Montana : Safety by City
- Big Sky
- Great Falls
- Miles City
- West Yellowstone
Great Falls, Montana, is a town steeped in history thanks to the steep falls trademarked in its name.
It’s a place so beautiful that Captain Meriwether Lewis of Lewis & Clark fame wrote “…the grandest sight I ever beheld…” the first time he saw the water here.
The city was also noted for Sacajawea’s role as a powerful woman who helped with Westward Expansion and made friends with Native Americans on the way.
Her legacy and the Native American population are still strong here.
The great falls of Great Falls stair step and weave their way northwest of the city through the heart of the community.
Downtown Great Falls is a revitalized area, with everything from the Children’s Museum of Montana to a shop catering to the exotic needs of couples.
Animal interactions range from a historic horse racing park to wildlife watching to a rogue moose walking down Main Street.
There are many more falls than Great Falls, including a crooked section of falling water, a waterfall on a long hike, or white cliffs along the Missouri River.
Malmstrom Air Force Base is just six miles west of the city and is technically its own census-designated place with nearly 4,000 airmen and civilians on-premises.
There’s a lot of greatness in Great Falls, from history to the present day and into the future.
Warnings & Dangers in Great Falls
OVERALL RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium risk overall by Montana standards, but honestly, if you're from a big city or high-crime area, you won't notice it. It's more important not to get a false sense of safety in a city surrounded by disarming beauty. There are wildlife and wilderness risks, too, that can sneak up on you (or charge at you) if you're not prepared.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
I always get a little leery when a tourism bureau doesn't list a public transportation system as one of the ways to around. However, there is GF Transit here with seven routes. There's a "How to Ride the Transit" video on the system's website, as leaders say not knowing how it works is one of the biggest deterrents. You'll find an abundance of rental car agencies in Great Falls, and Uber also serves the region. There's a low risk with any option but always pay attention to your surroundings on a bus or at bus stops.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
Eight purse snatchings were reported in 2021, with an average of six a year over the past five years. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it's much higher than many other Montana cities, and the theft rate overall is 220% higher. The risk is nothing that standard safety precautions can't overcome.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
There's a slew of risks here, and most will come with plenty of warning if you know how to find the information. Wildfires, extreme winter weather, dangerously extreme temperatures in winter and summer, flash flooding, and severe thunderstorms are the biggest issues. The city has an emergency management department with all the information you need.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
The robbery risk is low, but if a robbery escalates, it would be classified as an aggravated assault, which is 25% higher over the past eight years. Again, standard safety practices, like not walking around at night alone or wearing expensive jewelry, will go a long way.
TERRORISM RISK : MEDIUM
With Malmstrom AFB so close by, the entire region will come with a medium risk but also a high level of security. The AFB has a "How To" when it comes to looking for and reporting suspicious activity on its website.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
You should always be on the lookout for scams that involve pressured pitches, threats of arrest or punishment if you don't pay, or deals that are too good to be true. A recent scam involved hotels, but it was not targeting visitors. Search the police department's social media pages for the word "scam," and you'll see the most common ones. The risk is low, but that shouldn't give you a false sense of safety.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Statistically, women are at a slightly lower risk of being violent crime victims. If you're traveling solo, look for groups or guides to go into the wilderness with, as it's advised to travel in groups of three or more.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2022 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations. With more than four billion gallons treated each year, the utility also made improvements and upgrades. The report won't cover time-sensitive issues, like boil orders from water main breaks, so use emergency notifications or social media to track those.
Safest Places to Visit in Great Falls
Visit Great Falls Montana is the official tourism website for the city.
You can download the tourism guide, Montana’s Basecamp, for free and without giving personal information.
Look for the “Specials & Passes” section to get the most updated discounts.
One thing to note about Montana tourism sites is they’ll list attractions that aren’t as close as you might assume.
For example, the Great Falls site lists Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park as “Things To Do,” but Glacier is 2.5 hours away, and Yellowstone is four hours in the other direction.
Exploredowntowngf.com is the website for Downtown Great Falls, which spans east of the Missouri River, bordered by 9th Street South, 3rd Avenue North, and Second Avenue South.
Downtown has different stores, bars, and restaurants, minded in with green spaces and museums.
One globally known attraction is the Sip ‘n Dip bar, set in a Tiki theme with live “mermaids” swimming behind the bar.
Gibson Park is called the “Jewel of the City Park System,” and it’s between downtown and the river.
Gorgeous gardens, a pond used for ice skating in the winter, and a walking path on the river mix with historic attractions like the Vinegar Jones Cabin, the Statue of Paris Gibson (the city’s founder), and a Statue of Liberty replica.
Guided tours are available of the dams and falls along the river, which is a great way to explore without missing a section.
The falls aren’t all in one place, which makes the guide that much more helpful.
If you want to go it alone, put Giant Springs State Park on your itinerary to see a massive freshwater spring churning more than 156 million gallons a day!
Here you can also visit the hatchery and the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center.
Horse racing enthusiasts should check the schedule at Montana ExpoPark.
Other big events are held here, like the annual August Big Sky Pro Rodeo.
I’m laughing at this because the first big rodeo I went to was in Reno many years ago.
I showed up dressed in cute shoes and a sundress with a jean jacket to “fit in.”
Everyone kept asking me why I was so dressed up and where in the hell were my cowboy boots.
Feel free to immerse yourself in the cowboy lifestyle.
The Electric City Speedway is another option to get the thrill of a race on a high-banked racetrack.
You have several museums to explore in and around Great Falls:
- Children’s Museum of Montana
- First People’s Buffalo State Park
- Cascade County Historical Society’s “The History Museum”
- Paris Gibson Museum of Art
Sluice Boxes State Park is 40 minutes south of Great Falls and offers untouched nature with cliffs rising above offering scenic views from the top.
