Set where the Great Plains give way to the jagged Rockies and home to two of the country’s most iconic national parks — Yellowstone and Glacier — Montana is filled with natural beauty. From its snow-capped peaks to the oodles of recreation opportunities and seriously great falls, like plummeting Virginia, St. Mary’s, Baring and Florence, the state offers an abundance of wide-opens and endless skies. It’s no wonder Montana earned the nickname Big Sky Country — after all, it boasts an endless horizon, offset by some of the world’s most beautiful, and foreboding mountains. Those very mountains yielded a rich trove of gold and silver deposits in the 1800s, earning it another moniker, too: The “Treasure State.”
Not surprisingly, the state of Montana— one of the least densely populated — ranked the top 25 inbound states in 2021. A place of solace, introspection and immersion in nature, wilderness rules here, from its picturesque valleys in the south to the American Prairie Reserve; Absaroka-Beartooth; or rural heartland. Then there’s hip Missoula and Bozeman, which are brimming with brewpubs and destination-worthy dining. Missoula also injects the youthfulness of the University of Montana, ranked #285 among national universities in U.S. News’ 2022-2023 Best Colleges.
Needless to say, there are many reasons to consider a move to Montana. Thinking about relocating there? United Van Lines can get you there worry and stress-free.
Weather in Montana
Situated in the Mountain West area of the Western U.S., Montana is bordered by North Dakota and South Dakota to the east; Idaho to the west; Wyoming to the south; and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan to the north. A place of considerably varied geography, topography and elevation, Montana’s climate differs greatly, too — elevations range from under 2,000 feet to almost 13,000 feet above sea level.
- The western half of Montana is mountainous and carved by many large valleys
- Semi-arid, continental eastern Montana consists of plains and badlands, punctuated by hills and isolated mountain ranges
- The Continental Divide has a considerable impact on the climate, preventing the flow of warmer air from the Pacific from moving east, as well as drier continental air from moving west
- The area west of the divide has a modified northern Pacific Coast climate, marked by milder winters, cooler summers, less wind and a longer growing season
- Low clouds and fog often form in the valleys west of the divide in winter; this is not common in the east
Average daytime temperatures range from 28° F in January to 84.5° F in July. But, again, this really varies based on elevation. The state’s highest recorded summer temperature was 117° F in the town of Glendive on July 20, 1893. By contrast, Montana’s coldest temperature on record is also the coldest for the contiguous United States — a bone-chilling −70° F on January 20, 1954 — occurred at a gold mining camp near Rogers Pass.
Extreme heat during the warmer months can unfortunately lead to wildfires. Although thunderstorms can occur during summer, they aren’t especially common. Generally speaking, summer thunderstorms happen more often in eastern Montana than in the western half. It’s important to also note that Montana’s weather can change rapidly — especially in the mountains, any time of year — and there can be powerful lightning storms during the summer months.
Wondering about the best time to make a move to Montana? Summer is the most pleasant and mild season overall.
Why Are People Moving to Montana
Montana is one of the top five states when it comes to overall wellbeing. According to the 2021 United Van Lines National Movers Study, 30,48% came to be closer to family; 24.76% of inbound movers did so for retirement; and 23.8% chose to for lifestyle reasons.
Montana has a strong labor force participation rate of 62.7% and a low unemployment rate of 2.8% as of August 2022. According to Forbes, the biggest public companies in the state of Montana are Glacier Bancorp, Inc., headquartered in Kalispell, and Stillwater Mining Company, underground PGM mine in Columbus. Talen Montana — a coal power plant — joins employers like Schneider Electric, Fringe Benefit Resources, United Financial Services, Billings Clinic and Benefis Hospital Health System as top employers in the state.
On the downside, Montana residents encounter a higher cost of living(1) than the national average and neighboring states, coupled with home average sales price that was above $560,000 in September 2022. That’s up 24% from two years ago. According to banking lender SoFi, the state’s median studio rent is $590; a one-bedroom apartment averages $660; a two-bedroom apartment averages $849; and a three-bedroom apartment rings in at $1,045 each month. Of course, those numbers can be significantly higher depending on the part of Montana you live in.
Fortunately, the state has programs that provide assistance to homeowners and renters should need arise.
Fastest Growing Cities in Montana
Although Montana’s cost of living is relatively high, it’s not stopping people from moving to the state. While much of the nation’s population growth was relatively flat between July 2020 and July 2021, Montana saw a population increase of 1.8%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Bozeman led the growth with a 43% increase, welcoming over 16,000 new residents between the censuses of 2010 and 2020. Interestingly, while Billings is the largest city in the state yet it saw a lower growth (12.4%). Meanwhile, Missoula — the state’s second-largest city, where the University of Montana resides — increased in population by 10%.
