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Montana

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Travel Guide North America USA Western United States Montana

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Introduction

Montana

Montana

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Montana is a US state, located in the northwest of the country. With almost 150,000 square miles, it is the 4th largest state in the United States and it's one of the most sparsely populated with just around 1 million inhabitants. The western part is formed by the Rocky Mountains and other mountain ranges and also contains (part of) the Glacier National Park. Helena is the capital while Billings is the largest city. In the southwest you'll find a few gateways to the Yellowstone National Park, like West Yellowstone, making it a very popular state for nature lovers!

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Geography

With a land area of 380,850 km2, Montana is slightly larger than Japan and slightly smaller than Paraguay. It is the fourth largest state in the United States (after Alaska, Texas, and California). To the north, Montana shares a 880-kilometre-long border with three Canadian provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. To the east, the state borders North Dakota and South Dakota. To the south lies Wyoming and to the west and southwest is Idaho.
The topography of the state is diverse and roughly defined by the Continental Divide, which runs on an approximate diagonal line through the state from northwest to south-central, splitting it into two distinct eastern and western regions. Montana is well known for its mountainous western region, most of which is geologically and geographically part of the Northern Rocky Mountains. The Absaroka and Beartooth ranges in the south are technically part of the Central Rocky Mountains. About 60% of the state is prairie, part of the northern Great Plains. Nonetheless, even east of the Continental Divide and the Rocky Mountain Front, there are a number of isolated "island ranges" that dot the prairie landscape. This island range region covers most of the central third of the state.

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Cities and Towns

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Sights and Activities

Glacier National Park

Chief Mountain, Glacier National Park

Chief Mountain, Glacier National Park

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Perhaps one of the better known attractions in Montana, Glacier National Park, together with Waterton Lakes National Park (across the border in Canada) is a World Heritage Sight in northwestern Montana. Glacier National Park is a nature lover's paradise, and apart from a handful of lodges and private inns, you won't find any towns, hotel chains or shops and stores. While the visitor's centers can get crowded at times, there are over a million acres of wilderness (not including Waterton Lakes, adjacent to Glacier on the Canadian side) to get lost in (but please don't get lost).

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Weather

Montana is a large state with considerable variation in geography, and the climate is, therefore, equally varied. Eastern Montana comprises plains and badlands, broken by hills and isolated mountain ranges, and has a semi-arid, continental climate. The Continental Divide runs north-south through the western mountainous half, and has a great effect on the climate. It restricts the flow of warmer air from the Pacific from moving east, and cooler, drier continental moving west. West of the divide, the climate is described as modified northern Pacific coast climate, with milder winters, cooler summers, less wind, and a longer growing season. In the winter, valley fog and low clouds often form in the valleys west of the divide, but this is rarely seen in the east. Average daytime temperatures vary from -2 °C in January to 29.2 °C in July. The variation in geography leads to great variation in temperature. Hot weather occurs in the eastern plains on occasion, the highest observed being 47 °C at Glendive on July 20, 1893, and Medicine Lake on July 5, 1937. Throughout the state, summer nights are generally cool and pleasant. Temperatures decrease as altitude increases, and extremely hot weather is relatively unknown above 1,200 metres. Snowfall is not unknown in any month of the year in parts of Montana, namely in the more mountainous areas of central & western Montana, but is rare in July and August. The coldest temperature on record for Montana is also the coldest temperature for the entire contiguous U.S. On January 20, 1954, -57 °C was recorded at a gold mining camp near Rogers Pass. Temperatures vary greatly on such cold nights, and Helena, 65 kilometres to the southeast had a low of only -38 °C). Temperatures can drop or rise significantly though within a matter of days or just hours. Loma, Montana is the location of the most extreme recorded temperature change in a 24-hour period in the United States. On January 15, 1972, the temperature rose from -48 °C 9 °C. Average annual precipitation is 380 mm, but great variations are seen. The mountain ranges block the moist Pacific air, holding moisture in the western valleys, and creating rain shadows to the east. Heron, in the west, receives the most precipitation, 881 mm. Most of the larger cities get 76 to 130 centimetres of snow each year, but this is much higher in mountain ranges.

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Getting There

By Plane

Billings Logan International Airport (BIL) is the largest airport in Montana and has flights to/from Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas, Oakland, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Denver and Chicago.

By Train

The Empire Builder, operated by Amtrak, travels between Chicago, Illinois and Seattle, Washington, stopping en route in a number of places in Montana, including near the Glacier National Park.

By Bus

Check Greyhound for options.

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Getting Around

By Plane

There are flights between Billings and Glasgow, Lewistown, Miles City, Sidney and Wolf Point. Other cities and towns, including Helena have flights to several towns in Montana as well.

By Car

Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.

For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.

Montana has a number of National Scenic Byways which offer a great way to explore the state crossing beautiful landscapes. Mostly, there are lots of national parks, state parks or monuments along the way and it's generally a better alternative than the faster but boring Interstate Highways.

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Sleep

Hotel and Motel Chains

There are dozens of hotel and motel chains, ranging from budget to top end. Allthough they are not the most charming accommodations, they usually have a very decent midrange service with good rooms and are generally good value. At least you know what to expect and in some cases they are either the only or the best option in the area. Some of them include:

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Contributors

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Montana Travel Helpers

  • zentric

    I've lived on both the Western and Eastern sides of Montana, from the time I was 5 years old until I graduated High School. My parents and much of my family still live in Montana, and exploring the Big Sky State is still a favorite hobby.

    Ask zentric a question about Montana

This is version 19. Last edited at 13:09 on Jul 11, 13 by Utrecht. 24 articles link to this page.

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