Montana Facts: All About Big Sky Country

Montana landscape

In Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck penned that he had respect, recognition, and even admiration for 49 of the states – famously admitting that he had a mega crush and nothing but true love for Montana.

And if you’ve ever stood in a lush meadow in Big Sky Country, surrounded by wildflowers, listening to the calming sound of a crystal-clear, rushing river, and gazing at the snow-capped mountains that touch the clouds, you know exactly what the Nobel Prize-winning author meant. 

From its wide-open spaces to unique beauty, here are 16 impressive Montana facts.

Old Barn West of Billings, Montana
An old barn west of Billings, Montana

Do You Love Montana?

Share your favorite Montana photo with me by tagging @sagescott.kc on Instagram and using the hashtag #silversightseer

    

1. Montana is the Largest Landlocked State in the US

As the world’s fourth-largest country in terms of land mass, the US includes several large states. (Just ask Texans with their 10-gallon hats, belt buckles the size of brick, and “everything is bigger in Texas” slogan.) But stretched along the Canadian border, with rivers running through it but zero coastline, Montana is the nation’s largest landlocked state.

Just how big is Montana?

If you dragged the Treasure State (likely kicking and screaming) east to the Atlantic Coast, it is big enough to hold New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, DC, and  Virginia inside its borders. 

Girl in a pink sweatshirt hiking on a forested mountain trail
My daughter Louise leading the way on a hike near Kalispell, Montana

2. There’s Plenty of Room to Stretch Your Legs

Montana is the fourth-largest state in the nation (after Alaska, Texas, and California), but it’s also fourth in terms of low population density. While California and Texas have  253 and 40 people per square mile, respectively, Montana has just eight people per square mile. 

From coast to coast, only Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Alaska offer more breathing room. And more than 80% of Montana’s counties are considered  “frontier counties,” with an average of six people (or less) per square mile.

3. The Treasure State Shares a Long Border with Canada

From Alaska to Maine, 13 US states share a border with Canada. But Montana is the only state to share a land border with three Canadian provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

Sign at the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park
The world's first international peace park was established between the United States and Canada along the border of Montana and Alberta.

4. It’s the Site of the World’s First International Peace Park

The border between Canada and the US is the longest in the world, and the two nations have generally enjoyed a peaceful coexistence since both nations moved into their new digs from Europe. Sure there are occasional squabbles, especially about the US being a sloppy neighbor that allows its trash and culture to blow into Canada’s front yard. But trade agreements are the equivalent of homeowners association covenants, and the two nations have generally been able to work through their disagreements. 

So it’s not surprising that the world’s first International Peace Park was established on the Montana border with Canada in 1932, uniting Glacier National Park with Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park.

View from the Whitefish Mountain Gondola
View from the gondola at Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana

5. On a Clear Day, You Can See the North Pole

Just kidding!

But from the top of Lone Mountain at Big Sky Resort, about an hour south of Bozeman, you can see three states (Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana) and two national parks (Yellowstone and Tetons). 

Beyond the views, Big Sky Resort is the second-largest ski resort in the country based on acreage, and its new Swift Current 6 is the fastest chairlift in North America. (So take that, Canada!)

Sage Advice:  Don’t forget to pack your National Park Passport when you visit Montana.

6. And While Montana’s Mountains are Majestic, So is Its Water

Rushing water runs past tall evergreens at Glacier National Park
A rushing river powered by melting snow at Glacier National Park

In addition to its sweeping views, Montana’s triple divide is a one of a kind in the US. What the heck is a triple divide? It means that snowmelt from the mountains of Montana flows into three key bodies of water. And in Montana’s case, those basins are the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the Hudson Bay.

Montana’s aptly-named Giant Springs is the largest freshwater spring in the US, and Flathead Lake south of Kalispell is the largest freshwater lake in the US west of the Great Lakes.

The Yellowstone River, running diagonally through Southeast Montana, is the longest undammed river in the lower 48 states. And at just 200 feet long, Montana’s Roe River, emerging from Giant Springs, is the world’s smallest river.

Lake McDonald at Glacier National Park in Montana at sunset
Lake McDonald is a long fjord-like lake basin at Glacier National Park.

7. Montana is Home to Glacier National Park

Although the original entrance to Yellowstone is in Montana, much of the nation’s first national park spreads across northwestern Wyoming. But Glacier National Park is 100% inside Montana’s borders. Nicknamed the “Crown of the Continent,” Montana’s Glacier National Park is home to Going-to-the-Sun Road, more than 700 miles of hiking trails, and some of the most breathtaking views on the continent. 

Glacier National Park covers one million acres, including parts of two mountain ranges, 25 ice glaciers, 13 rock glaciers, and more than 130 named lakes.

