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Although it’s the fourth largest state in the U.S, Montana is actually very sparsely populated, with a population of only 1.11 million. 

Often referred to as “Big Sky Country”, Montana is known for its vast open spaces, expansive skies, national parks, glaciers, lakes and beautiful mountains. It’s the perfect place to get in touch with nature and experience a wide range of outdoor activities, including hiking, horseback riding, hunting, fishing and skiing. 

The state is also known for producing a wide variety of commodities, including flathead cherries, huckleberries, wheat and beef. In this guide we’ll take a look at all the things Montana is famous for, including famous foods, cities and attractions. 

20 Things Montana is Famous For

Bozeman

Located in Gallatin Valley of Montana, Bozeman is the second largest city in the state after Helena. Bozeman has a population of just over 50,000 people and boasts an eclectic mix of art galleries, shops and restaurants serving everything from sushi to pizza. If you fancy a pint, the city is also home to several microbreweries, including Bozeman Brewing Company, Mountains Walking Brewery and MAP Brewing Company.  

Bozeman is a major gateway for exploring Yellowstone National Park, and there are lots of things to do in the area;  you can ski down the slopes at Bridger Bowl Ski Area, try horseback riding at Silver Brand ranch, or learn all about grizzly bears at Montana Grizzly Encounter. 

Helena

Cathedral of Saint Helena

Montana’s capital city, Helena, was founded in 1864 during the Montana gold rush, when miners discovered gold in the region. The city went on to become very wealthy, and many of the city’s millionaires built elaborate Victorian homes in an area now known as the Mansion District. 

In addition to its Victorian architecture and beautiful mountain views, Helena has become known as a destination for art lovers thanks to its many galleries featuring artwork from local (and sometimes international) artists.

Popular landmarks in Helena include Montana State Capitol – known for its dome surmounted by a reproduction of the Statue of Liberty – and Montana Historical Society, which houses over 1 million newspaper articles, recordings and photographs. The city is also the seat of Carroll College, a Roman Catholic university that was founded in 1909 by John Patrick Carroll. 

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park, one of the most famous national parks in the U.S, is partly located in Montana. 

Established in 1872, Yellowstone was the first national park in the U.S. (and the world) and covers an area of 3,468.4 sq mi (8,983 km2). Thousands of tourists visit this national park every year to admire its stunning landscape, which consists of lakes, canyons, rivers, and mountain ranges. 

A lot of geothermal activity takes place here, thanks to a dormant supervolcano called the Yellowstone Caldera. Over half of the world’s geysers are located within this park, including Old Faithful, which erupts every 44 to 125 minutes all year round. The park is also home to many different species of wildlife including bison, elk, deer, moose, bears and wolves. 

Wildlife

Bison in Montana

Montana is home to many different types of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, moose, elk and pronghorn antelope. The state also has a large population of mule deer, mountain goats and bison (buffalo). White-tailed deer are pretty common in Montana – these are recognizable by their white tails that become raised when the deer runs away. 

Gold, Copper and Silver

Butte mining town

Montana was one of the first states to be mined for gold and experienced a Gold Rush in the late 19th century. Gold was first found in Gold Creek in the spring of 1858, and once news got out, miners soon flocked to the southwest part of Montana to see what they could uncover. 

Gold strikes were made in Bannack, Alder Gulch, and Last Chance Gulch, and settlements were established in these areas. Montana’s mining towns had a reputation for being pretty lawless, and were notorious for crime, robberies and murder. 

The gold rush contributed to the economy of Montana until the 1890s, when copper mining took over. The town of Butte was the most important source of copper and silver in Montana, and was later nicknamed the “Richest Hill on Earth”.

Yogo Sapphires

Yogo Sapphires are unique to Montana, and can be found in the Yogo Gulch area. These beautiful gems have a lovely cornflower blue color, as a result of trace amounts of iron and titanium. They’re considered to be some of the world’s finest sapphires, and are typically very expensive. 

Yogo sapphires were first discovered  by gold miners, who came across them accidentally in the late 1880s. Most miners discarded these little blue pebbles as being of little value, until a prospector called Jake Hoover collected a cigar box full of them and sent them to Tiffany & Co. for appraisal. The gems were deemed “the finest precious gemstones ever found in the United States” and sapphire mining soon began in the area. 

What makes Yogo sapphires unique is that they are free of cavities and inclusions, and their color is uniform throughout the whole stone. Unlike many other sapphires, they do not need heat treating, and they maintain their brilliance under artificial light. 

Horses

Horse on a ranch in Bozeman, Montana

Montana is known for its horses, ranches and cowboy culture. The state has a long history of horse breeding and hosts many horse shows and rodeos throughout the year, including The Livingston Roundup Rodeo, which dates all the way back to the 1920s. 

In addition to producing top quality horses, Montana also offers visitors opportunities for guided trail rides across its vast open spaces or through its national parks and preserves.  

Wheat 

Wooden building in the center of a wheat field in Montana

Montana is known for producing high-quality wheat, and there are thousands of wheat farms located all over the state.  Wheat is used to make bread, pasta and beer – just to name a few things!

In 2021, Montana produced around 100.6 million bushels of wheat, at an estimated value of $832,314,000. The largest grain producing region is the north central area of Montana, which is called the “Triangle Area”. 

All sorts of wheat types are grown in Montana, although the most popular type is hard red winter wheat, which is used for things like breads and rolls. The state also grows varieties such as soft white wheat, red spring wheat and durum wheat. 

Beef

Montana is one of the largest producers of beef in the United States, and has more cows than it does people! It’s estimated there are around 2.4 million cattle in Montana, which means there are almost three cows for every human.

