Why is Montana Called Big Sky Country?

Rebecca Hanlon
Last Updated: March 4th, 2023

Montana has some of the most spectacular scenery in the U.S. and one of its most endearing nicknames is Big Sky Country. But why is Montana called Big Sky Country?

Ask anyone who has spent time hiking along the mountains, lakes, and wide-open country and they will tell you it is something you have to feel for yourself.

For those who have yet to visit Montana, there is still a lot you can learn about Big Sky country, and how the name has come to embody the state and define its essence.

What is the definition of “Big Sky”?

glacier national park

So, why is Montana called Big Sky Country? Montana is called “Big Sky Country” because of its abundance of wide-open spaces and skies that stretch uninterrupted to the horizon. This includes the opportunity to get out in nature and experience the majestic beauty, From the biggest national parks, Glacier and Yellowstone, to its mountain ranges, lakes, and expansive prairies, Montana is always framed by the overarching sky.

To take a more literal interpretation, Big Sky means a wide-reaching expanse of sky that can be seen from areas of flat, open land. These wide-ranging vistas have come to be used in reference to the western United States, particularly when talking about why Montana is known as Big Sky Country.

What are the state nicknames of Montana?

yellowstone river

Montana has many state nicknames, including the following:

  • Treasure State
  • Big Sky Country
  • Bonanza State
  • Land of Shining Mountains
  • The Last Best Place
  • Stub-Toe State
  • Headwaters State
  • Mountain State

But the first two are the best known, Treasure State referring to the state’s natural resources, and Big Sky Country for Montana’s beautiful open country with far-reaching vistas.

What is the significance of A.B. Guthrie’s novel, The Big Sky?

cowboys and horses under sunset

A.B. Guthrie’s 1947 novel The Big Sky epitomizes the best of western literature with its realistic depictions of the untamed landscape and helped associate Montana with the name Big Sky. Guthrie writes of the beauty and grandeur of the west and the rugged individuals who sought to tame it.

Montana has embraced and adopted the name as beautifully descriptive of its wild and stunning scenery and the affectionate feelings Montanans feel for their home state and their connection to the land.

Guthrie was a University of Montana trained journalist. He wrote an additional five novels in the Big Sky series, the second of which, The Way West, won the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Best Novel by an American author.

The use of the name Big Sky Country as being directly associated with the state of Montana can be traced to an effective 1962 promotion by the Montana State Highway Department. One of the men working there had read Guthrie’s book, “The Big Sky”, which told the story of trappers who worked in the great outdoors under the Big Sky.

The employee thought this would be a great phrase to use in the campaign to capture the state’s essence and appeal and received permission from Guthrie to use the name.

An ad from the campaign invited prospective tourists to “Travel Montana, the Big Sky Country, between Yellowstone and Glacier”. The phrase took hold because of the promotion, and Montana has been thought of as Big Sky country since that time.

The nickname Big Sky Country or shortened to Big Sky has also been featured in past years on the state’s official license plates, with an image of mountains and sky.

Why is Montana Called Big Sky Country?

prairie landscape

Montana has embraced the Big Sky name as capturing the spirit and beauty of this great land.

From its source in a ground-breaking western novel to its subsequent spread through a 1960s advertising campaign for state highway tourism and use on official state license plates, Big Sky Country has come to be closely associated with Montana and its wide-open spaces.

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About The Author

Rebecca Hanlon

Rebecca has been a travel blogger and editor for over 5 years, working with some of the biggest brands in industry. She’s taught English as a foreign language in 5 different countries, and her most fulfilling role was as a tour guide around some of Europe’s finest vineyards. She the one behind the social channels here at Discovering Montana, whilst also finding the time to perform an assistant editor role.

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