8. And the Largest County Park in the United States

Established in 1916 and covering more than 10,000 acres, Beaver Creek Park is the largest county park in the nation. Located in the north-central region of Montana, the park lies in Hill County, just south of Havre, where it is open year round for camping, fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, and picnicking. (Although I don’t recommend picnicking in the months when the temperatures dip below 65F!)

Grizzly bear near Bozeman, Montana
Grizzly bears are surprisingly fast with the ability to run up to 30 miles per hour.

9. Montana Has the Largest Grizzly Bear Population in the Lower 48 States

Speaking of wildlife, Beaver Creek Park – along with the rest of Montana – is bear country. If you travel off the beaten path and keep your eyes open, there’s a good chance you’ll spot a bear. While it’s more likely to be a black bear than a grizzly, you’ll still want to brush up on these bear safety tips before you go. 

A baby elk naps on the green grass at Yellowstone National Park
A baby elk takes a time out in the green grass dotted with white clover near Gardiner, Montana

10. The Treasure State is Home to the Most Native Mammal Species in the US

Sure, Montana’s official nickname is due to its rich mineral deposits and gemstone resources, but the fact that it’s home to more native mammal species than any other state in the Union makes it a jewel to me. Beyond bears, Montana’s abundant native mammal species include bison, elk, moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, coyotes, and more than 100 other amazing creatures. 

One of the best places to see as many of these magnificent mammals as possible is at Yellowstone National Park. Yes, I know that most of the park is in Wyoming. But with three of its five entrances in Montana – including the only year-round entrance to the park in Gardiner – I’m comfortable sharing this recommendation.

To view Montana’s wild bison, head to the National Bison Range on the Flathead Indian Reservation near Missoula. Here, the Séliš, Qlispé, and Ksanka people warmly welcome you to see how their way of life has allowed them to bring the American bison back from the brink of extinction. Through their conservation areas and restoration efforts, they are also protecting tens of thousands of acres of habitat for grizzlies, elk, and bighorn sheep.

Sage Advice: And while they’re feathered friends, not mammals, Montana’s golden eagle population is the largest in the United States.

A large black cow in a field of tall grass near Kalispell, Montana
A cow in a field of tall grass near Kalispell, Montana

11. More Cows than People Call Montana Home

With about 1.5 million head of cattle, Montana ranks seventh on the list of the nation’s top beef-producing states. But considering the human population of  only 1.1 million, bovines outnumber Montana residents. In comparison, the number-one beef-producing state of Texas has nearly seven people for every head of cattle.  

A flight of craft beer and a platter of fish and chips at Uberbrew in Billings, MT
A flight of craft beer and a platter of fish and chips at Uberbrew in Billings, MT

12. There’s No Shortage of Breweries in Montana

While Montana may be lower on the list of beef-producing states, it consistently ranks in the top three states for number of breweries per capita. And that makes sense based on its large wheat, barley, and hops yield in a state with a lot of thirsty cowboys and vacationers. 

At Flathead Valley Community College in Libby, about 90 minutes west of Kalispell, the Brewing Academy of Montana was established in 2015 to tap into the growing craft beer industry. And you can sip the lagers of their labor at tap houses in the region and at the craft breweries across Big Sky Country that the students join after graduation.

Sage Advice: Find a Montana brewery near you with this Montana brewery directory.

Tyrannosaurus Rex Fossil at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, MT
Dinosaurs Under The Big Sky is a permanent at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, MT

13. Or Dinosaur Fossils

The Treasure State is a treasure trove for paleontologists. From the Montana Dinosaur Center in Bynum to the Carter County Museum in Ekalaka, Montana’s statewide Dinosaur Trail includes 14 different stops. And at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, visitors can see 13 T-Rex specimens.

Sage Advice: If you dig dinosaurs, take a dig-site tour on Montana’s Dinosaur Trail. Half-day and full-day digs are available, including round-trip transportation from the Montana Dinosaur Center.

Blue sapphire
Montana's Yogo Gulch, Rock Creek, and Dry Cottonwood Creek are rich with gorgeous sapphires.

14. A True Montana Gem Has Unique Bragging Rights (Sort Of)

Although Montana’s nickname is associated with its gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, coal, and oil deposits, a sapphire from Montana holds a special claim to fame. Out of all the diamonds, rubies, and other jewels adorning the St. Edward’s Crown, the Sovereign’s Orb, and other pieces that make up the Crown Jewels of England, only one gem from North America is included. It is believed that a cornflower blue sapphire from the Yogo Gulch in Montana made it into the collection that values $4 billion, but that claim cannot be conclusively proven or disproven. 