Kalispell — gateway to jaw-dropping Glacier National Park — saw the highest population increase year-over-year at 23%, jibing with lifestyle reasons for moving, cited in the 2021 United Van Lines National Movers Study.
Fun Things to Do in Montana
When it comes to finding things to see and do in Montana, residents — especially outdoor enthusiasts — won’t be left wanting.
In West Yellowstone, find the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, a not-for-profit, Association of Zoos & Aquariums-accredited wildlife park and educational facility, which opened its doors in 1993. There, you can see some of the region’s most iconic species indoors and out, including grizzly bears, gray wolves and river otters.
Fans of dinosaurs will appreciate options like the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, known for its paleontological collections, and the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center in Bynum, part of the Montana Dinosaur Trail. It houses a skeletal model that’s thought to be the world’s longest dinosaur.
Want to immerse yourself in the landscapes, spirit and culture of the West? Head to the C.M. Russell Museum Complex in Great Falls, dedicated to Great Falls “cowboy artist” Charles Marion Russell.
Among the few museums in the world located on a real mine yard, the Orphan Girl Mine, the World Museum of Mining in Butte spans 50 exhibit buildings, featuring countless artifacts and 66 primary exhibits in the mine yard. Visitors also have the chance to tour an underground mine 100 feet beneath the earth’s surface.
Those wishing to experience Native American culture might consider embarking on an Indian Country trip, perhaps following the Warrior Trail Highway and exploring historic battlefields and viewing indigenous art en route.
In the market for a colt, filly or mare? Held the third full weekend of each May, the World Famous Miles City Bucking Horse Sale is a major auction of rodeo stock. It also features live horse races, bronc riding competitions and live music.
If you’re looking for some offbeat entertainment, be sure to attend the Whitefish Winter Carnival, a seasonal celebration that nods to Ullr, the Nordic god of winter activities. Held in the town of Whitefish, it’s filled with quirky events, mythical legends and — wait for it — princess-stealing yetis.
Wish you could see a former Gold Rush — now a ghost town — town firsthand? You can, in amazingly preserved fashion, in the town of Garnet. But note that the road from the north is significantly better than the one from the south, particularly if you don’t own an off-road vehicle.
Berkeley Pit — a former open-pit copper mine in Butte — is fascinating and ominous at once. The body of water contains more than 40 billion gallons of acidic water, as well as high concentrations of heavy metals and toxic chemicals that include copper, iron, arsenic, cadmium, zinc, and sulfuric acid. At 7,000 feet long, 5,600 feet wide and 1,600 feet deep, it also contains unique microscopic lifeforms — new fungal and bacterial species that have adapted to the pit’s harsh conditions. Safely lay your eyes on it from a viewing platform.
When you want to hit the open road, there’s no better way than a journey along Going-to-the-Sun Road, a scenic mountain road through the Rocky Mountains in Glacier National Park. Open seasonally — in 2022, on July 13, to be exact — it’s a popular, reservations-required route that only stays open until sometime in October, dependent on snowstorms, the potential for avalanches and risks from other weather-related events.
Outdoor Things to Do in Montana
Montana is truly an outdoor lover’s paradise, containing a portion of Yellowstone National Park and — in its northwestern reaches, adjacent to the Canada–United States border — Glacier National Park. In the case of Glacier, the best day hikes are found in Many Glacier, West Glacier and Two Medicine, in addition to along Going-to-the-Sun Road. Meanwhile, Yellowstone is accessed via the park’s north and northeast entrances, the primary gateways being Gardiner, Montana, and West Yellowstone, Montana. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is best reached via the north entrance. The northeast entrance is considered the park’s best for spotting wildlife, as it is closest to Lamar Valley. Dubbed “America’s Serengeti,” the Lamar is renowned for its large concentration of bears, wolves, bison, pronghorn, eagles, ospreys and so much more.
Learn all about these spectacular landscapes, as well as flora, fauna and popular activities, in our National Parks of the Interior West guide.
Montana’s unforgettable national parks are joined by an abundance of state parks, including the 3,000-acre Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, known for its namesake subterranean features; Flathead Lake State Park, a quiet respite distinguished by its mature fir, pine and larch forest; and Giant Springs State Park, home to one of North America’s largest freshwater springs. For those seeking not just the great outdoors, but also history, there’s Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument near Crow Agency, which preserves the site of the June 25 and 26, 1876, Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Enjoy skiing and snowboarding? Montana is the place for you. Whether you make a day trip or stay at a luxurious resort so you can après-ski, the slopes around Big Sky Resort, Rendezvous Mountain, Red Lodge Mountain, Bridger Bowl and Yellowstone Club are hard to beat.
