Montana is state in the Pacific Northwest and Great Plains regions of the United States. Often called Big Sky Country for its famed big, blue skies, Montana is a state of contrasts, from the flat regions to the East and the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains in the West. The central and western thirds of the state have numerous mountain ranges (approximately 77 named) of the northern Rocky Mountains; thus the state's name, derived from the Spanish word montaρa ("mountain"). The state nickname is the "Treasure State." Billings is the largest city in Montana and is a reference point for travelers. Visitors usually come from Yellowstone National Park to Billings to explore the western region of the U.S.
The state is generally divided into two main regions: Eastern Montana and Western Montana. The Rocky Mountains separate the smaller western portion from the larger eastern portion. Western Montana is characterized by higher rainfall and more mountains making for some very picturesque scenery such as that found in Glacier National Park. Eastern Montana is flatter and more arid with sandstone buttes and long muddy rivers that add character to the plains. The economy is primarily based on agriculture and significant lumber and mineral extraction. Tourism is also important to the economy, with millions of visitors a year to Glacier National Park, the Battle of Little Bighorn site, and three of the five entrances to Yellowstone National Park.
Montana's population is just under a million residents, most of which are clustered around cities and towns. The state features wide open spaces, lonesome highways and dramatic scenery, both to the east and west of the continental divide. Residents of Montana often classify themselves as either easterners or westerners, depending upon their geographic home. The west is often considered more picturesque, but is also more populated and heavily touristed. The eastern half of the state is more sparsely populated, with low lying plains, bluffs and cliffs. Attitude-wise, the west is generally considered more liberal and modernized, while the east, with it's large ranching and agricultural operations, is considered more conservative. The state economy is primarily based on agriculture, ranching, logging and mining as well as tourism.
Montana is a large state - a trip via interstate from the far eastern town of Wibaux to the western border town of Mullan, ID is over 700 miles, an estimated 12 hour trip. Because residents must often drive long distances to get from one place to another, they generally love their cars - especially their SUVs and other 4-wheel drive vehicles that do well in the often hazardous winter weather. Visitors can, however get around in other ways.
Daily commuter flights from one end of the state to the other, as well as to surrounding areas are available through Big Sky Airlines, affectionally called Big Scare by passengers.
Greyhound Bus Lines, 800-231-2222, offers services from rural and large cities around Montana, as well as outside the state.
Powder River Trailways, 800-442-3682, offers limited tour routes throughout the state.
Rimrock Trailways, 800-255-7655 offers limited tour routes throughout the state.
The easiest and most convenient way to get around Montana will probably always be by car. Destinations are spread wide even within a single city, and within cities, parking is usually ample and cheap, if not free. Rental cars are widely available, and the option to pick up in one city and drop off in another is available, though expensive.
Montana is bisected by three major interstates.
I-15 runs north-south from Alberta, Canada to Idaho in Western Montana.
I-90 runs north from Wyoming, then West to Idaho
I-94 runs from the North Dakota border West to join with I-90 just east of Billings.
A few US Highways provide mainline travel through interesting areas of the state.
Highway 2 - The Hi-Line, a fabled highway running through northern Montana from the North Dakota border near Beinville to the Idaho border near Troy for 666 miles. The highway runs through the plains and prairies east of the continental divide, through the Fort Peck Indian Reservation town of Wolf Point, through Glasgow, Malta, Havre, Shelby and Cut Bank until crossing the continental divide, running the south side of Glacier National Park to Kalispell, Libby and the border.
Highway 12 - runs a meandering east to west route from Lolo Pass to the North Dakota border near Baker, through heavily forested, winding roads in the West to the dramatic flats and plains to the East. The highway runs a meandering route from Lolo Pass to Missoula, bisects with I-90, continues on to Helena, then bisects I-94 until just after Miles City, then continues on to the North Dakota border, close to South Dakota.
Yellowstone National Park Majority located within Wyoming, however three entrances to the park are located in Montana.
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Glacier National Park
Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
Pompey's Pillar National Monument is a large Rock where Lewis and Clark signed their names.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Custer's Last Stand battlefield and Reenactment location
Happy Pappy's Holdup-Site for Montana wagon train adventure between Pompey's Pillar and Custer's Battlefield.
Montana has a recreational opportunity for every adventure seeker, every season, and every mode of transit -- by land, by boat, by bike or all terrain vehicle, there's something to keep you occupied in Montana.
Whitewater Rafting - many Montana rivers, especially in the West, offer world class rapids. Many companies offer float trips of varying degrees of difficulty and length. Rafting on your own is greatly discouraged due to the extreme danger often found in mountain rivers.
Boating - bring your powerboat, canoe, kayak or schooner and find a lake, river or stream to wile away the day. Kayak and canoe rentals are widely available.
Floating - a unique Montana experience. Rent inner tubes, take a cooler of beer and float a river with a few, or a bunch, of your closest friends on a hot day. Pick a river that's wide and slow, or fast with rapids, and enjoy the view from a cool Montana waterway.
Fly fishing - iconically Montana due to the movie A River Runs Through It which was filmed along parts of the Blackfoot river in Western Montana, anglers flock to rivers in the late spring and summer months to catch the "big one". Outfitters available for guided trips, or to rent you the gear you'll need. Ask a local for a good spot.
The mountains also provide opportunities for hiking, backpacking, mountain biking and climbing.
Billings Horseback Rides
Wagon Train Adventures
Montana has two large resort ski areas, Big Sky and Big Mountain, as well as smaller local hills. The mountains usually open around mid-late December and remain open into April, sometimes May. Big Sky is a large resort area located 45 minutes south of Bozeman. This has two mountains, lots of lifts, including "The Tram," a gondola to the top of Lone Peak. Pick a clear day for an unparalleled view of the Spanish Peaks and incredible expert skiing. Winter and summer resort activities available.
Some of the best skateparks in the country are in Montana with some pretty unique features. For directions, descriptions and more information visit Skate Montana.
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Rocky Mountain lake view, Glacier National Park, Montana, U.S.A.
The state of Montana Official State Travel website splits the state into 6 regions for exploring: Glacier Country
Gold West Country
Missouri River Country
Most visitors to Montana will drive, however the state is easily accessible by air. Some major points of entry are Billings (BIL), Missoula (MSO), Helena (HLN, Great Falls (GTF), Bozeman (BZN) and Kalispell (FCA).
A pretty popular and creative way is Amtrak's legendary Empire Builder. The train has 13 stops in Montana, and takes passengers to Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and Chicago from Montana's High Line and Glacier National Park. Tickets should be purchased in advance.
Montana is safer than most when it comes to violent and personal crime, but the state still suffers from one of the highest highway and road death rates in the country. Long distance travel over great amounts of time resulting in fatigue, hazardous winter road conditions and alcohol consumption frequently contribute to the high number of deaths on Montana's highways yearly. This is not to say it's unsafe to drive in Montana -- just beware. If you are unused to driving winding mountain roads or driving in extremely hazardous snow/wind/ice/rain/sleet conditions, do not do so. Wait for the weather to clear -- it may result in a good story, those 12 hours you spent at a truck stop with some friends waiting for a pass to clear.
There is a lot of wildlife around the state, including deer, elk, moose, bears, buffalo, and coyotes. Always remember that these are wild, and do not tolerate people with cameras getting close, much less trying to put their kid on the buffalo. Most animals will avoid humans by our scent or noise, although beware of deer along the roads. When camping, always keep food in your car, or hung from a tall tree. Tents are like tissue paper to a hungry bear.
Outside of environmental and road hazards, use common sense, and you should be fine.