Montana may be the second fastest-growing state in the U.S. right now. But a closer look at the numbers shows a lot of that growth is being driven by the counties on the west side of the Continental Divide.

The numbers are among the latest data released this spring by the U.S. Census Bureau, analyzing the changes in growth trends that have happened in the intervening years since the pandemic.

And while the numbers echo what we've all experienced as our streets, roads, and campgrounds have gotten busier, the county-by-county numbers show not every community is experiencing a boom. And in fact, with some exceptions like Bozeman, it's the westside counties that are seeing the most rapid growth.

The Census Bureau report shows Idaho continuing to lead the country, with a population growth of almost 4.9% over the past year. Montana was at 3.3%, while Florida was 3rd at an even 3%.

Based on data analyzed by Axios, Broadwater County has the fastest growing right now, at an astonishing 13.7%. That even outpaces Gallatin County's 4.4%.

Mineral County leads the pack with a growth rate of 10.8% between 2020 and 2022. Admittedly, that's somewhat skewed by the lower population but still represents a jump from 4,529 residents to 5,058. An accomplishment in a community hit hard by the closure of the mill in St. Regis.

Lincoln County is up by 9.1% during the same period, adding nearly 2,000 new residents. Ravalli County's population jumped 6.5%, from 44,100 people in 2020 to 47,298 by last summer. To put that in perspective, that's almost 3,200 new residents, or like adding a new town the size of Stevensville, plus a new Darby.

Kalispell winning the westside urban growth "race"

As you would expect, Flathead County has the largest overall growth in that three-year span, jumping 6.6%, and adding 7,465 new residents. By comparison, Missoula grew at just over 2% and is only 10,000 residents ahead of Kalispell in the latest numbers.

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