MONTANA’s wondrous Big Sky country, along the northernmost edge of the US portion of the Rocky Mountains, is a region of snowcapped summits, turbulent rivers, spectacular glacial valleys, heavily wooded forests and sparkling blue lakes. The scenery is at its most dramatic and heavily trafficked in the western side of the state, especially the phenomenal Glacier National Park. By contrast, the eastern two-thirds is dusty high prairie – sun-parched in summer and wracked by blizzards in winter – that attracts far fewer visitors. Grizzly bears, elk and bighorn sheep are found in greater numbers in Montana than just about anywhere else on the continent.

Each of Montana’s small cities has its own proud identity. The enjoyable town of Missoula is a laidback college town, a glimmer of liberalism in this otherwise libertarian state; the historic copper-mining hamlet of Butte was once a barren union stronghold; the elegant state capital Helena harkens back to its prosperous gold-mining years; and Bozeman, just to the south, is one of the hippest mountain towns in the US, buzzing with out-of-towners in the peak months.

Wheat, lumber and mining form the contemporary base of Montana’s economy. Tourism is the state’s second biggest earner; however, apart from skiing, the harsh climate generally restricts many outdoor activities to the summer months.

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