83 Fun Facts About Montana: The Treasure State

Interesting and fun facts about Montana state, USA

Find out what the “Treasure State” is famous for with these 83 fascinating and fun facts about Montana.  

Once a frontier state, Montana is known for its gorgeous natural scenery, national parks, and gold rush history.

General Montana Facts

1. Montana is located in the northeastern corner of the Western United States. It is sometimes classified as part of the Northwest United States, along with Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming.

2. The state borders North Dakota and South Dakota to the east, Wyoming to the south, Idaho to the south and west, and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan to the north.

3. The Continental Divide runs through Montana, and the hydrological apex of North America is located at Triple Divide Peak, Montana. Water flows to three oceans from this spot: the Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico (Atlantic), and Hudson Bay (Arctic).

4. Montana covers a total area of 147,046 mi² (380,847 km²), making it the 4th largest state of the US, between California and New Mexico in terms of size.

5. Montana is similar in size to Uzbekistan, or twice as large as Italy.

6. Montana is the 7th least populous state, with 1.14 million inhabitants.

A mountainous scene in Montana
Montana’s mountains lie on the continental divide.

7. Because if its large size and relatively low population, Montana has the 3rd lowest population density in the US, with only 7.5 people per square mile. Only Alaska and Wyoming have lower densities than Montana.

8. Twenty-three of Montana’s 56 counties have two people or fewer per square mile, earning them the traditional designation “frontier counties.”

9. Montana’s capital is Helena, which has been the capital of the state territory since 1875 and of the state itself since 1889. With 34,000 people, it is the fifth smallest state capital after the capitals of Vermont, South Dakota, Maine, and Kentucky.

10. Five other cities in Montana have larger populations than the capital: Billings, Missoula, Great Falls, Bozeman, and Butte.

The State Capitol building in Helena, Montana, with a large tree beside it
The Montana State Capitol in Helena

11. Approximately 8% of people in Montana are Native American, the 5th highest of any state. They include the Salish, Spokane, Crow, Piegan, Northern Cheyenne, Assiniboine, Flathead, Grosventres, Blackfeet, Chippewa-Cree, Kalispel, Little Shell Band of Chippewa, and Kootenai tribes.

12. The name Montana derives from the Spanish word “montaña, ” meaning mountainous region or mountain.

13. Montana’s state animal is the grizzly bear. There are over 1,000 grizzlies in Montana, the most of the lower 48 states.

14. Residents of Montana are called Montanans.

15. The abbreviation for Montana is MT.

16. The official motto of Montana is “Oro y Plata“, which is Spanish for “Gold and Silver”. Other common slogans include “Big Sky Country” and “The Last Best Place”.

Montana's state flag
The flag of Montana

17. Montana also earned the nickname “Treasure State” due to its gold and silver deposits that began to be mined during the 1800s.

18. Montana’s flag features the state seal on a field of deep blue. The state seal represents symbols of Montana’s natural beauty and history, including hills, cliffs, trees, mountains, and tools that depict the state’s farming and mining history.

Random Interesting Facts About Montana

19. Montana has two national parks: Glacier National Park and a small section of Yellowstone National Park, which it shares with Wyoming and Idaho.

20. Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park are adjacent in Alberta, Canada. In 1932, Glacier National Park became the first International Peace Park in the world. In 1995, UNESCO listed the park as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A stone entrance gate to Yellowstone in Montana
Entrance gate to Yellowstone National Park in Montana

21. Because of its location at the center of the Rocky Mountains, Glacier NP is also sometimes called the “Crown of the Continent”.

22. Montana is also home to 55 state parks, with the most famous one (and the state’s first) being the Lewis and Clark Caverns.  

23. Montana has 3223 lakes and reservoirs, with 250 lakes alone in Glacier National Park.

24. The largest earth-filled dam in the world, Fort Peck Dam, is located in northeastern Montana.

25. Granite Peak is Montana’s highest point, at 12,807 feet (3,903.5 m), in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. Montana’s lowest point, 1,804 feet (550 m), is located on the Kootenai River, on the Idaho-Montana border.

View of Fort Peck Dam in Montana
Earth-filled Fort Peck Dam

26. Montana has the lowest average elevation among the Rocky Mountain states, at 3,400 ft (1036 m). Colorado, by contrast, has twice the elevation (6800 ft / 2073 m).

