Montana

Impressive peaks, vast landscapes, crystal clear lakes, wild animals, and hardly any people: the US state of Montana is a true dream destination for all nature lovers. Travel with us to the Treasure State and find out what other hidden gems you can find there.

Montana facts

Capital Helena
Area about 381,000 km²
Population about 989,000
Location in the northwest of the USA
Nickname The Treasure State, The Big Sky Country
State animal grizzly bear, cutthroat trout
Time zone UTC −7 (Mountain Time)

Montana: location & population

The state of Montana covers mountainous terrain in the northwestern United States. It borders Idaho to the west, Wyoming to the south, and North Dakota and South Dakota to the east. To the north, a long land border separates Montana from Canada and its provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

Montana has a population of just 989,000 on an area of around 381,000 km². Thus, the Treasure State is the fourth largest US state in terms of area. But with only 2.39 inhabitants per km², Montana has one of the lowest population densities, along with Alaska and Wyoming.

Before European immigrants arrived, various Native American tribes (notably Sioux, Nez Perce, Kootenays, Pikunis, and Cheyennes) inhabited the region. In 1803, Montana was sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Territory. However, massive immigration did not occur until the discovery of gold deposits in the 1850s and 1860s.

Today, Montana is one of the most ethnically homogeneous states in the USA, with a white population of 86%. Moreover, there is also a large Native American population. Many of them live in one of the eight reservations, which are located partly or completely on the territory of Montana.

The largest cities in Montana

What is considered a major city in the state of Montana would probably be more of a suburb in the more populous states on the East Coast or in California. Anyone who wants to get from one place to the next in large Montana usually has to travel many kilometers.

The largest five cities in Montana based on population are:

City Population
Billings 110,000
Missoula 73,000
Great Falls 59,000
Bozeman 47,000
Butte 34,000

And Montana's capital Helena? With a population of around 31,000, it only ranks sixth.

Climate and nature

Montana is the largest US state without a coast. The Continental Divide separates the state into a western and an eastern region. While the landscape in the west is characterized by the majestic peaks and deep valleys of the Rocky Mountains, vast fertile plains occupy the east. Various tributaries of the Missouri River (Yellowstone, Milk, and Musselshell) cross the state from one side to the other, forming countless canyons and waterfalls along the way.

The climate varies considerably in the two parts of the state. The western part of Montana experiences a coastal Pacific climate with cool summers and mild winters. The eastern part, on the other hand, has a semi-arid continental climate type with warm summers and cold winters.

Best time to travel to Montana

If you want to explore nature on (more or less) solitary hikes, Montana is the place to be. There is hardly anything to stop you from simply taking in the beauty of the landscape.

Montana in summer

The best time to travel to Montana is in the summer months, from June to September. In the mountain regions, the summers are rather mild. This provides the best conditions for extended expeditions through the landscapes and national parks. In the lowlands, summer temperatures vary between 23 and 29 °C.

Montana in winter

You should rather not visit Montana from November to February. Very cold temperatures prevail and rarely get above freezing point. Large amounts of snowfall are also possible. A visit to the national parks is then infeasible, as many mountain trails remain closed. Spring is also still relatively cold. Until early summer, there may be frequent rain and thunderstorms.

Traveling to Montana

There are only two airports in Montana. One of them is located at the gates of the largest city, Billings. Bozeman also has an airport, but despite its name, only domestic flights take off and land there.

The two airports in Montana are:

  • Billings Logan International Airport (BIL)
  • Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN)

To travel to the state of Montana, you usually have to make one or two stopovers.

Flights to Billings, Montana, are available, with American Airlines, from Frankfurt, for example. In most cases, you will need to factor in a stopover in Dallas of about four to six hours. From London, you can get to Billings via Chicago with British Airways.

The journey from Asia, for example, from Tokyo in Japan, often involves a stop in Minneapolis or two stops in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.

You should budget about €800 to €950 for your round trip to Montana from Europe as well as from Japan.

Flights to Montana

Travel authorization Montana

You do not necessarily need a visa to travel to Montana. If you are a citizen of one of the Visa Waiver Program countries (e.g., Japan, Australia, and most European countries), you can enter the United States with an ESTA travel authorization. This is cheaper and less complicated than applying for a US visa.

ESTA – visa-free to the USA

With an ESTA, you can stay 90 days visa-free in the USA. Apply online now!

Airport transfer in Montana

The Billings airport is located just about two miles outside of town. Once you land, you have the following options for a transfer to Billings or to explore Montana:

Taxi from Billings Airport

Since the airport is located really close to Billings, the most convenient option for a transfer is a cab. At around $5 to $6, a ride to the city center is relatively cheap.

Shuttle from Billings Airport

To get to the city of Billings, you can reserve one of the private airport shuttle vans by phone. Some hotels in Billings and the surrounding area also offer free shuttle service to and from the airport.

Public transport in Billings

Billings Metropolitan Transit (MET) buses get you from A to B in Montana's largest city. They run Monday through Friday on 15 routes. Only seven lines operate on Saturdays, and Sundays are off. A single adult ticket costs $1.75. You can take bus line 1 (MET-Link) from the airport to the city center.

