So you wanna be a Montanan, huh? Or maybe you’re still just teetering on the fence. Either way, you’re in the right place. We’ve put together this guide to all things Montana that’s absolutely filled with facts, history and some fun little goodies to help make your move, or your decision to move, a breeze.
No matter where you choose to move in Montana, you can find affordable home insurance within our trusted network.
But if nicknames are more your thing, you can call Montana by its nickname, The Treasure State, after its once-hidden cache of mineral reserves—including gold, silver and sapphires. In fact, there was a big gold rush here back in the mid-nineteenth century.
Following this golden discovery, thousands migrated to the area near Grasshopper Creek to get in on the action. The state's also referred to as Big Sky Country, after the miles and miles of sky that’s paired perfectly with the state’s stretching plains below it.
But that big, beautiful sky isn’t the only reason 11,837 people moved here in 2017 alone. Let’s see what else Montana has to offer, starting with the job scene.
Something worth knowing about Montana is that it’s the fourth largest state in the US, but it’s only ranked 43rd in terms of population (1,062,330 people). Their massive square footage with such a tiny population puts the state at #48 in the nation for population density—so people are spread way, way out. Keep that in mind when you’re out hunting down that big game job.
Montana’s unemployment rate is currently 4.1%, which is a dead tie with the national average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The minimum wage is currently $8.30/hour, according to minimum-wage.org. But, of course, that’s just a a starting point and there are lots of other opportunities here.
The current fastest-growing professions in the state include: physical therapist, foreman, construction worker, electrician, personal care assistant, plumber and mechanic. Zippia then goes on to call out the state’s highest-paying gigs as: OB/GYN, nurse anesthetist, surgeon, pediatrician, psychiatrist, dentist and architect/engineer manager.
If you’re looking for something totally new or you just want to know if your training will translate to Big Sky Country, don’t worry. Plenty of different skills are needed here. After all, it’s a big state and there’s no doubt a need for a specialist in whatever-you-do somewhere, right?
Whether you’re looking for a nice little starter home in Billings (Montana’s largest city) or a tiny cabin up in the middle of nowhere, there are plenty of options.
For starters, the median home value in the state is currently $225,600 (up 7.9% in the past year alone) with homes currently on the market for about $320,000. But if mortgages and realtors scare you, you can always rent a house for about $1,325/month.
And if apartments are your style, don’t worry . A one-bedroom in Helena, the state's capital, goes for around $657/month, according to bestplaces.net. On the even lower end of the price spectrum, we found Billings, Great Falls and Kalispell going for between $559/month and $589/month. In Missoula, home to the University of Montana, you’ll be paying upwards of $722/month for a place.
Though cost of living is quite affordable and the state does have some new construction in the works, we’ve seen residents encouraging new Montanans to have a place to live secured before making their move out here. Apparently properties can be pretty scarce, and they go quickly—despite the sparse population.
Culture and Natives
As we’ve said, Montana is a very sparsely populated state. How sparsely? So much so that there are three times as many cows as people. That’s not even a burn either, it’s a fact. The state has been referred to as an "explorer's paradise," because of the miles and miles of "unspoiled" environment. It's interesting to note that the population only surpassed the one million mark back in 2012.
Big Sky Country is described by its residents as feeling like "one big, small town" across the entire state. There are very few large towns in the state, and they're all so far and few between that a drive between two of them is a pretty long road trip. True to the state’s whole small-town vibe, people tend to know each other around here very well.
They like to gossip and know things about each other. When locals do run into one another, they're very talkative—possibly because they haven’t talked to anyone else for a while and don’t know when the next time will be. If you like that friendly feel and everything that goes along with it, this could be the place for you.
Locals in Montana spend a ton of time outdoors—hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, skiing and more. They even have ice-climbing and ax-throwing competitions (not to be confused with ice-throwing and ax-climbing competitions). One resident described it as the "most beautiful and peaceful state in the union." Another resident said their home state as "one of the last truly wild states left."
Speaking of "wild," Montanans have to face their fair share of wildlife, even walking outside to get the Sunday paper—everything from cougars to grizzly bears and poisonous snakes. Hunting here is a way of life, and a self-protective necessity in many cases. The average household in Montana apparently holds 13 firearms—you know, in case 13 wild animals come a’chargin’.
Despite their rough, coarse exterior, locals describe their fellow residents as being very friendly—to the point that they'll wave to you as you pass on the highway. Montanans are also said to have a "live and let live" nature that’s extremely accepting and tolerant. Still, other residents stated that their fellow locals could be a bit on the stuck-up side. Like any place, though, it really all depends on who you talk to.
Big Sky Country Trivia
Now we’re going to bombard you with a bit of rapid-fire trivia, so hold on tight. To start, most of Montana was acquired during the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Remember George Armstrong Custer from your high school history books? Well, his “Last Stand” took place here along the Little Bighorn River back in 1876 when the US Army tried to move the Native Americans to reservations. Spoiler: Didn’t work out well for him and his men.
Montana is the only state in the nation to share borders with three Canadian provinces (British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan). The weather in the state tends to be extremely windy, and is considered one of the gustiest in the country.
Montana has been “designated” as one of the three "American Redoubt" states, along with Idaho and Wyoming. Basically, it's said to be a safe haven to retreat to, should the American economy ever go belly-up—or the zombie apocalypse should strike. The state was chosen due to its super-low population density and lack of natural hazards.