In addition to beef, Montana produces a large amount of milk, which is turned into other dairy products such as ice cream and cheese. In 2021, the state produced around 243 million lb of milk, worth an estimated 44 million dollars!

Flathead Cherries

Handful of cherries

Montana is known for producing some of the best cherries in the world, which have a unique taste that can’t be replicated anywhere else. The cherries are grown on the east side of Flathead Lake, where the climate isn’t too hot or too cold. In spring, Montana can experience fluctuating temperatures, but the lake (still cold from winter) allows the land to stay cooler, protecting the cherries from spring frosts. 

The name “Flathead” refers to the region where the cherries are grown, and is not a type of cherry. 

It’s estimated that Montana produces around two million pounds of sweet cherries each year, and the season usually runs from May to July. If you visit during July, pay a visit to Flathead Cherry Festival, where you can taste some for yourself! You’ll find all sorts of cherry products on sale, including cherry jams and pies. 

Wheat Montana Cinnamon Rolls

Wheat Montana cinnamon roll
Iceberg Lake trail in Glacier National Park Montana – hiker’s hand holds a large cinnamon roll

If you fancy a snack while you’re in Montana, try a Wheat Montana cinnamon roll. Wheat Montana is a famous family-owned bakery with locations throughout the state, although the main one is in Three Forks. These are not your average cinnamon rolls; they’re made with ground wheat flour from the fields next door, which is high in protein and nutrients. 

Wheat Montana Cinnamon Rolls are best served at breakfast or brunch with coffee or tea, but they can also be enjoyed as dessert after dinner. 

Book stores

Montana has over 60 book stores, which is more bookstores per capita than any other state. 

If you want to purchase something to read, check out Country Bookstore – Montana’s largest independent bookstore. Located in Bozeman in the historic downtown district, Country Bookshelf is a popular women-led bookstore that’s been in existence since 1957.

Evel Knievel

Evel Knievel was born in Butte, Montana on October 17th 1938. One of the most famous daredevils in history – Evel Knievel made a name for himself jumping over the Snake River Canyon on a motorcycle. He was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999, and more than 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps over the course of his career.

Evel died of pulmonary disease  in 2007 in Clearwater, Florida , and is buried at Mountain View Cemetery in his hometown of Butte. 

Largest Landlocked State in the U.S.

Montana is the largest landlocked state in the United States, sharing borders with North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Idaho.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park, Montana

Besides Yellowstone, Montana is also home to Glacier National Park, which is situated in the Rocky Mountains close to the border with Canada.  The park encompasses over 1 million acres (4,000 km2) of mountain ranges and valleys carved by prehistoric ice rivers. It features dense green forests, alpine meadows, glistening glaciers and turquoise lakes. The national park is approximately 2.5 hours north of Missoula on Interstate 90 and is traversed from east to west by the famous Going-to-the-Sun road. 

Extreme Temperature Changes

Hauser Lake, Helena, in winter

Montana’s extreme temperature changes are one of the most well-known characteristics of its climate. 

Temperatures can vary by as much as 50 degrees in a single day, with temperatures sometimes dropping below -50 degrees during winter and rising to 100 degrees in summer. 

The largest recorded temperature change in one place over a 24-hour period occurred in Loma, Montana in 1972. The temperature rose from −54 to 49 °F (−47.8 to 9.4 °C) – that’s a difference of 103 degrees Fahrenheit  in a single day. 

The lowest temperature ever recorded in Montana was -70 degrees, but even if you don’t experience those extremes yourself, you’ll still notice that it gets cold here!

Big Sky Resort

Big Sky Resort, Montana

If you fancy hitting the slopes, Montana is home to several ski resorts, including Big Sky Resort, which is nestled beneath Lone Mountain in southwestern Montana. 

Big Sky experiences an average of 400 inches of snowfall yearly and offers around 5,800 skiable acres of terrain. The resort usually opens on Thanksgiving Day and closes in mid-April.  

Going-to-the-Sun Road

Going to the Sun Road, Montana

Going-to-the-Sun Road (also known as Glacier route 1) is one of the most scenic roads in the United States. Located in Glacier National Park, Montana, it spans 50 miles and runs through some of the most rugged terrain in America’s Rocky Mountains.The elevation at Logan Pass, located in the midsection of the road and the highest point accessible by car, reaches 6,646 feet (2,026 meters).

The road was built between 1910 and 1932 to connect Two Medicine with St. Mary. It was originally planned as a toll road but after construction costs exceeded estimates, it was opened without charge as a public highway on July 15th 1932 by President Herbert Hoover.

Little Bighorn Battlefield

Little Bighorn Battlefield

In southeastern Montana, the Little Bighorn Battlefield is a national historic site that preserves the location where General George Custer and his men were killed in an 1876 battle with Native Americans.

The site was designated as a national historic landmark in 1961 and has been visited by thousands of people from all over the world since then. 

Huckleberries

Huckleberries in Montana
SONY DSC

Wherever you go in Montana you’ll see huckleberries, which are small, purple berries that look a bit like blueberries. Huckleberries can be seen everywhere; in the state’s national parks, on mountain slopes, along hiking trails and even in campsites. Restaurant menus and shops often feature foods with huckleberries in them, including pies, jams, seltzers, ice cream, cobblers and cheesecakes. 

The best time to find huckleberries is usually in late summer, with the tastiest berries ripe for picking between mid-August and mid-September.

A Final Word…

Montana is a state with a lot to offer. From its beautiful landscapes and wildlife to its rich history, there are so many reasons why people love living here. I hope you enjoyed reading about some of the best things to experience in Montana! If you’re thinking about planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park, check out my 3-day Bozeman to Yellowstone itinerary, which includes Mammoth Springs and a visit to Old Faithful geyser. 

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