Bus in Montana

From Billings, you can also get to all parts of Montana or the surrounding states by bus. They leave from the Greyhound station downtown. When traveling from the airport, you will first need a shuttle or cab into the city.

Although the bus station is called Greyhound Station, Greyhound no longer provides service in the area. However, you have the choice between the buses of Rimrock Trailways, Jefferson Lines, and Black Hills Stage Lines.

Rental car in Montana

In Montana, it is generally recommended to rent a vehicle. This way, you can explore the huge state individually and make a break if you particularly like it somewhere. You can rent a car directly at the airport.

Tip: When traveling by car in sparsely populated Montana, always make sure you have a full tank of gas as soon as an opportunity presents itself. The distances are usually very long, and the next town with a gas station is often farther than you might think!

National parks and natural wonders in Montana

On the territory of Montana, there are two national parks of impressive beauty. But the vastness of the state offers many other natural wonders to enjoy.

Glacier National Park

The fascinating peaks of the Rockies, 250 lakes, and an abundance of wildlife can be admired in Glacier National Park near the Canadian border, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road takes you all the way to Logan Pass at 2,026 m above sea level, where you'll have a great view of the mountains and glaciers. If you continue on the 80 km long route, you will arrive at the southern shore of the picturesque Lake McDonald with its glittering water surface.

Yellowstone National Park

The world-famous Yellowstone National Park impresses with meandering rivers, vast green valleys, huge lakes, and thundering waterfalls. The volcanic activity created by the lava chamber bubbling beneath the park's surface is unique in the world.

Although most of Yellowstone lies in Wyoming, the original entrance from the time of the park's opening is in Gardiner, Montana. Near the only entrance open year-round, you'll also find the steaming terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs.

Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument

The Upper Missouri region is perfect if you want to enjoy pristine nature. To this day, the landscape has remained relatively unchanged and offers you numerous opportunities for hiking, camping, or hunting.

The highlight of the park is the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, also called "The Breaks" by Montana residents. The white sandstone and clay shale cliffs rising meters into the sky next to the river will surely take your breath away.

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Breathtaking views await you at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. This popular recreation area on Bighorn Lake near the Wyoming border is a great place to fish or kayak. The park is also home to four historic ranches and the historic Bad Pass Trail, considered a sacred site by Native Americans.

Pompeys Pillar National Monument

Near Billings, Pompeys Pillar National Monument rises 31 m above the Yellowstone River. Like a sandstone history book, the rock is littered with the remains of animal drawings created by humans many centuries ago.

In 1806, Captain William Clark carved his signature and date on the Pompeys Pillar. This makes it the only place where you can view visible evidence of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Guided tours can be booked from May to October at the Pompeys Pillar Visitor Center.

Top 10 sightseeing highlights Montana

Impressive glaciers, wild animals, crystal clear mountain lakes, and lonely roads: Montana is best known for its pristine nature. So, if you're traveling in the vast mountain landscapes of Montana, be sure to add the following ten sightseeing highlights to your bucket list.

  • Glacier National Park
  • Going-to-the-Sun Road
  • Lake McDonald
  • Big Sky Resort
  • Logan Pass
  • Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
  • Saint Mary Lake
  • Whitefish Mountain Resort
  • Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
  • Grinnell Glacier

City highlights in Montana

Even though the towns are rather small and peaceful, there are also some interesting city highlights in Montana where you can take a break from your nature exploration tours.

City highlights Billings

Billings is the largest city in Montana, with the Rimrocks sandstone cliffs being its most prominent landmark. Billings' bustling downtown is characterized by sidewalk cafes, coffee shops, music venues, and museums. The wild Yellowstone River, on the other hand, is teeming with oversized trout – truly a paradise for anglers.

Add these city highlights to your must-see list in Billings:

  • Zoo Montana
  • Yellowstone Art Museum
  • Pictograph Cave State Park
  • Moss Mansion Museum
  • Western Heritage Center

Accomodation in Billings

City highlights Bozeman

It's hard to believe, but peaceful Bozeman is full of museums and cultural highlights. The university town is also a starting point for any kind of Montana adventure: fly fishing, mountain biking, backpacking, or mountaintop tours. Even trips to Yellowstone National Park start here.

You won't want to miss these city highlights in Bozeman:

  • Museum of the Rockies
  • Downtown Bozeman Partnership
  • American Computer & Robotics Museum
  • Gallatin History Museum
  • Emerson Center for the Arts & Culture

Accomodation in Bozeman

City highlights Helena

Helena was established in 1864 after a gold discovery in the Last Chance Gulch and became the capital of the Montana Territory in 1875. Today, you'll find a bustling downtown district in the heart of Helena's old town. Historic buildings like a restored Pioneers Cabin and the row houses on Reeder's Alley are also preserved.

