Montana is the fourth largest U.S. state by area, behind Alaska, Texas and California, but with an average of just six people per square mile, it is one of the country’s least densely populated states. Although the name Montana is derived from the Spanish montaña (“mountain” or “mountainous region”), it has an average elevation of only 3,400 feet, the lowest among the Rocky Mountain states. Montana is home to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, which memorializes the historic 1876 battle between the Sioux tribe and U.S. Army, often referred to as “Custer’s Last Stand.” Yellowstone National Park, located in southern Montana and northern Wyoming, was the first national park established in the United States.

Date of Statehood: November 8, 1889

Capital: Helena

Population: 989,415 (2010)

Size: 147,039 square miles

Nickname(s): Treasure State; Big Sky Country

Motto: Oro y Plata (“Gold and Silver”)

Tree: Ponderosa Pine

Flower: Bitterroot

Bird: Western Meadow Lark

Interesting Facts

  • Carved by glaciers more than 10,000 years ago, Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater lake between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean. It is 28 miles long, between 5 and 15 miles wide and encompasses nearly 200 square miles.
  • The National Bison Range was established in 1908 in western Montana to preserve wild bison from extinction. In addition to elk, deer, antelope, bears and other animals, roughly 500 bison live in the wildlife refuge.
  • The world’s first International Peace Park was established in 1932 when Glacier National Park in Montana and Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, were combined. In 1995, UNESCO listed the two parks as a joint World Heritage Site for their diverse and plentiful plant and wildlife species, and outstanding scenery.
  • The coldest temperature in the 48 contiguous states ever recorded was -70 degrees Fahrenheit in Rogers Pass on January 20, 1954. In January of 1972, Loma, Montana, broke the national record for the greatest temperature change within a 24-hour period by recording a 103-degree climb from -54 degrees Fahrenheit to 49 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • In 2000, 50 of Montana’s 56 counties were designated “frontier counties” by the National Center for Frontier Communities using a matrix that measures population density as well as distance and travel time to a service/market center. In 2010, Montana was home to an average of 6.8 people per square mile.
  • Eleven tribal nations live on seven Indian reservations in Montana. A twelfth tribe, the Little Shell Band of Chippewa, lives within the state without its own land.
  • Montana’s large gold and silver mines gave rise to its nickname, the Treasure State, and its state motto, “Oro y Plata” (Spanish for “Gold and Silver”).