Montana vs Wyoming is a face off between two undeniably beautiful US states, each blessed with vast wildernesses and breathtaking scenery. It isn’t the easiest choice to make because both have plenty to offer, especially for outdoorsy visitors, mainly because they count three of the top US national parks within their territory!
On the one hand, you have Montana, a place famed for the ice-capped Glacier National Park in the north and the Big Sky Country of its plains. Then there’s Wyoming, the so-caled Cowboy State that is home to most (but not all) of the iconic Yellowstone National Park, and the dramatic mountains of the Grand Teton for good measure.
But which state is better to visit? This guide to Montana vs Wyoming will answer that question. We’ve outlined five key aspects of traveling to these two US locations. From the ease of getting there to things to do to the best national parks and towns, we will help you decide where to go on your next all-American road trip. Yeehaa!
Montana vs Wyoming: Ease of travel
Montana is the 4th-largest state in the US by size. That doesn’t translate into a sizable population, though. In fact, large parts of the state are hardly populated at all, and distances between major destinations can be very long indeed. Montana is even bigger than lots of separate countries on their own. The upshot? Don’t think traveling around the Big Sky Country will be a cinch.
Most people will drive into Montana, as this is the most convenient way to get in and then travel from A to B. It is also possible to fly into one of the airports. Bozeman, Billings, Missoula, and Great Falls all have their own options, mostly served by domestic routes throughout the USA. Although a car is the easiest way to travel once you’re here (and the one we’d recommend for truly exploring), there are plenty of other options for those without vehicles…
A long-distance passenger train, Amtrak’s Empire Builder, runs from Portland and Seattle to Chicago with a few stops in Montana, including at the famed Glacier National Park. There are also decent bus connections with Greyhound Bus and Jefferson Lines, but make sure to book tickets well in advance.
Wyoming, on the other hand, is the least-populated US state, which means that getting in can be somewhat tricky. Arriving by plane is quite pricy. Plus, Wyoming’s airports are not well served by car rental companies, so hiring wheels can be expensive.
It’s often better to fly into an airport in a neighbouring state, such as Billings, Denver, or Salt Lake City, and go from there. Most people opt to drive both into and around Wyoming, as this is the most convenient mode of transport, especially since there are no passenger trains available. There are three main highways, but those do not take as scenic routes as the highways.
Bear in mind that distances between cities in Wyoming can be vast, just as in Montana, so it’s not unusual to drive for hours and hours without passing anyone on your way. Be sure to fill up your gas tank whenever you can to avoid getting stuck!
Montana vs Wyoming: Things to do
Whether it’s hiking, climbing, or trail running you’re after, there are plenty of amazing mountain trails across both states. In Montana, the most popular Glacier National Park close to the Canadian border offers miles of stunning trails, sprawling across mountain tops, lakes, and glacial valleys. One of the most iconic trails, the Highline Loop is a one-way hike that stretches across nearly 12 miles, giving spectacular scenery at every step. Other places with fantastic paths include Flathead National Forest, Big Sky, and the Beartooth Mountains. And that’s just a taster.
But Montana is no better than Wyoming when it comes to amazing hiking opportunities. In fact, Wyoming is one of the best places to hike in the whole USA thanks to its vast mountain-covered lands that have not seen much development.
The state is home to the oldest national park in the world: Yellowstone. Two of the best hikes you can do here are the scenic Point Sublime Trail and Heart Lake Trail. And, if you are after dramatic alpine peaks, head to Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park. It’s around 40 miles across ridges with views of craggy mountains, lakes, and canyons as you go.
Another amazing activity that both Montana and Wyoming have in common is skiing. Both states have plenty of world-class ski resorts within their borders. The Big Sky Ski Resort is Montana’s top option, while Jackson Hole is the best you will get in Wyoming.
Montana vs Wyoming: National parks
From the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains, Montana is a state of very diverse wildernesses. There are two national parks here that offer vistas of mountains, glaciers, lakes, and canyons. Only one of them lies solely within the state, though. That’s the Glacier National Park.
With over 700 miles of scenic trails, that park is an adventurers’ paradise. It’s got it all, from craggy mountain tops and alpine meadows to unspoiled forests and crystal-clear lakes. You can drive the iconic 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road that goes right across the park. Or, do a safari, as there is no shortage of wildlife, from grizzly bears and mountain goats to coyotes and beavers. The list goes on and on.
The second national park here is the famous Yellowstone. However, only a small part of it and three of the entrances to the park are within Montana’s borders. Those are Livingston, Gardiner, and West Yellowstone.
Although a small part of the iconic Yellowstone National Park is within Montana and Idaho, the vast majority of its area lies within Wyoming. It is nearly 3,500 square miles of incredible wilderness, volcanos, canyons, rivers, and diverse wildlife. With around half of the world’s active geysers within the complex, the park is home to a unique ecosystem that creates habitats for many endangered species, such as grizzly bears, grey wolves, Canada lynxes, and jackalopes.
But Yellowstone is not the only national park in Wyoming. There is also Grand Teton National Park in the northwestern part of the state. From rugged alpine peaks to crystalline lakes, forests, and meadows, this is one of the most picture-perfect areas in the whole US. With plenty of scenic hiking trails and fantastic ski resorts, the area offers outdoor activities for adventure travelers.