Jeannette Pickering Rankin
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

15. Montana Was the First State to Elect a Woman to Congress

Four years before she was able to vote in a presidential election, Montana native Jeannette Pickering Rankin was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1916, occupying one of Montana’s two at-large House seats. Rankin ran as a progressive, supporting social welfare, women’s suffrage, and prohibition. While accepting the position, Rankin said in her victory speech that she was “deeply conscious” of the responsibility on her shoulders as the only woman in the nation with voting power in Congress.

With that incredible power, Rankin chose to be one of the 50 representatives who did not support a declaration of war on Germany in 1917. Although 49 male representatives and six senators also voted against the war, Rankin was singled out for criticism. (And hardly any American woman today is surprised by this reaction by our fellow countrymen a hundred years ago.) 

Patrick Duffy is someone famous from Montana
Patrick Duffy is one of several famous people from Montana. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

16. Famous People from Montana

In addition to Jeannette Rankin, Montana has given birth to a wide range of entertainers, sports figures, and musicians. Famous people from Montana include:

Frequently Asked Questions Related to Fun Facts About Montana

What are five interesting facts about Montana?

Five interesting facts about Montana? How about 16? From its size to its famous residents, scroll up to the “In This Article” section and take your pick!

What time is it in Montana?

The entire state of Montana observes the Mountain time zone, which means that the time in both Billings and Bozeman is an hour later than on the West Coast, an hour earlier than Chicago, and the same time as in Denver.

What is the capital of Montana?

Located in the western half of the state, Montana’s capital is Helena.

How many people live in Montana?

Per the 2020 census, Montana is home to about 1.1 million people (and about 1.5 million cows).

What is Montana known for?

Montana is known for its majestic snow-capped mountains, rushing rivers, abundant wildlife, everything huckleberry … and, of course, its big sky.

Can you see the northern lights in Montana?

Yes, especially in the northern part of the state where there is less light pollution. Some of the best places to view the northern lights are Glacier National Park, Cascade County, the Seeley-Swan Valley, and Whitefish Lake State Park.

Is Yellowstone in Montana?

Although the majority of Yellowstone National Park is in Wyoming, three of the park’s five entrances – including the original entrance with the Roosevelt gate and the only entrance open year round – are in Montana.

Where is Montana State University?

Montana State University, home of the Bobcats, is located in Bozeman.

So then where is the University of Montana?

The University of Montana, home of the Grizzlies (or Griz), is in Missoula.

Does it snow in Montana?

Do bears poop in the woods? Yes, it snows in Montana! Expect an average of about 40 inches of snow each year, with more at the state’s higher altitudes.

What is there to do in Montana?

A lot! Check out this free Montana travel guide for a long list of recommendations, including a downloadable Montana bucket list!

What is there to do in Billings, Montana?

These are some of my favorite things to see and do in Billings.

Where is Montana on the map?

Map of Montana

Does Southwest fly to Montana?

In May 2021, Southwest Airlines began flying to Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) about 15 minutes northwest of Bozeman or about two hours west of Billings.

What is the abbreviation for Montana?

Montana’s two-letter abbreviation is MT.

How big is Montana?

At 147,000 square miles, Montana is the fourth-largest state in the US and the nation’s largest landlocked state.

How many counties are in Montana?

There are 56 counties in Montana, and more than 80% of them are considered  “frontier counties,” with an average of six people (or less) per square mile.

Does Montana have sales tax?

Montana is one of a handful of states where most purchases can be made without paying sales tax. Although the state doesn’t charge a sales tax, some destinations (especially Montana cities that receive a lot of tourists) may charge their own local sales tax. You may see additional sales taxes tacked on to other tourism industry purchases, including hotels, campgrounds, and rental cars.

Have You Visited Montana?

What did you like most? Any additional Montana facts to pass along? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

Montana Facts - Pin 1 - JPG
Montana Facts - Pin 3 - JPG

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8 thoughts on “Montana Facts: All About Big Sky Country”

  1. When you think about the sheer natural beauty found all over Montana, it is really surprising that it does not receive more tourists than it does (especially when compared to other states). You can really feel an enormous connection to the land and wildlife there, although I never realized that you can also see the Northern Lights as well. Just another wonderful reason to visit this fabulous state!

  2. These are all so fun! I had no idea Montana had the largest grizzly bear population in the lower 48! I better take my bear spray next time I am out hiking! Thanks for the fun read!

  3. It’s excellent and fascinating information about Montana. It is a beautiful state with lots of attractions. I had no idea that Montana has the largest grizzly bear population in the lower 48 states. I love wildlife.

    1. If you love wildlife, you’ll LOVE Montana. It’s nearly impossible to visit without getting your fill of amazing wildlife!

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