Official State Travel Site



A Montana Primer


The Rocky Mountains

The Rocky Mountains rise magnificently in western Montana, defining the shape and character of the state and, incidentally, giving Montana its name. Montana means "mountains" or "mountainous" in both Spanish and Latin. These mountains and their timbered snow-fed valleys comprise the western third of the state. The Rockies, rooted far to the south, are going strong by the time they thrust into Montana and continue north to Canada. Here travelers can marvel at range after range of proud peaks that preside over vast river valleys and windswept prairies.

The beautiful Bitterroot Range begins at the southwest tip of the state and defines most of Montana's western border. The majestic Mission Range seems to erupt from the earth as travelers follow US 93 north from Missoula. Other dramatic formations include the Swan and Flathead ranges in the northwest corner of the state and the Garnet and Madison ranges to the southwest. Numerous ranges constitute the Rocky Mountains, sporting intriguing names like the Ruby Range, the Pioneer Mountains and the Tobacco Root Mountains.

Tobacco Root Mountains

Island Ranges and The Northern Plains

In the center of Montana, east of the Rockies, isolated "island ranges" jut out of the surrounding prairie, providing shelter for abundant wildlife. Rivers meander slowly through fertile farms and rangeland, and towns are farther apart.

The eastern third of the state is primarily northern plains, a land of rolling hills and badlands. Here, roots run deep in both the vegetation and the people.

Fort Peck Resevoir

Water, Water Every Where

Montana has more than 9,000 rivers, streams, spring creeks (pronounced ''cricks" out here), lakes and reservoirs, including the headwaters of two major river systems-the Columbia and the Missouri. The Continental Divide determines whether Montana's water will find its way to the Pacific via the Columbia River system, or to the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Missouri. A one-of-a-kind landmark in Glacier National Park called Triple Divide Peak splits its snowmelt three ways: besides sending water east and west, Triple Divide steers a portion of its annual runoff north to Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean.

Granite Peak

Dramatic Highs and Lows

The lush forests of Montana are drenched annually with 30 - 40 inches of rainfall; the high plains and badlands might receive eight or nine inches in a good year. Dramatic ups and downs range from a low of 1,820 feet on the Montana-Idaho border in northwest Montana to 12,799 feet at the top of Granite Peak in Montana's magnificent Beartooth Range in the southcentral part of the state. The highest temperature ever recorded was 117 degrees at Medicine Lake in eastern Montana; the lowest broke the thermometer on Rogers Pass north of Helena at 70 degrees below zero. Our greatest single rainfall poured 11.5 inches of water on Circle in 24 hours; the longest severe drought lasted 21 months. Our deepest snowfall in one season dumped more than 33 feet on Kings Hill (now Showdown Ski Area), and workers labor to annually remove a whopping 60-foot snowdrift on Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

Great Falls International Airport

Transportation Network

Montana boasts a transportation network that includes 17,000 miles of modern paved highways, north-south and east-west interstate highway systems, 15 airports with commercial air service, non-stop flights from Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Seattle to Montana's larger cities, and Amtrak rail service along Montana's northern east-west route called the "Hi-Line," which parallels US 2.


The People

Montana land was Indian land for 10,000 years before it felt the footfall of a white man. It belonged to the Blackfeet, the Cheyenne, the Assiniboine, Gros Ventre, Flathead and Absarokas. Montana is still Indian land, with seven vast reservations covering millions of acres throughout the state.

The immigrants who responded to the lure of riches and settled this untamed land in the 1800s came in eager droves from Scandinavia, Germany, Poland, Yugoslavia, France, Italy, Spain, Ireland, England and a score of other countries. Their history can be traced in the ethnic strongholds of Anaconda, Butte, Red Lodge and the "Hi-Line" communities of Glasgow, Plentywood, Scobey and Wolf Point.

cattle drive

Natural Resources & The Economy

Montana is a resource-rich state that has rewarded many fortune seekers. Furs, gold, silver, copper, timber, cattle, oil and coal have all had their heyday in Montana and some are still booming.

Agriculture is Montana's largest industry, and it includes both crops and livestock. Other leading industries are travel and tourism, mineral production, wood and paper products, and construction. High-tech companies are also discovering Montana's communities as way to merge ones life's work with life.

Climate has a dramatic influence on the economic makeup of the state. The east side of the Continental Divide is quite arid, with lots of sunshine. The dominant economic forces are grain, livestock, coal, oil and natural gas. The region west of the Continental Divide resembles the Pacific Northwest in both climate and terrain. Plenty of moisture and a moderate climate make this the garden spot of the state. Here, tall stands of fir, pine, spruce and larch are managed and harvested to produce wood products used across the nation. The area includes several million acres of roadless lands that are managed as wilderness.

Not all of the 30 million acre-feet of water produced annually in Montana find their way to the sea. Montana's diverse water resources support 81 species of fish, from cutthroat trout to the paddlefish. These waters sustain a recreational fishery worth millions of dollars, provide habitat for a number of bird and mammal species, supply water for agriculture, municipalities and industry, support a limited commercial fishery, generate hydroelectric power and attract millions of visitors to the state each year.

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