Montana vs Wyoming: Cities and towns
Both Montana and Wyoming are mostly known for their stunning nature rather than their big cities. And it’s true that you don’t get anything like San Francisco or Seattle. Rather than big metropolises, cities and towns here are generally small and not densely populated.
The most beautiful towns in Montana are those charming urban spots in the foothills of craggy mountain ranges or those surrounded by forests and hiking trails. They include:
- Whitefish – A popular ski-resort town near the Glacier National Park. Surrounded by snowy mountains, it’s a getaway to hiking trails in the summer and top-quality ski pistes in the winter. There is an annual winter carnival here where the festivities start with people taking a dip in ice-cold Whitefish Lake.
- Hamilton – Another town blessed with stunning high-rising mountains in the backdrop is Hamilton. This is a small town nestled in the Bitterroot Valley in the western part of Montana.
- Bozeman – This is a picturesque city located in the Yellowstone Country of Montana. This is the fifth-largest city in the state that resembles a feel of a smaller town. There are lots of cafes and bars and plenty of hiking trails on the outskirts.
- Polson – This is a city on the south end of Flathead Lake in The Flathead Indian Reservation. To the south of the city, there are dramatic vistas of the Mission Mountains.
Similarly, Wyoming’s best-looking towns are those mountain locations with incredible views in the background. Although this is the 10th-largest state by size, it is the smallest by population. And the towns here reflect that, so you’ll never feel the bustling vibe of NYC. Take a look at:
- Cody – This is a gateway to Yellowstone National Park, the world’s oldest national park. There are plenty of museums and statues dedicated to the city’s Wild West past and scenic mountain views in the background.
- Dubois – This little town will make you feel as if you’re a cowboy in a western movie. Set in the foothills of Absaroka and Wind River Mountains, its unique location is the main draw.
- Buffalo – A small, historical town surrounded by the rugged Bighorn Mountains. There are plenty of railroad-era historical buildings and landmarks. There are also loads of hiking and walking trails on the outskirts of the town.
- Jackson Hole – Arguably the best ski resort in the northern Rockies, this one’s got lodges, elk reserves, and some fantastic saloons for after the skiing.
Montana vs Wyoming: Prices
When it comes to comparing the costs of travel in Montana vs Wyoming, these two neighboring states will vary in price.
Montana has generally better infrastructure, which means things will cost you a little less. Accommodation should be around $80 a night for a double room, in comparison with Wyoming averaging at around $125 for a similar kind of hotel. And, if you compare the costs of the top ski resorts in these two states, Montana will again be a couple of bucks cheaper than Wyoming, but there isn’t that much in it.
Costs of groceries are also a little higher in Wyoming, which means you will probably spend slightly less in Montana for food, no matter if you’re cooking for yourself in a lodge or eating out as you go. But when it comes to transportation, there isn’t much difference at all, especially as most people get around in their own cars.
Montana Vs Wyoming for skiing?
When the winters swing around in Montana and Wyoming, snow hits the Rockies and some of the finest ski resorts in the USA spring into action. The pistes are usually open in both by mid-December and they don’t close again until around the start of April, so there’s a wide window for those looking to whiz down the mountainsides.
We’d also say that the skiing between these two states comes down to a comparison between two major resorts: Big Sky (in Montana) and Jackson Hole (in Wyoming). They are the stars of each and offer the finest winter sports going.
Both have their draws. Big Sky – true to the moniker – comes at you with a whopping 5,800 acres of skiable terrain. That’s the second-largest in the whole United States! Big Sky also claims it on vertical, coming with over 4,300 feet drop.
However, most seasoned skiers will say that the stats are misleading. Jackson Hole boasts the more modern lifts and the better-planned runs. It’s also generally seen as more reliable on the snow front. Oh, and it has one of the finest arrays of hearty ski lodges and spa hotels by the base of the lifts, so we think it clinches this one.
Winner: Wyoming, mainly for Jackson Hole.
Montana Vs Wyoming for culture
Welcome to the Wild West. That’s really the MO of both these states, which played a central role in the expansion of the USA back in the 1800s. Today, they each retain a distinctly frontier vibe, sporting towns that have saloon-slapping doors and hugely community-centric areas with small town feels.
The main area where they differ is in the prevalence of cowboy culture in Wyoming. The state’s official nickname is The Cowboy State, after all. Ranches and rodeo are all over the place, so be sure to bring along your spurs and boots and be ready to sharpen those lasso skills.
Wyoming still has its own cowboy culture, but it’s not been thrust into the mainstream a la Wyoming. In the Big Sky state, you can unravel the stories of some the country’s most amazing Native American tribes – the Cheyenne, the Crow, the Blackfeet. There’s also rich mining history and farming culture.
Winner: Wyoming – for the cowboy culture
Montana vs Wyoming: The conclusion
Montana vs Wyoming isn’t the easiest choice to make. These two neighboring states have many similarities but also lots of things that bring them apart. Montana has better infrastructure, and it is easier to get to despite being the larger state. It is also a little cheaper than its southern neighbor. Wyoming towns, on the other hand, will take you back to the cowboy times of the Wild West. The scenery there is also hard to beat. That said, both these states are well worth a visit.