butte is the organization that covers the Uptown section of the city, where the largest gathering of restaurants, shops, and events are located.
The World Museum of Mining is an underground tour of an actual mine, showcasing the history of mining in Montana.
Visitors can experience what it was like to work in a mine and learn about the dangerous conditions that miners faced.
The museum also features exhibits on the equipment used in mining and the different minerals that were extracted from the ground.
The Granite Mountain Speculator Mine Memorial is just northeast of the city at the location of the disaster that took 168 lives.
Most men perished from a lack of oxygen that instead fueled the fire.
This happened at a time when the mountain was under major pressure to mine copper for World War I.
Even the Superfund Site is a tourist attraction here, as the Berkley Pit open-pit mine is one of the largest in the world.
A viewing platform offers a view inside the pit that is filled with water.
You won’t get anywhere near the toxic water, and even if you could, it has the acidity of stomach acid.
Worried about safety, even from a distance?
Reach out to the Pit Watch organization to address your concerns.
They offer tours throughout the year.
Uptown is a great place to visit for the architecture alone. Remember, this was once the “Richest Hill on Earth,” and the mansions back that up.
Self-guided tours are available, or you can ride the town trolley to get a guided tour that saves your feet for some mountain hikes.
Old Butte Historical Adventures offers guided and themed tours throughout the year.
Our Lady of the Rockies is the Butte equivalent of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.
The Butte status is a tribute to women, regardless of religion.
Bus tours are available during warmer months with the option to go inside the statue.
Regardless, you’ll get incredible views of mountain peaks 100 miles away on a clear day.
A section of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail winds around Butte as it spans 3,100 miles from Canada to Mexico.
This area is rich with fishing, mountain biking, winter sports, and just about every outdoor activity you can imagine.
Use the tourism site to research the type of activity you want to do instead of a specific location because there are too many options to list here.
One more unique stop is 18 miles east of Butte at Ringing Rocks.
It looks like a pile of boulders, but there’s only one other of its kind in the country.
When you strike the rocks with a hammer, you hear the sound of a bell.
(Hammers are provided on-site.)
Places to Avoid in Butte
The places to avoid in Butte are among the “you’ll know it when you see it” variety.
As with many once-prosperous mining towns, when the hills were picked clean, the people left.
Being designated as a Superfund Site wasn’t a draw for new businesses, and now too many buildings are left abandoned, creating an urban decay problem.
The city is working to get through the paperwork and demolition of dangerous buildings, as they’ve become hotbeds for criminal activity and squatters.
It’s not always that easy to just tear down a building, and someone has to foot the bill.
Since Butte hasn’t seen the growth and investments of other Montana towns, getting taxpayer funding or grants to fix the problem is laborious itself.
If you’re worried about hiking, walking, or fishing near a Superfund Site impacted waterway, stick to the trails recommended by the tourism bureau or Chamber of Commerce, as they’ll keep you away from any toxic stop.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Butte
- Public safety is protected by the City-County of Butte-Silver Bow Law Enforcement. While Butte is in Silver Bow County, the city makes up 99% of the population. Follow them on Facebook @buttesilverbowled.
- Read the information on the department’s website about the Vagrancy/Panhandling Task Force to be better prepared for an encounter. It’s always better to donate money to an organization that helps homeless people than give money directly to someone, especially with the incredible growth rate of drugs in Montana.
- If you have information about a crime but don’t want to leave your name, call Crime Stoppers at (406)782-7336. You can also email email@example.com and let them know you want to remain anonymous.
- Get emergency notifications through the Nixle Alert System and the Notify Me sign-up option on the city’s website. That way, you’ll be covered on everything from weather warnings to parking restrictions to water main breaks.
- You can review the EPA Superfund Site for Silver Bow Creek/Butte MT online, and you’ll get updates on progress, concerns, and next steps.
- Follow Inciweb for updates on wildfires in the area that could lead to evacuations or unhealthy air quality. It’s important to be fire smart, especially if you’re not from an area that gets wildfires often.
- There are times a layer of dust forms on surfaces in Butte as part of the nearby mining operations. Residents are concerned it’s an unhealthy dust, but officials say there’s no evidence that it is. As of March 2023, the EPA is looking into ways to track the dust and check for health risks. You should research local news updates before your trip.
- Visit the Winter Driving Safety section of the city’s website, as there’s a lot of winter weather you’ll experience here, and the site offers some great safety tips.
- The city’s REPORT section of the website is a great tool for reporting issues like lost dogs, potholes, or storm damage.
- Download the MDT 511 app to get road conditions, travel alerts, and emergency notifications from the department of transportation. Live cameras are also available, so you can see road conditions where you’re going.
So... How Safe Is Butte Really?
The city of Butte and Silver Bow County are somewhere in the middle of the most and least dangerous cities, but there’s no reason to avoid going there because of the crime rate.
The aesthetics don’t help, especially when compared to cities like Missoula and Billings bursting at the seams with new people paying top dollar for homes.
The town has too many dilapidated homes left to rot and attract crime, an issue that has appeared in from of local leaders several times by upset citizens.
Montana is facing an illegal drug crisis, with at least two Mexican cartels known to distribute drugs in the state. More drugs bring more crime, especially as desperate people become addicted to what they thought was a prescription drug.
In late 2022, a massive drug ring in Butte was busted, with 22 people arrested.
“Far too often, we believe that cartel-related activity in America is limited to southern border states, but as these cases show, we have significant issues facing us in Montana, including in an area where I grew up,” U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said.
“This years-long investigation and prosecution shut down the flow of these dangerous drugs, held suppliers and local dealers accountable, and saved lives in Montana communities.”
Then there’s the issue of the Superfund Site, the questions about air, water, and soil quality that seem to evade a direct response consistently.
Is mining dangerous or safe now?
Is the problem fixed or ongoing?
What’s in that dust that falls from the mine?
Nobody seems to know for sure, and few investigative reporters have unveiled some concerning documents that bring the same questions all over again.
For crime concerns among visitors, it helps to know that just 21% of violent crimes happened against strangers in 2021.
Shoplifting is the biggest theft category, but car break-ins made up 28%, and nearly four cars a week are stolen in this city of just 35,000 people.
Butte is an okay place to visit, and that’s the best we can offer right now, especially when Bozeman—just 90 minutes away—is thriving.
How Does Butte Compare?
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Whether you cross the Canadian border or arrive at the airport, you'll need a passport and a visa or visa waiver to get into the country. Start by using the Visa Wizard module on the U.S. State Department website to confirm you're applying for the right visa formula.
The U.S. Dollar is the only currency that can be used here. It's best to exchange currency before you leave your home to get the lowest fees and best rate. Try to avoid using ATMs to perform that transaction. Use a local bank where you can go inside.
Err on the side of very cold and hope you won't need as many layers. Even summer days can get into the 80s but drop into the 40s (Fahrenheit) at night. During winter, you should dress so that as little skin as possible is exposed.
Burt Mooney Airport is 11 miles south of Butte, with Delta service to Salt Lake City. Within two hours, you can reach Missoula, Helena, or Bozeman Yellowstone airports for more flight options.
Getting to or from those airports could be hard in a winter storm or during a wildfire, which is one of many good reasons to get travel insurance to protect your investment.
Butte Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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Montana - Safety by City