With its craggy mountain peaks, glacial canyons, sacred cultures and ancient wildlife, Big Sky Country captures the imagination like no other.
WORDS Amelia Hungerford PHOTOGRAPHY Donnie Sexton
Between two national parks, Montana stretches out in all its open glory. Native American tribes, guardians of the surrounding lands for centuries, have made their homes on and around the state’s seven Indian reservations. Every August the Apsaalooke Nation gathers for the Crow Fair, a week-long celebration of culture, craftsmanship and rodeo skills in the so-called Teepee Capital of the World. Along the Rocky Mountain range to the west, the Blackfeet tribe and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) keep tradition alive in their reservation homes. Visitors can discover CSKT hospitality with a visit to the National Bison Range and Pablo National Wildlife Refuge, where elk, bighorn sheep, antelope and rare bison wander the high plains.
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Spanning 15 ski areas, 54 state parks, two national parks, six tourism regions and seven Indian nations, Montana is simply vast. Green plains climb into violet mountains and plunge into valleys carved out by glaciers long melted and even longer forgotten. Woolly bison, elk, wolves and grizzly bear share their prehistoric lands with the geysers, hot springs and mud pots of Yellowstone, the world’s first national park – a landscape raw with the movement of the earth – lying on the state’s southern edge, shared with Idaho and Wyoming.
At home on the range
Along the northern border, those with an adventurous streak venturing beyond Glacier National Park’s established paths are rewarded with the blue vistas, thundering waterfalls and mirrored lakes of regions like Two Medicine.
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This is cowboy country. Real cattle-driving, round-‘em-up cowboys have been opening their dude ranches to curious city-slickers here since the early 20th century, letting them clear their lungs and get a taste of Montana’s ‘big sky’ panoramas and hearty home-style cooking. Even today, days spent on horseback lure cosmopolites into the simple pleasures of wildflower-strewn grasslands.
Montana’s frontier spirit is alive in its towns, in the wooden barns nestled in the foothills of the Mission Mountains and in the log cabins shrouded in snow. It lies in its furry ancient wildlife, its peak-capped landscapes, its wooded trails and the colourful cultures that fill its vastness. From the mountains to the plains, and every quaint village in between, Montana truly deserves the title of Big Sky Country.