State: Montana – MT

Published on August 25th, 2015 | by Brandon Ramsey in Geography


Montana is one of the 50 U.S. States located in the Western portion of the continent. The name comes from the Spanish word for mountain and while there are several nicknames, it does not have an official one. Today we’ll take a look at the history, geography, and climate of this state.

Before we begin though, let’s take a look at some key information you’ll want to know:

  • State capital: Helena
  • Largest city: Billings
  • Population: 1,023,579 (ranked 44th)
  • Total area: 147,040 square miles (ranked 4th)
  • Highest point: Granite Peak (12,807 ft)
  • Admitted to the Union: November 8, 1889 (41st)
  • Time Zone: Mountain UTC -7/-6
  • Abbreviation: MT
  • Nickname(s): Big Sky Country, The Treasure State (neither are official)
  • Motto: Oro y Plata
  • Official State website: mt.gov
  • State flag
  • State bird: Western Meadowlark
  • Butterfly: Mourning Cloak
  • Fish: Westslope cutthroat trout
  • Flower: Bitterroot
  • Mammal: Grizzly Bear

map of montana in the United States

MT Statehood History

For thousands of years prior to the settlement of Montana, there were various indigenous peoples leaving on the land. Some of the more notable ones that were visited by European settlers included the Crow, Cheyenne, Blackfeet, Assiniboine, Gros Ventres, Kootenai, and Salish.

The land east of the continental divide was purchased by the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. It wasn’t until the Oregon Treaty in 1846 that the rest of the land was settled. Until then, it was disputed by the British and American colonists.

The first permanent settlement was St. Mary’s near the present-day location of Stevensville. Cattle ranching became a central part of the state’s history and economy since Johnny Grant starting winterting cattle in the Deer Valley Lodge in the 1850s. He also trade with people on the Oregon Trail with the healthy cattle he had from grazing in the valleys of the state.

The first Longhorn cattle were brought into the area in 1866. Today there is a fully functioning 1,900 acre ranch run by the National Park Service to preserve the style of the late 19th century.

The first talks of statehood began in 1866 when the governor of the territory, Thomas Meagher organized a constitutional convention. Another convention was held in Helena in 1884 that brought forth a constitution that was ratified by the citizens at a ratio of three to one. The constitution, however, was drafted a third time in July of 1889 to be accepted by both the people and the government.

President Benjamin Harrison signed the bill making Montana the 41st state in the union on November 8, 1889.

map of montana

Montana’s Geography and Climate

With 147,040 square miles of land, this state is larger than the entire country of Japan. After Alaska, Texas, and California, it is the fourth largest state in the U.S. The northern border is 545-miles and borders three Canadian provinces:

  • British Columbia
  • Alberta
  • Saskatchewan

It is the only state to have this distinction. The other states that border it are North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Idaho. The topography of the state is defined by the Continental Divide which splits the area into two very distinct western and eastern regions.

There are roughly 100 different named mountain ranges in the state, most of which are in the western half. Most of these are actually part of the Northern Rocky Mountains in a geographical sense. The central and eastern portions are primarily prairies with the occasional island range of mountains that interrupts the flat land.

The Bitterroot Mountains are one of the longest continuous ranges in the entire Rocky Mountain chain. They run from Alaska all the way to Mexico. This, in conjunction with other smaller ranges, divide Montana from Idaho. In the north of the Continental Divide, the mountains suddenly give way to prairies.

Here you will find the Rocky Mountain Front which is best viewed in the Lewis Range located within Glacier National Park. East of the Continental Divide are several ranges that move across the southern portion of the state. The Beartooth Plateau is the highest continuous land mass over 10,000 in the U.S. It is here that you will also find the highest point in the state: Granite Peak (12,799 feet high).

In between the mountain ranges there are several river valleys:

  • The Big Hole Valley
  • Bitterroot Valley
  • Gallatin Valley
  • Flathead Valley
  • Paradise Valley

East and north of this area are the Northern Plains and the badlands. These areas aren’t very populated and consist of island ranges that were formed roughly between 66 and 120 million years ago from magma that welled up from within the Earth.

Glacier National Park is one of the major state parks here, and part of Yellowstone National Park is also located in the state, with three of the five entrances being within MO borders. There are several other major sites:

  • Little Bighorn National Monument
  • Bighorn Canyon National Recreation area
  • Big Hole National Battlefield
  • National Bison Range

Approximately 31 million acres, or 35 percent of Montana’s land is under the control of federal or state agencies.

When it comes to the climate, the widely varied geography and topography creates a very complex and varied weather pattern. With the area being so large and the elevation ranging from 2,000 feet to 13,000 feet, you can see why.

The eastern half is composed of plains and badlands with the occasional mountain range that is isolated from the rest. This area has a semi-arid continental climate. The Continental Divide effects this drastically, preventing warm air from the Pacific from moving east and cooler air moving to the west.

As a result of this, the are to the west of the Divide has a modified Pacific coastal climate with mild winters, cool summers, and less wind. The coldest recorded temperature here is also the coldest in the contiguous U.S.

It was measured at -70 degrees Fahrenheit on January 20, 1954. Cold spells happen when cold continental air comes down from Canada and can drop the temperature for 24 hours drastically and without warning. The same goes for “Chinooks” which are winds that suddenly pick up between 25 and 50 miles-per-hour.

Final Thoughts

You know where it came from, and you know the geography and climate, but until you’ve read our Montana state facts, you won’t know everything. Before you head on over to that page, be sure to share your own information about Montana in the comments below!

printable map of montana



About the Author
Brandon Ramsey

Brandon Ramsey is the head author and editor of The Time Now Blog. Be sure to follow us via social media!


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