While Montana has a large role in the creation, visitation, and maintenance of Yellowstone National Park, only a small sliver of the park actually lies within the boundary of the state of Montana.
Yellowstone was the nation’s first national park and spurred the creation of the National Parks Service. The federal designation was ideal for Yellowstone as its territory spans three different states: Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.
Most of Yellowstone National Park is in Wyoming, with a small strip of land in the very southwest corner lying in Idaho. A similarly narrow section wraps around Yellowstone’s northwest corner and extends east until Cooke City lies within Montana.
How Much of Yellowstone is in Montana?
Most of Yellowstone is in Wyoming, roughly 96%. With 1% of the park’s area in Idaho, this leaves only 3% of Yellowstone’s 3,472 total square miles in the state of Montana. Though only a small portion of the park is in Montana, the vast majority of visitors use Montana as their gateway to Yellowstone.
In 2019, 81% of visitors (over 3.3 million) used either the West, North, or Northeast Entrances, which are all located in Montana.
Montana’s Role in Yellowstone National Park
At the time of Yellowstone’s creation, the National Parks Service intended for Gardiner, Montana to be the main gateway to the park. An elaborate arch was built there at the North Entrance to Yellowstone to provide a memorable experience for visiting tourists. Though it’s not the most used entrance, the North Entrance at Gardiner is the only one open to private cars in the winter, so it nonetheless remains a pivotal location for the park.
Despite the bulk of the park lying within the boundary of Wyoming, the busiest and most popular entrance is the West Entrance, just outside the town of West Yellowstone, Montana. This is the closest entrance to Old Faithful and other famous geothermal features in Yellowstone, which, for some folks, are the sole reason for their visit.
In addition to Montana’s major role in ushering visitors to Yellowstone, the state also has a Yellowstone County, and a somewhat nebulous region in the southwest referred to as Yellowstone Country. Both are distinct from the national park itself.
Yellowstone County, Montana
Yellowstone County is located in southern Montana and contains the state’s most populous city, Billings. Rather than being named after the national park, it was named after the Yellowstone River, which in turn got its moniker from the distinctive hue of the sandstone common in the area.
The Yellowstone River runs right through the middle of the county, entering through its northeast corner, passing through Billings, and exiting through the southwest corner. Despite its name, Yellowstone County is not one of the five that make up Yellowstone Country, the region.
An unofficial but real region of the state of Montana, Yellowstone Country is comprised of five counties: Gallatin, Park, Sweet Grass, Stillwater, and Carbon. Huddled against Yellowstone National Park in southern Montana, this distinct region is known for its unique landscape and natural bounty.
Ironically, it contains neither Yellowstone County nor Yellowstone National Park, though it is bound to the latter culturally and geographically. The Yellowstone River does run through this part of the state and is known for its excellent fishing.