27. Great Falls, Montana, is famous for three unusual things: It was home to the oldest man on earth, Walter Breuning; the shortest river in the world, Roe River, is located there, running only 201 feet (61 m); the largest freshwater spring in the US, Giant Springs, is also there.

28. In addition to gold and silver, Montana has huge deposits of other mineral and natural resources, including oil, zinc, timber, manganese, copper, and lead.

29. Butte, Montana is very rich in mining history. For this reason, Butte has been called “the richest hill on planet earth”.

30. Montana has a larger cattle population than a human population, and the state has over 28,000 farms.

A waterfall pouring out of Giant Springs, Montana
Giant Springs, the largest spring in the US

31. Each spring, roughly 10,000 white pelicans with a wingspan of nine feet migrate to Medicine Lake, Montana, from the Gulf of Mexico.

32. Montana, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming produce the most dinosaur fossil finds. The first T. rex ever found was in Montana.

33. Montana’s western region has cool summers, mild winters, and a northern Pacific coastal climate, while the eastern region experiences a continental and semi-arid climate due to the Continental Divide.

34. June, July, and August are the most pleasant months in Montana, with average temperatures between 70-85°F (21 and 30°C). July is the hottest month, with an average temperature of 83.7°F (29°C).

35. On January 20, 1954, the coldest temperature ever recorded in Montana was -70°F (-58°C) at Rogers Pass. On July 20, 1893 and on July 5, 1937 the warmest temperatures ever recorded in Montana were 117°F (47°C) in Glendive and Medicine Lake, respectively.

36. Loma made a world record for the greatest temperature change in a period of 24 hours, changing from 103°F (40°C) to -54°F (-48°C), then again to 49°F (10°C).

A highway running along a lake in Montana
Earthquake Lake in summer

37. Montana has the highest high school graduation rate in the US, at 94%. The national average is 89.6%.

38. Montana native and biophysicist Norman “Jeff” Holter invented the heart monitor, which is used to measure the heart’s electrical activity, in 1962.

39. Other things invented in Montana or by Montanans include the bottle opener, blender, LED light, laptop stand, cutting board, USB charger, and Bluetooth speaker.

40. Archie Bailey, a member of Gideons International, started the trend of leaving Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms. He put the first one in Superior Hotel, Montana, where he was a regular guest.

41. Maurice Hilleman of Montana discovered over a dozen vaccines, including vaccines for mumps and measles.

42. Some famous people from Montana include stuntman Evel Knieval, actor Dana Carvey, actress Michelle Williams, director David Lynch, and former basketball player, and coach Phil Jackson.

A mosaic of famous people from Montana
Famous Montanans Evel Knieval, Phil Jackson, Dana Carvey, Michelle Williams, David Lynch, and Rob Quist (clockwise from top left)

43. One or more members of the bands Pearl Jam, The Decemberists, and Modest Mouse come from Montana. The state is also known for its country musicians, including Rob Quist.

44. The musician John Mayer loved Montana so much that he bought a house there in 2012. His album Paradise Valley is named after the area where he lives there.

45. The 1976 novel (and 1992 film) A River Runs Through It is set in Montana. The film caused an increase of tourism to Montana.

46. Montana has some weird laws that still exist on paper. For example, if you’re a woman that’s unwed, you’re not allowed to go fishing. If you’re married, it’s legal for you to go fishing, but it’s illegal to go fishing alone on Sundays.

47. There’s another old law making it illegal for you to have more than one alarm ringing at the same time.

48. It’s also illegal for wives to open their husband’s mail in Montana.

49. It’s also a felony in Montana to pretend to abuse an animal in front of minors.

Historical Facts About Montana

50. The first settlers in Montana were the Native American tribes, which came at least 12,600 years ago. They included the ancestors of the Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Crow, and Kalispel.

51. In 1738, explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye (yes, that’s his full name), from what is now Quebec, was the first European to enter Montana. His sons would later be the first Europeans to see the Rocky Mountains north of Mexico.

A view of the winding Yellowstone River with some mountains in the background
The Yellowstone River

52. James Mackay named the Yellowstone River, which flows mainly through Montana, in 1795.

53. In 1803, as part of the Louisiana Purchase, the US acquired most of Montana, the area east of the mountains, from France (read more facts about Louisiana here).

