History and Quick Facts – Montana (MT)

A little more than two-hundred years ago, the region that later became Montana was an unexplored land, no towns, no roads, no other signs of Western civilization – a vast, uncharted wilderness.   At about the same time, around the year 1800, the United States was a growing nation with thriving cities in New York, Pennsylvania and other areas on the East coast.

Travel tip to gray wolf packs in Montana.
Gray wolves prowled much of Montana during the pre-European settlement era. Today several packs of gray wolves hunt in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and other areas of western Montana.

 Before people of European descent started to arrive in Montana in the early 1800s, the region was home to thousands of Native Americans  going back more than 10,000 years.   In early times, the Native Americans enjoyed and lived off the fruits of the land, especially buffalo.

During the years 1804-1806, the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition explored the region.  Following this historic exploration, things soon began to change.  In the early 1800s, mountain men arrived to  harvest fur bearing animals, especially beaver.  In the 1860s, prospectors rushed to the mountainous regions of  Montana Territory to mine gold and silver.

By the 1870s, large cattle ranches had been established in many areas.  During the homesteading era beginning in 1862 and especially in the early 1900s,  thousands of farmers settled in Montana.  In just one year, 1918, more than 14,000 homestead claims were filed in the state.

During the twentieth century, many Montanans made a living from harvesting timber, mining, and agriculture.  All these industries still remain important to the state’s economy, but tourism has grown rapidly and is now a major source of income for business owners and workers.

Montana is a tourist mecca.   Visits peak in summer and then drop off.  For visitors, there’s more demand for resources  such as lodging and recreational activities in the summer and this often leads to higher prices.  Late spring and early fall are  wonderful in Montana, too.  The winter season is a favorite for skiers and lovers of outdoor winter sports.

Montana (MT) has a population of about 1,042,520 (northern European ancestry, German, Irish, English, and Norwegian being common), plus a large population of Native Americans.  Montana is sparsely populated, with it’s residents scattered over a huge area of 147,000 square miles.


Use two fingers on the map to find more detail and navigate in space.  OR hold down control key and scroll. You can choose to view map, terrain or satellite images.

Population of Major Montana Cities and Towns:

•Billings, pop. 110,323 •Missoula, pop. 72,364 •Bozeman, pop. 45,250 •Helena, pop. 31,169 •Great Falls, pop. 59,178 •Butte, pop. 34,553

•Glendive, pop. 5,332 •Kalispell, pop. 22,761 •Miles City, pop. 8,647 •Lewistown, pop. 5,870  •Havre, pop. 9.846 •Dillon, pop. 4,257

State Bird: Western Meadowlark; State Flower: Bitterroot; State Animal: Grizzly Bear; State Fish: Cutthroat Trout; State Tree:Ponderosa Pine

Major Rivers: •Yellowstone River (south-central and southeast Montana) •Missouri River (north-central and northeast Montana) •Clark Fork River (western Montana) •Bitterroot River (southwest Montana); •Madison River (southwest Montana) •Milk River (north-central Montana) •Marias River (north-central Montana).

Major Lakes: •Flathead Lake (near Kalispell) •Canyon Ferry Lake (near Helena) •Lake Koocanusa (near Libby) •Whitefish Lake (near Whitefish •Fort Peck Lake (near Wolf Point) •Lake McDonald (in Glacier National Park) •Hebgen Lake (near West Yellowstone).

Major Mountain Ranges: •Absaroksa Range (Near Livingston); •Beartooth Range (near Red Lodge); •Flint Creek Range (near Deer Lodge); •Crazy Mountains (near Big Timber) •Gallatin Range (near Bozeman)

•Bitterroot Mountains (near Missoula) •Madison Range (near Ennis) •Mission Mountains (near Polson) •Big Snowy Mountains (near Lewistown) Elkhorn Mountains (near Helena) •Pryor Mountains (near Billings) •Flathead Range (near Kalispell) •Cabinet Mountains (near Thompson Falls).

