Montana: Another getaway for BYU students

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Montana is a must-have on the bucket list for any lover of the outdoors and all things country. Not only does the state have Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, 54 state parks, ghost towns, music festivals and multiple rodeos, but the green, rolling grasslands and mountainous terrain will call out to any traveler looking to get away from the crowds and experience the outdoors.

The sun sets on the peaks surrounding Swiftcurrent Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana. (Donnie Sexton)

People from Utah may wonder what Montana really has to offer that is different from Utah. Kaitlin Lillywhite, 22, a BYU graduate from Bloomfield, New Mexico who majored in dietetics, was pleasantly surprised by the “big sky country.”

“I think Montana is severely underrated. You can look around, and all the people are missing,” Lillywhite said. “Just taking in nature has been really relaxing and therapeutic. Just sitting in nature and enjoying all the mountains and all the scenery has been amazing.”

Public relations manager for the Montana Office of Tourism, Donnie Sexton, explained that the recreational opportunities, places and events in Montana should really stand out for Utahns looking for something new to experience.

“You’ve got two national parks here. You’ve got Yellowstone, and then you have Glacier National Park in addition to a whole plethora of other state parks,” Sexton said. “You’ve got unlimited hiking, mountain biking if you’re into that, camping, fishing, wildlife watching or absolutely doing nothing but relax.”

That is exactly what the experience has been for Zach Thomas, a 26-year-old from Calgary, Alberta, who recently graduated from BYU in neuroscience. Thomas often travels to his family’s cabin in Deerborn, Montana, for a simple getaway.

“I love fishing and four-wheeling through the trails,” Thomas said. “And really just kind of hanging out and enjoying the fresh mountain air.”

Lillywhite agreed. “If Utah is a McDonald’s playground, Montana is Magic Mountain,” she said.

The state stands out not only in terms of its natural beauty and activities but also of its people.

“The people are a lot different. You come up here and you see a lot of westerners, or cowboys or farmers; stuff like that,” Thomas said.

It’s easy to see the country hospitality, as travelers on Montana’s backcountry roads will often receive a friendly wave or greeting from passing vehicles.

“The thing about Montana that I personally feel is a very big draw is just how wonderful the people are,” Sexton said. “Just warm and welcoming; that’s just who we are.”

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