54. From 1804 to 1806, Lewis and Clark traveled through Montana, exploring the newly acquired area. They spent around six months there, the 2nd most of any state after North Dakota. Montana has a state park, county, and forest named after them.

55. In 1841, the first European settlement was founded in Montana, called St. Mary’s Mission, followed by several trade post forts.

56. In 1846, the US also acquired the western part of Montana from Britain.

A white church at St. Mary's Mission in Montana
St. Mary’s Mission, the first European settlement in Montana

57. Montana was considered a frontier territory of the US and was the domain of missionaries, explorers, trappers, fur traders, and Native Americans.

58. In 1854, the first discovery of dinosaur fossils in North America was made in Montana. It was a duck-billed dinosaur called a Trachodon.

59. Also in 1854, the area of Montana became part of the Nebraska Territory, and in 1861, the Dakota Territory.

60. In 1864, Helena was founded as a gold camp during the gold rush in Montana, seven years after the great Gold Rush of California had ended.

61. Due to this, Helena would become one of the wealthiest cities in the US, with approximately 50 millionaires living the city by 1888. This wealth explains the city’s beautiful Victorian architecture.

A Victorian house in Helena, Montana
Victorian architecture in Helena (image by Ted’s photos – Returns in December is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

62. The territory of Montana was officially established on 26 March 1864, with nine counties.

63. Slavery was officially abolished on December 6, 1865, when the US Constitution’s 13th Amendment was ratified. However, slavery in Montana was short-lived and limited.

64. Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872, becoming the first national park in the country (and some say in the entire world).

65. In 1876, the Battle of the Little Bighorn, famous called “Custer’s Last Stand”, took place in Montana. The local native tribes were fighting against the US Army for the Great Hills land, where gold had been discovered. The Native Americans won this particular battle.

66. The US government later tried to relocate the Cheyenne people to Oklahoma but gave up and created the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana.

Graves in a field in Montana where Custer's Last Stand happened
Gravestones at the site of Custer’s Last Stand

67. The railroad arrived in Montana in the 1880s, resulting in major growth for the state. Homesteading led to the growth of farming in the state, with cattle ranching becoming a major industry.

68. Montana officially became the 41st state in 1889.

69. In the late 1800s, the Métis leader Louis Riel fled from Manitoba, Canada and taught at a school in Montana, before returning to start a second rebellion in Saskatchewan.

70. In 1908, the National Bison Range was established to preserve wild bison from becoming extinct. Today, roughly 500 bison live in the wildlife refuge, along with antelope, elk, bears, and deer.

71. In 1910, 3 million acres of land in Montana, Idaho, and Washington burned down.

Two bison standing on a grassy hill with snowy mountains behind them in National Bison Range, Montana
Bison in the National Bison Range

72. In 1914, Montanan women received the right to vote.

73. Montana was the first state to elect a woman to Congress. Her name was Jeanette Rankin, and she served two terms after first being elected in 1917.

74. Between 1910 and 1925, Montana’s 28 counties doubled to the present 56 counties as homesteaders began moving into the state’s eastern region. A cycle of drought drove many of the settlers from Montana in 1930.

75. In 1951, the petroleum boom began in Montana’s eastern region.

76. Ever since the early 1950s, Montana has given its three electoral votes to Republicans. One exception was in 1964 when the vote was given to Lyndon Johnson, and in 1992 when the vote was given to Bill Clinton.

77. US Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana retired from the US and became a US ambassador to Japan from 1977 to 1988.

A wild wolf standing on a rock in Yellowstone National Park
Wild wolf in Yellowstone National Park

78. In 1995, wolves were returned to Yellowstone National Park, where they now thrive.

79. In 2011, a pipeline under the Yellowstone River in Montana ruptured and leaked 1000 barrels of oil.

80. Montana made history in 2013 when it passed a privacy law that prevented the government from spying on anyone in the state, including tracking personal information in electronic devices.

81. In the summer of 2021, 1 million acres of land in Montana burned down.

Snow and glaciers on a pointy mountain in Glacier National Park, Montana
Melting glaciers in Glacier National Park

82. In June 2022, catastrophic flooding caused the closure on the entrance to Yellowstone National Park on the Wyoming/Montana border.

83. Scientists estimate that by 2032, all the glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park will have melted.

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