Montana : Safety by City
- Big Sky
- Great Falls
- Miles City
- West Yellowstone
Helena, Montana, is the capital city nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
The city was founded in 1864 during a gold rush, and it quickly became a center of commerce and government in the region.
Helena literally has a rich history, as it was once home to more than 50 millionaires.
A million dollars in 1888 is worth nearly $30,000,000 today.
At the time, the town has just as many prostitutes, and the legendary Red-Light District even ran regular ads in newspapers.
The town has seen tragedies, like the 1935 earthquake and a devastating fire in the 1870s.
Each time, the city has rebuilt and grown stronger, even after the last miner took his money and left.
The historic downtown area is home to many beautiful buildings, including the Montana State Capitol building.
A new Montana Heritage Center is being built to open in 2025 as the flagship destination for learning the history of this massive state.
Outdoor recreation is a major draw for visitors to Helena.
The city is surrounded by beautiful mountains and forests, and there are many opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing, and hunting in the area.
In the winter, skiers and snowboarders flock to nearby ski resorts to enjoy the snow.
Helena is often mispronounced.
It’s “HELL-uh-nuh” not “Hu-LANE-uh.”
It rhymes with “I’ll tell ya, Helena is a great place.”
It is also worth noting that East Helena is a different city, not a section of Helena.
Warnings & Dangers in Helena
OVERALL RISK: LOW
Helena has a low risk, but it's not as safe as you might expect it to be. Violent crime and theft rates are well above the national average, but smart visitors will be able to keep the risk low as more than half of violent crimes happen in homes. There's a lot to do outdoors in safe spaces and plenty of attractions to visit.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
Capital Transit is the public transportation here, and there's an app to help you explore routes. Taxis and rideshares are available, but a rental car really allows you to get out and explore.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
Over the past five years, only four pickpockets have been reported. Shoplifting and car break-ins are the biggest theft categories, which means there are potential thieves around. Just use standard safety measures to secure your wallet or purse, and you'll deal with low risk.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: LOW
Montana faces a lot of risks, from extreme winter weather to massive wildfires to earthquakes to severe thunderstorms. The Montana Disaster and Emergency Services Department has a helpful dashboard that shows the current threat level of any condition. You can also follow them on Facebook @montanades406.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
Very few robberies in Helena are highway robberies, and the robbery rate is about 20% lower than the national average. That adds up to a low risk, but also still worth keeping an eye out, especially at night.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
Despite being just one hour from the Unabomber's cabin in the woods, there's nothing that stands out about terror risks in Helena. However, that's one of the things that terrorists love about Montana. It's secluded and in rough terrain. It's a good example of why anything suspicious should be noted to local police. Domestic terrorism is just as dangerous as international terrorism.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
Spoofing scams are the most common here, generally targeting locals by someone pretending to be a police officer or utility company representative. There's a low risk of tourists being targeted, but review the most common scams on the Better Business Bureau website before you go.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
"Girly" girls (women) might find this to be a bit too rugged and masculine, but outdoorsy women are going to love it. This is a casual town with fierce weather that requires wildlife, wilderness, and survival skills but also offers a much-needed escape from fast-paced city life.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
Even with a raging drought, wildfires, and conservation methods, Helena's water utility was still about to meet or exceed all requirements in the 2021 Water Quality Report.
Safest Places to Visit in Helena
Helenamt.com is the official tourism site for the city.
You can download a visitor’s guide without having to give any personal information.
The website is laid out so that if you find something that interests you, just click the star in the corner to save it to your personal itinerary.
The Montana State Capitol is a stunning building with a beautiful rotunda and impressive architecture.
Visitors can take a guided tour and learn about the state’s history and government.
You can also visit the Original Govern’s Mansion.
The Montana Heritage Center is being built as of early 2023 and isn’t expected to open until 2025.
This might mean the history museum is closed or has limited hours during your visit, so call ahead.
Downtown Helena has its own website, and you’ll drift between modern amenities and Old West legend.
Stroll through Last Chance Gulch and the Walking Mall to have a car-free experience as the road is only for pedestrians as you see saloons, art galleries, and restaurants.
Plenty of outfitter stores are here for your wilderness needs.
The Cathedral of St. Helena is a stunning stop with beautiful stained-glass windows, intricate carvings, and impressive architecture.
Climb up the old fire tower, and you’ll learn how this was once the last line of defense before a fire took over the city.
Sadly, it was built after the disastrous fire, but it did prevent more from happening.
Gates of the Mountains gets its name from Meriwether Lewis of Lewis & Clark fame, who was impressed by the stunning rock formations here.
This scenic area just north of Helena features towering cliffs and serene views of the Missouri River.
Visitors can take a boat tour and explore the area’s natural beauty.
You might even see a bear or eagle!
For those who like ghost towns, there are several nearby in Marysville, Virginia City (not to be confused with Virginia City, Nevada, which is fantastic in its own right), and Elkhorn Ghost Town.
All kinds of tours are available, including prospecting, where you can see if any gold was left behind (unlikely, but worth a shot!).
Walking, guided, and self-guided tours are available in the town, and you should talk to a local outfitter or check out the visitor’s center for wilderness adventures with a guide.