An excursion to the 1.5 million-acre Bob Marshall Wilderness in northwestern Montana is yet another way to make memories. Named after the eponymous conservationist, early forester in the federal government, and co-founder of The Wilderness Society, the vast area resides on lands traditionally inhabited by the:
- Amskapi Piikani (the Blackfeet Nation of Montana)
- Niitsítapi (the Blackfoot Confederacy)
- Séliš (Salish)
- Ql̓ispé (Pend d’Oreille or Kalispel)
- Ktunaxa (Kootenai)
Straddling the Continental Divide, “The Bob” is a showcase of monumental limestone reefs, like the fabled Chinese Wall; majestic mountain ranges; verdant forests, broad basins and valleys; and two designated “wild and scenic” rivers. And its wildlife? It’s some of the best in the lower 48, thanks to big populations of moose, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, black bears and threatened grizzly bears.
A relic of Montana’s silver mining boom, Elkhorn Ghost Town is a destination-worthy spot in the central Montana town of Boulder. Fairly well-preserved, the town’s main gathering places, Gillian Hall and Fraternity Hall, are yours to explore, while other buildings have begun to cave in or are boarded up.
Offering yet another amazing experience are Montana’s unique dude ranches, such as Bonanza Creek Guest Ranch in Martinsdale. Its fourth and fifth-generation owners offer places to horseback ride, hike, explore and hunt. In addition to its lodging and cabins, the ranch features cowgirl retreats, aimed at changing the lives of women using the equine gestalt method.
Eat Local Montana Cuisine
Are you looking for the best foods under the Big Sky? Montana holds a bevy of edible riches.
Bison are plentiful in Montana. Not surprisingly bison meat — from steak to burgers — is everywhere, too. Whether you want to pick up a side at Montana grass-finished Bison in Saint Ignatius; score a 20-ounce bone-in, wet-aged bison ribeye from Buffalo Block in Billings; or tackle a bison burger from Tamarack Brewing Company in Missoula, topped with cheddar and beer-braised onions, you won’t be disappointed.
In late summer, wild huckleberries are easily found in many of Western Montana’s state parks, along hiking trails, lining ski slopes, and even at campgrounds. About the size of a pea and blueberry-like in appearance, you can enjoy them in a slice of pie at Two Sisters Café near Babb, sample them in flapjacks at Libby’s Libby Café or satiate your sweet tooth with huckleberry fudge at the Huckleberry Patch in Hungry Horse.
Hunting for highly prized yellow and black morels is a popular rite of spring in Montana. Fruiting lasts only five or six weeks starting in May, usually first along rivers at lower elevations, west of the Continental Divide. That’s when chefs, such as those at Montana Craft Kitchen in Flathead Valley, pack their menus with the hyper-local delicacy.
Often raised on ranches, hormone-free and free-ranged grazing on lush pastures, Montana’s beef is some of the best in the country. Some top spots in the state to tuck into it include Silver Star Steak Company in Helena; Sir Scott’s Oasis Steakhouse & Lounge in Manhattan; Jake’s Bar & Grill in Billings; and Lindey’s Prime Steak House in Seely Lake.
Because beef is king in Montana, burgers get a lot of play. Rod’s Drive-In in Harve is home to the “Ugly Burger,” an unholy mess of a classic. Another top spot is Billings’ The Burger Dive, where its owner and head chef snagged the title of “Burger Champion” at the World Food Championships.
Among the most beloved eateries in Missoula, Biga Pizza specializes in wood-fired pies with a crust that follows the pre-fermentation process used in Italian baking. The result is something deeper and more complex. Keep it simple with pepperoni or go for the Vesuvio, topped with Italian salami, tomato sauce, cherry peppers, kalamata olives and mozzarella cheese.
For a heaping dose of down-home fare, head to Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives-featured Roost Fried Chicken in Bozeman. In addition to Southern fried chicken by the meal, basket or bucket, it serves deviled eggs, biscuits and waffles.
A dark, date-worthy spot for Italian dishes, steaks and chops, Lucca’s in Helena dishes up everything from pesto-steeped mussels and shrimp fra diavolo to veal piccata and braised pork belly showered with gremolata.
Prepare for Your Move to Montana
Ready to take the next steps and make a long-distance move to Montana? Professional movers from United Van Lines are experts in long-distance moves who can relocate you cross-country. Additionally, our Montana movers can provide local moving services for moves within the state of Montana under their own businesses and brands.
Want to get the ball rolling? It starts when you get a quote. Also, tune in our Spotify channel when prepping for the move or on the road to the Great Plains.
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