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Montana Facts: All About Big Sky Country

A clear lake at Glacier National Park in Montana under a cloudy sky.

In Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck penned that he had respect, recognition, and even admiration for 49 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 rushing river while gazing at snow-capped mountains that seem to 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.

16 facts about montana.

    

Have You Visited Montana?

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A pin is pinned on a map of Montana.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

1. Montana is the Largest Landlocked State in the US

As the world’s fourth-largest country in terms of land mass, the United States includes several large states. (Just ask Texans with their 10-gallon hats, belt buckles the size of a brick, and “everything is bigger in Texas” slogan.) But stretched along the Canadian border, with rivers running through it but no 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.

A girl is running down a scenic trail in the woods of Montana.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

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, Montana has just eight people per square mile. And, 46 of the state’s 56 counties have average populations of just six people or less per square mile. Only Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Alaska offer more breathing room.

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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.

A sign at the entrance to Bear Country National Park, displaying interesting facts about Montana.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

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 countries 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.

A picturesque view of a mountain with a serene lake in the background in Montana.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

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 National Park and Grand Teton National Park). 

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!)

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

A river meandering through a landscape of rocky mountains and lush trees, showcasing the stunning natural beauty of Montana.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

In addition to its sweeping views, Montana’s triple divide peak is a one-of-a-kind in the US. What the heck is a triple divide? It means that snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains 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 natural 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 shortest river.

A lake surrounded by mountains and rocks at sunset.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

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. 

Covering one million acres along Montana’s northern border, Glacier National Park includes parts of two mountain ranges, 25 ice glaciers, 13 rock glaciers, and more than 130 named lakes. And with Going-to-the-Sun Road, considered one of the most scenic drives in the country, it’s easy to see how Glacier National Park has earned the nickname the “Crown of the Continent.”

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!)

A large grizzly bear standing in a grassy meadow near Bozeman, Montana.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

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

Speaking of wildlife, 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, also known as a calf, peacefully resting in the grassy meadows of Montana.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

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 group of cows standing behind a barbed wire fence.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

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 plate of fish and chips accompanied by two glasses of beer, perfect for enjoying fun facts about Montana.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

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, cowgirls, and vacationers. 

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

Description: An impressive t - rex skeleton is displayed in a museum in Montana.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

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.

A shimmering blue sapphire sitting on a surface, captivating with its exquisite beauty.
Photo Credit: Canva.

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.

An old photograph featuring a woman sitting in a chair, capturing the essence of Montana's captivating history.
Photo Credit: 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, Jeannette 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.)

A man in a black shirt and striped shirt smiling, showcasing the fun and interesting side of Montana.
Photo Credit: 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:

  • Silver-screen legend Gary Cooper, who was born in Helena and worked on his family’s ranch as a cowboy
  • Motorcycle stuntman and daredevil Evel Knievel, born and raised in Butte
  • Sportscaster Brent Musberger, raised in Billings
  • NBA basketball player and coach of the legendary Chicago Bulls Phil Jackson, born in Deer Lodge and raised in a remote area of Montana
  • Academy Award-nominated director David Lynch, born in Missoula
  • Dallas cutie Patrick Duffy, born in Townsend
  • Comedian Dana Carvey and Modern Family actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson both born in Missoula
  • Actress Michelle Williams, born in Kalispell

Have You Visited Montana?

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

Looking for more information to plan your Montana vacation? Check out my free Montana travel guide to help you plan your trip to Montana including the best time to visit Montana, what to see and do in Montana, the best places to stay in Montana, where to eat in Montana, and more!

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1 thought on “Montana Facts: All About Big Sky Country”

  1. As someone who loves exploring new places just like me, this article has definitely peaked my interest in visiting Montana next weekend. The breathtaking landscapes, abundant wildlife, and rich history all sound incredibly appealing. I’m already starting to research potential itineraries and things to do! Thank you for sharing.

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