Use the tourism site to explore outdoor options like rock climbing (indoor and outdoor options), skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, fly fishing, trap/skeet shooting, and anything else you can imagine.
Please ask for each option if a permit or license is required.
Places to Avoid in Great Falls
There are areas downtown that can fall more into the “sketchy” category than dangerous, and you won’t find a part of this town that is too unsafe to drive through.
That said, sticking to main roads and highways is always preferable.
Avoid trying to visit Malmstrom AFB unless you have a reason to be there and someone on base who sponsors you.
If that is part of your trip agenda, you’ll need to give personal information to get a background check before you can be let on base.
Keep your eyes on the road when driving around Great Falls.
It’s ranked as one of the most dangerous cities in America for traffic accidents.
By August 2022, four motorcyclists were killed in crashes.
Pay attention whether you’re a driver or a pedestrian.
Just because you’re legally in a crosswalk, it doesn’t mean drivers will see you.
Always make eye contact with drivers before crossing.
If you’re driving, give pedestrians the right of way.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Great Falls
- Great Falls does have its own police department, and you should follow their often-updated Facebook page @GFPolice.
- One of the first things you should do is sign up for CodeRED emergency notifications to stay on top of approaching weather, wildfire risks, and other storm-related information. The alerts will also cover road closures, water main breaks, and shelter-in-place orders.
- Use the interactive Crime Mapping tool to search for crime trends closer to your visit. For example, you might want to search for assaults within 1/2 miles of your hotel in the past month or car break-ins over the past six months.
- Download the P3 Tips app to be able to report suspicious activity or crime information (as long as it’s not urgent, then call 911) without having to leave your name or contact information if you don’t want to. While you can call (406) 727-8477 to report information, the app will get the information to investigators faster.
- If you see graffiti anywhere, call (406) 455-8599 to report it. The business owners are responsible for removing the graffiti, but the police need to know about it. Graffiti can be a sign of gang or Mexican cartel activity.
- Due to staffing issues, it’s important to know what you can report to the police through the website without having to wait for an officer. Car break-ins and theft without force are two of the most common online reports filed. If there’s any sign of injury or a break-in to the home to steal things, an officer response is required.
- Visit the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks to get a fishing license. Be sure to note the seasons, limits, and additional permits needed for specific species. Getting a hunting license takes a lot more education and proof of training, so review the rules before banking on hunting while you’re here if you’re from outside Montana or the U.S.
- Sluice Boxes State Park has a primitive trail that isn’t maintained in any season. You could race spots where you have to forge through cold water or swift rapids. The hikes can be difficult, and each step could be on slippery, loose rocks. Use a lot of caution here and check the parks’ website for “Alerts and Closures” before you go.
- It’s helpful to review the possible wildlife sightings in this region, as bears, moose, and coyotes are known to roam this area. It is illegal to feed wildlife in Montana, and doing so will put you and other people in danger on top of that.
- Great Falls National Park is oddly not in Great Falls, Montana. It’s 2,000 miles away in Virginia. Even the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center here falls under the Forest Service, not the National Park Service.
So... How Safe Is Great Falls Really?
Great Falls has seen a steady crime increase over the decade between 2011 and 2021, with 177 violent crimes in 2011 and 321 in 2021.
That’s during a time the population only grew by 2,000 people.
Since 2015, crimes against persons went up 25% to the eight-year average.
“What I would say is a lot of our crime is driven by stuff, substances, and we’re seeing that across the nation,” Jeff Newton, Chief of Police, said.
Then 2023 started, and the crimes spiked again.
Near the beginning of March, four weeks saw five shootings.
One of those was a 14-year-old who shot a 15-year-old.
“I’ll start out by saying it has been a challenging and trying time with community members over these last four weeks,” Newton said in his opening remarks.
“We understand that there is fear in the community.
There are people asking, ‘What is going on,’ ‘Why is this happening?”
Staffing is another challenge at this police department, with the chief admitting they can’t respond to all crimes in a timely manner unless it’s a matter of life or death and traffic patrols have all but ceased.
The truth is that Great Falls is seeing a nationwide trend, and while it might be one of the most dangerous in Montana, it’s not one of the country’s most dangerous.
Over the past five years, 21% of crimes have happened against strangers, with 53% of violent crimes happening in homes.
That lowers the risk for tourists right there.
Theft is 220% higher than the national average, but you can control that risk by always locking your car, removing personal belongings, and don’t leave the keys inside to let it warm up in the winter.
The best thing you can do is never assume a small rural town is safe just because it’s in a beautiful location.
Stay aware of your surroundings, use common sense, and don’t make a moose mad.
How Does Great Falls Compare?
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- Visas - Great Falls is less than two hours from the Canadian Border, but the rules for entry are the same as those who fly in—a passport that isn't within six months of expiring and either a visa or visa waiver for those from eligible countries. Start the process using the Visa Wizard on the State Department website.
- Currency - If you're crossing the border, stop in Sweet Grass to exchange currency. Otherwise, take care of it at home for the lowest rates. Don't carry a lot of cash, and stay away from public ATMs, especially at night.
- Weather - Great Falls has four seasons, and winters can be brutal. Pack for comfort and not fashion. If you're bringing new hiking boots or snow boots, break them in before you come to avoid blisters and sore feet. Bring sunscreen and bug spray. Pack extra layers for fall through spring. Summers can get close to 90°(F), so you do get a reprieve with shorts and t-shirt weather.
- Airports - Great Falls International Airport is just five miles southwest of the city, offering the closest and easier option to major transportation hubs.
- Travel Insurance - Travel insurance makes sense in a place where severe weather, winter weather, or wildfires can freeze flight paths and leave you stranded.
Great Falls Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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