Major Wildlife – Mammals:  •grizzly bear •mule deer  •antelope  •buffalo •elk  •black bear •mountain lion •white-tailed deer •gray wolf •mountain goat

Montana State Library’s Natural Resource  Information System maps Montana mountain ranges, rivers, and lakes.

State Gemstones: Agate and Sapphire; State Motto: Oro y Plata (Gold and Silver); Nicknames: The Treasure State; Big Sky Country; The Land of the Shining Mountains.

Montana roads and highways are a delight to travel on.  The speed limit is posted on the DOJ traveler info Web page.  Traffic is moderate to light on highways in central and eastern Montana,  so there’s plenty of opportunity to see and enjoy the spectacular scenery.

In western Montana, in some areas on U.S. (Federal) and MT (State) Highways, traffic can be heavy, however, so drive carefully and watch for changes in the speed limit.  Expect lots of traffic on:

  • U.S. Highway 12/IH 90 (between Helena and Missoula);
  • U.S. Highway 93 (north-south through cities of  Whitefish, Kalispell, Polson, Missoula, and Hamilton).  Traffic  is very heavy on this highway;
  • U.S. Highway 287 (between Bozeman and Helena);
  • U.S. Highway 191 between Bozeman and West Yellowstone);
  • U.S. Highway 87  (between Lewistown and Great Falls and between Great Falls and Havre;
  • MT Highway 200 (between Missoula and Great Falls).
  • and U.S. Highway 212 and U.S. Highway 310 southwest of Billings on the way to Red Lodge and Bridger.

The Interstate Highways in Montana and U.S. Highway 2 across the northern part of the state also have lots of traffic.

Montana’s curvy, mountainous roads and weather —which can change quickly even during summer months— require drivers to be alert to conditions at all times and to adjust speeds accordingly,” warns the Montana DOJ Web site. Great advice!

Mileage Table

Missoula to                                       Billings to

Kalispell 115 Bozeman 142
Butte 120 Butte 224
Bozeman 202 Missoula 339
Helena 115 Helena 224
Great Falls 169 Kalispell 420
Billings 339 Great Falls 219
Lewistown 274 Lewistown 128
Glendive 520 Glendive 222

Source: Mileage data from the state Department of Transportation. The MDT Web page has a link to the department’s mileage calculator for computing mileage between various cities.

Some folks may choose to fly to Montana. Modern airports are found in Montana’s major cities. The Billings (BIL), Bozeman (BZN), Missoula (MSO), Helena (HLN), Kalispell (FCA), Butte (BTM), and Great Falls (GTF) airports are especially nice and all are served by major airlines and conveniently located near downtown areas.

Booking airline tickets on ExpediaTravelocity or other travel Web sites is easy.  Many Expedia flights go to Montana.  Bus transportation is available for many Montana cities. Check out Greyhound. Another choice, travel across Montana by train on AMTRAK’S Empire Builder.

Photos by various people and organizations indexed on the Web by Google show the beauty and variety of landscapes in Montana:  Photo gallery of mountainous western Montana.   Photo gallery  of the plains of eastern Montana.  Enjoy!

Travel tip:   Google Maps are a traveler’s best friend.  When navigating city streets, searching highway routes, or locating hotels and other businesses, you can depend on Google Maps.  Be sure to download the app for Google Maps and place the icon  for Google Maps on the first screen of your smartphone for quick reference.

Travel tip: Montana is far away from all major population centers in the U.S. and Canada. Still it is possible for many folks to drive to Montana in one day. Sometimes it’s a long day! Day trips are possible, such as: Seattle to Bozeman; Minneapolis or Winnipeg to Glendive; Salt Lake City to Kalispell; Calgary to Great Falls; Portland to Missoula; and Denver to Billings.


Copyright © 2018 John Sandy

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Yellowstone and Glacier.