From Spanish “mountainous”
Nickname: Treasure State
State bird: Western Meadowlark
State flower: Bitterroot
Time: Mountain (GMT – 7). Daylight Saving Time is observed.
The State: Montana is the fourth-largest State, after Alaska, Texas and California, covering 94 million acres (38 million hectares). Almost a quarter of Montana is national forest or public lands, with almost five million acres (two million hectares) protected as wilderness areas. Elk, deer, antelopes, wolves and bears are just a few of the 500 species of wildlife that can be seen in Montana. The National Bison Range, just north of Missoula, was established in 1908 to protect the animal from extinction. Today, around 450 bison roam this high plains refuge. Between May and October, when all the routes are open, there is a small per-vehicle charge to access the range and view the magnificent creatures.
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is home to many endangered bears, big horn sheep, mountain goats, moose and grey wolves. The park is divided into two areas: Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta (Canada) and the larger Glacier National Park in Montana. The 84km (52-mile) Going-to-the-Sun Road crosses the park’s spectacular alpine landscape and is one of America’s most scenic drives. Hiking is a popular option, with over 1200km (750 miles) of trails to follow, many offering back-country camping opportunities.
There are also special routes for cyclists and horses, and many of the larger lakes have tour boat services. Anyone who enters the park is advised to take park rangers’ warnings and advice about encounters with bears very seriously. Other recreation areas include the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, the huge Charles M Russell National Wildlife Refuge and Yellowstone National Park, which is shared with Idaho and Wyoming, and is the oldest national park in the world, dating back to 1872.
Billings, with nearly 100,000 residents, is Montana’s largest city and a regional business/service centre. The area around Billings offers great opportunities for fishing, hiking and western adventures, such as guest ranches and cattle drives. The outdoor recreation department at Montana State University – Billings offers canoeing classes and other outdoor activities. The highlights of the town’s calendar are the Billings Summer Fair (third weekend of July), Big SkyFest hot air balloon festival (late July/early August) and the Montana Fair (August), in addition to an active year-round cultural scene.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument lies an hour southeast of Billings. General George Armstrong Custer and his men made their last stand here on 25 June 1876 against the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. A tour takes visitors through the battle movements of both sides and the visitors’ centre houses a museum that displays weapons used in the battle. Helena, the State capital, offers fine 19th-century architecture, museums and the Gothic-style St Helena Cathedral, modelled on the cathedral in Cologne, Germany.