These city highlights in Helena are worth a visit:

  • Montana State Capitol
  • Cathedral of Saint Helena
  • Holter Museum of Art
  • Mount Helena
  • Original Governor’s Mansion

Accomodation in Helena

City highlights Missoula

Missoula, the second-largest city in Montana, is a college town with an artistic spirit. Looking out the window, you can gaze at the impressive scenery of Mount Sentinel and the other Sapphire Mountains. The city is also known for excellent conditions to go fly fishing.

Put these city highlights on your travel bucket list when in Missoula:

  • Bitterroot River
  • Snowbowl
  • Missoula Art Museum
  • Lolo National Forest
  • Mount Sentinel

Accomodation in Missoula

Road trip in Montana

A road trip through Montana isn't just a tour to some of the most beautiful natural wonders in the United States. You can also embark on a journey through history – to the Native Americans, the first trappers and European settlers, and even back to prehistoric times!

Museum of the Rockies

When you travel to Montana, don't miss a visit to the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman. Here, you can marvel at one of the most extensive collections of dinosaur fossils anywhere. In the Hall of Giants, Big Al, one of the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeletons ever found, will send you a greeting from prehistoric times.

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

The two adventurers Lewis and Clark explored the northwest of the USA on an extensive expedition from 1804 to 1806. The route covered some 6,000 km, running from Pennsylvania to the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon – and also across Montana.

Less arduously than 200 years ago, you can also take the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail today, which belongs to the historic routes of the US National Trails System.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument honors all who participated in the 1876 battle of the same name. Lakota and Cheyenne warriors defeated the 7th Cavalry Regiment at that time in one of the most famous and decisive battles in American history. The battle marked a peak in the 400-year long struggle of Native Americans against the intrusion of European settlers.

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

Wide-open spaces, hard-working cowboys, and huge herds of cattle: this is how the Wild West is often pictured. Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site preserves these symbols and commemorates the role of cattle ranchers in American history.

The Grant-Kohrs Ranch, once the headquarters of a 100,000 km² large cattle empire, is open to guided tours that include the main house, the forge, the horse stables, and the cattle barns from the 1860s. Live cattle still roam the lush meadows surrounding the ranch.

Ghost town of Bannack

Montana's first major gold discovery was made near the historic ghost town of Bannack in 1862. More than 50 buildings line the vacant Main Street, where visitors to Bannack State Park can get a real sense of Montana's wild past. Throughout the summer, the visitor center offers guided tours and other activities such as gold panning.

Instagram hotspots Montana

Landscapes as impressive as those offered by the US state of Montana are something you should really show to your friends!

These are our top 5 Instagram hotspots in Montana:

  • Old Faithful / Yellowstone National Park
  • Big Sky Resort
  • Kootenai Falls & Swinging Bridge
  • Lake McDonald
  • Logan Pass

Cuisine in Montana

The regional cuisine in Montana favors a lot of meat – be it beef, chicken, lamb, pork, or even bison, elk, and deer. Fresh fish, such as trout, and deserts are also food favorites in Montana.

Typical local dishes in Montana are:

  • Pickle Barrel Sandwiches
  • Elk and bison burger
  • Steaks of all kinds
  • Huckleberry Pie
  • Wheat Montana Cinnamon Rolls

Montana Fun Facts

Do you want to learn more about Montana? We've uncovered some interesting fun facts from the Treasure State:

  • The name Montana comes from the Spanish word Montaña, and means mountain.
  • Montana is the only US state with a triple divide. From Triple Divide Peak in the Rocky Mountains, water can flow into three different oceans: Hudson Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean.
  • Montana has more diverse mammal species than any other state in the US, including many elk, bighorn sheep, caribou, and bobcats.
  • The famous fly fishing movie "A River Runs Through It" revolves around the Blackfoot River in Montana. However, most of the footage was shot on the Gallatin River in Montana.
  • The largest snowflake ever measured fell during a storm in Montana in 1887. It was 38 cm wide.
  • The giant Tyrannosaurus skeleton "Tufts-Love Rex" was found in Hell Creek, Montana, in 2016. It is one of 15 practically intact T-Rex skeletons worldwide and is one of the largest ever recovered.
  • In 1916, Jeannette Rankin of Missoula became the first woman elected to the United States Congress.

Immigrate to Montana

Are you dreaming of a life surrounded by the beautiful mountains of Montana? The following information about the Treasure State will certainly give you some clues on how to get closer to your goal of moving to Montana.

Arbeiten in Montana

Montana's economy has traditionally been associated with mining, primarily of copper, gold, silver, and phosphates. Even today, Montana's industry is based in part on the processing of agricultural and mineral resources.

Many jobs are in agriculture and forestry, but tourism around the national parks and winter resorts also plays an important role.

Living in Montana

According to the Cost of Living Index, life in Montana is on average 6% cheaper than in the rest of the United States. You can save money mainly on transportation.

The rural regions are the most affordable. Costs in the largest city, Billings, and the capital, Helena, are about the same as the American average. In Bozeman and Missoula, however, you have to expect higher rents.

Moving to Montana with a Green Card

Did the gorgeous mountains of Montana impress you so much that you want to live there forever? The Green Card Lottery can help you win one of 55,000 Green Cards given away by the US government annually. Sign up now!

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