Places to Avoid in Helena
You don’t need to worry about dangerous parts of town, but it’s clear if you’re in a touristy area or a residential district.
It’s always best to stay on main roads and interstates when you can.
The weather is one thing that might catch people off guard, as there can be extended periods with temperatures below 0°(F).
You must properly layer and carry the right accessories in your car just in case of a breakdown, or you get caught in a snowstorm.
Summer brings hot, dry weather that can lead to wildfire risks.
Give yourself time to adjust to the elevation before you go hiking, especially if you’re from a place with low elevation.
While Helena is at 3,400 feet above sea level, the mountains can go above 9,000 feet.
Your body just needs a day or two of good hydration and sleep before being able to adjust to the higher elevations.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Helena
- Helena and East Helena have their own police departments, and each can be found on social media by using their department names. You can also email the Helena Police Department with specific questions at email@example.com.
- Sign up for emergency notifications through Smart 911 to stay on top of weather risks. You can’t take the weather potential here lightly. Even a sunny, warm day can turn dangerous if a wildfire sparks and the winds are blowing. Winds can also easily shift, making a once non-threatening fire now on a deadly path.
- Review the Evacuation Assembly Areas and bookmark or save the list to your mobile device. These are safe locations in the event of a wildfire, dangerous storm, power outage in freezing weather, etc. Helena has four locations, and East Helena has one.
- You should also review the city evacuation maps on the police department’s website. You might assume that driving away from a fire is the safest bet, but there’s a reason the evacuation maps are laid out as they are, so trust those before going with your own instincts. Evacuations can happen fast. Don’t waste time trying to go get your belongings.
- Peak flood season happens in May and June, which is triggered by snow melt that gets rained on. The groundwater rises, and the melted snow and rain go to the lowest points, which means the water floods part of the region. Never drive through a flooded roadway, even if the “water doesn’t look that deep.”
- Because of the risks in this town, never leave your gas tank less than half full. Top off whenever you can. I’ve sat in enough traffic from an approaching hurricane or a wildfire to practice this no matter where I go. If you run out of gas, there isn’t a good option to fill up in time.
- Inciweb is the program used to track wildfires across the country. It’s a great resource because fires very far away can also impact air quality in different cities. Air quality should also be checked in the winter because inversion can cause poor air quality at the ground level, which might make more sense to go higher.
- Check the city and emergency management social media sites in the winter for burn bans, which could help the air quality by not allowing fireplaces or wood-burning stoves to be used. Those contribute to the poor air quality caused by inversion. If nothing else, grab some of those COVID masks and wear them when the air quality is poor.
- Check your tires every time you stop for gas. The poor roads and unpaved portions of roads can really do a number on tires. You want to look for leaks, rocks stuck in the tire, or unexplained pressure loss. Always double-check that your spare tire is there and fully inflated.
- Use the Passport Parking app to find places to park in downtown Helena and pay safely through your device instead of having to feed a meter. You can also extend your parking time without having to go back.
So... How Safe Is Helena Really?
Helena is one of many Montana cities seeing an increase in population growth, though the rate isn’t as high here.
The violent crime rate is about 50% higher than the national average, but 53% of those crimes happen in homes, and 12% happen against strangers.
Theft rates are concerning, being twice the national average.
28% of those are car break-ins or accessory thefts, so always lock your car and don’t leave valuables or personal items inside.
The police department posts daily or weekly reports of all crime calls and accidents in the city, which is a great way to check crime trends closer to your visit.
Helena isn’t much for nightlife or cultural diversity in its food scene, but there’s a wealth of outdoor activities to explore.
If you aren’t outdoorsy, you might not have the best time.
The top complaint from residents is that there isn’t a lot of “fun” in town.
Common sense and street smarts will go a long way here, but wilderness and weather survival skills are essential to enjoying everything Helena, Montana, has to offer.
How Does Helena Compare?
|Siem Reap (Cambodia)
|Phnom Penh (Cambodia)
|Niagara Falls (Canada)
|Buenos Aires (Argentina)
You'll need a passport and visa or visa waiver if you're coming from outside the country, and the requirements are the same whether you fly into the state or cross in from the Canadian border. Plan the visa process early, as it can take several months to get through the arduous steps.
The U.S. Dollar is the only currency that can be used here, and it's important to take care of that before you leave home. You'll get the lowest fees and avoid a local bank trying to get you to sign up for an account to make the exchange.
From December through January, you'll be lucky if any day gets near freezing (32°(F)), so pack lots of warm layers, socks, and accessories. The city gets more than four feet of snow on average, so you'll need winter boots too. Summers can be hot and dry, so pack extra lotion, chapstick, and hiking boots. Spring and fall can still be brisk, so pack layers of varying-length shirts and fabrics. As it's Montana, bring some country boots if you want to.
Helena Regional Airport is served by Alaska, Delta, and United. Missoula's airport is two hours away and has flights to 14 locations nationwide.
Travel insurance and adventure insurance should be considered for a trip here. Especially during emergencies like a wildfire, which can't be forecast, you could lose money on your trip if you don't buy insurance ahead of time.
Helena Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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Montana - Safety by City