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No limits to ‘Big Sky’

Photos and text by Elizabeth Nida

In all its sprawling and expansive glory, Montana is a state of rich and endless beauty.

Fourth-largest of the United States and shared home to two of America’s greatest national parks — Yellowstone and Glacier — it soon becomes clear while traveling across open and desolate spaces why Montana is affectionately referred to as "Big Sky" country.

The urban centers of Montana are few and far between; a sparse 877,000 people live in this state of more than 147,000 miles. To put it in perspective, the largest city, Billings, has fewer than 100,000 residents. People gravitate to Montana to escape city life, not to seek it. As a result, outdoor activities abound, including fishing, boating, whitewater rafting, skiing, bicycling, horseback riding and hiking.

Because one must start somewhere, and because it is not possible to see Montana in its entirety within a reasonable time frame, the artistic and progressive city of Missoula in northwest Montana is a good entry point.

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En route to Glacier National Park, which is about a three hours’ drive north of Missoula, worthy stops include the National Bison Range, the village of Bigfork and Flathead Lake State Park.

Following a minimum of two to three days exploration of Glacier National Park — and if you would like a taste of the inexplicable and captivating Yellowstone National Park — start heading to South Central Montana, which is also known as "Yellowstone Country."

Before you reach the park, a day in the uncharacteristically sophisticated town of Bozeman is recommended. Seated at the foot of the Bridger Range in the Gallatin River Valley, this city of 32,000 is a popular draw of young and affluent visitors.

If you’re looking for one last night of relaxation and pampering before roughing it among the bison at Yellowstone, Chico Hot Springs, south of Livingston, is a jewel. Besides the famed pools, the resort offers horseback riding in summer and dogsled rides in winter.

For free visitor information packages, including the annual Montana Vacation Guide, state highway map and details on special events and accommodations, call 1-800-847-4868 or go to www.visitmt.com.

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