It's also home to approximately 100 different species of mammals, which is more than any other state in the country. The state is made up of many national forests, mountains, rivers, plains, desert areas and badlands—home to many furry critters, varmints and other sorts. There are nearly 30,000 farms in the state, and many ranches with wildlife refuges are scattered throughout the state. So yeah, you could say it’s pretty wild.
When they're not busy defending themselves from natural predators, Montanans love to eat. Stroopwafels are a big deal here. They're basically Dutch caramel waffle cookies, and they're apparently to die for. But before they’re allowed their dessert, Montanans chow down on pizza with some unique toppings—like sweet potato, bacon and chipotle sauce.
Can't-Miss Montana Fun + Activities
So what do people do in Montana when they're not doomsday-prepping or gazing into a gorgeous sky? Well, more than you might think, in fact.
Here are just a few local don't-you-dare-miss activities:
- Sweet Pea Festival: This annual festival in Bozeman brings Montanans together to support live music and local artists. The art and culinary scene get mashed together in a three-day event that features a parade, live music, food and even a costume ball.
- Garnet Ghost Town: This well-preserved ghost town is located in Drummond. Once a gold rush town, Garnet originated in 1895. In 1912, a fire raged through and most miners evacuated the area. Today, it’s one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the nation. Come check it out to get a spooky sense of Montana's rich history.
- American Computer and Robotics Museum: There’ are only two museums dedicated to the history of the computer, and one’s in Bozeman. Here, visitors can walk through the 4,000-year timeline of the information age. You'll trace how the first computer was born and how they’ve changed the course of civilization. Tech nerds and history buffs, eat your hearts out.
- Garden of One Thousand Buddhas: In Arlee, this Buddhist shrine is located on a Native American reservation. Established as a center for peace in 2000, the garden features white concrete Buddha statues, arranged in a formation meant to represent the "Noble Eightfold Path." This is a place for visitors to come and relax, let their inner peace out, or just marvel at the effort put into the sculptures and their layout.
- Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center: This non-profit in West Yellowstone teaches visitors about wolves and grizzlies. The animals live in naturalistic environments to help them feel at home as much as possible. It's definitely the safest way to check out Montana's wildlife up close.
Pros and Cons of Living in ‘Tana
We could probably go on and on about this place until the Montana sky ends, but wouldn’t you rather hear from some real locals about life here? That’s what we thought. are a few pros and cons of living in Big Sky Country to help you make your decision.
Pros (as voted on by real-life Montanans):
- No sales tax: That's right, Montana is one of just four states in the country without sales tax. You can have yourself a major shopping spree without having to calculate that pesky sales tax in your head on your way to the register.
- Wide open space: Referred to as an "explorer's paradise" with so many miles of "unspoiled" environments, Montana is the place to be for those who like a lot of breathing room. And quiet. Lots of quiet.
- No traffic: Being so spread out, it's possible to drive hundreds of miles on the highways with very few cars around. Even in the “bigger” cities, there’s very little traffic. So long, standstills.
- The Great Outdoors: Montanans spend much of their time outside, and for good reason. Their state is absolutely gorgeous, with all types of terrain for all types of nature lovers. From mountains and rivers to plains, desert areas and even badlands, Montana is like one big piece of art.
Cons (as voted on by real-life Montanans):
- Long, harsh winters: It's no secret that it gets cold (more like frigid) here in the winter. In fact, they hold the record for the coldest temperature in the nation—back in 1936 it hit 70 degrees below. That’s just cruel. And winter’s are long here, too, shaving some time away from fall and spring every year. Make sure you have a survival kit prepared in your car, because this is the most likely doomsday to happen.
- Predators: Miles of unspoiled land means miles of habitats lived in by beings other than humans, like: grizzlies, wolves, rattlesnakes, and cougars. It definitely keeps things interesting. So make sure you’re prepared, a little bear spray could go a long way.
- Tourists: We came across a fair number of complaints from residents about all the tourists flooding their natural sanctuary each year. But with so much nature and so many national parks, including part of Yellowstone National Park, it's it’s no surprise the state is such a hotspot.
For giggles, we've looked into some of Montana’s most outdated, “Huh?”-worthy laws still in existence.
Here are a few:
- It's illegal to transport a sheep in the cab of a truck without a chaperone. We're not sure if they mean a chaperone for the sheep or for the driver, but either way... huh?
- Guiding a sheep onto a railroad track with the intent of damaging the train is not okay. What is it with Montana and strange sheep laws, anyway?
- Unmarried women cannot fish alone. Part two of this law dictates that married women cannot fish alone on Sundays.
- A wife cannot open her husband's mail. Put it down, ladies. Montana is watching.
Off to MT
Well, there you have it. Our friendly little guide to ‘Tana life with a side of grizzlies. While we probably didn’t tackle every single one of your questions, we hope we gave you enough to get those decision-makin' wheels a'turnin'.
It's up to you to decide if you'd like to become a Montanan—exploring miles of preserved nature, checking out super-cool ghost towns, throwing sales tax out the door, and dodging fast-running big cats.
Good luck, and don’t forget your car’s emergency preparedness kit, or your affordable home insurance policy.
NOTE: if you decide Montana isn't right for you, we've covered all the other states, too, to help you find YOUR spot. If peace, quiet and cougars aren’t your thing, have you thought about New York City?