Montana vs South Dakota: Which State Is Better?

Are you ready to embark on a thrilling journey, exploring the wonders of the United States? Today, I want to take you on a deep dive into two captivating states: Montana and South Dakota.

Why should you care about Montana and South Dakota? Well, my friend, imagine standing amidst towering mountains, feeling the crisp mountain air gently brush against your face.

Picture yourself exploring pristine national parks and encountering majestic wildlife. Visualize the warm embrace of small-town hospitality, where genuine smiles greet you at every turn.

Montana and South Dakota offer all of this and more. So, whether you’re a city dweller yearning for an escape or a nature enthusiast seeking untamed wilderness, this article is tailored for you.

Get ready to discover the beauty, excitement, and charm of these two states, Montana (MT) and South Dakota (SD).

Together, let’s unlock the secrets and decide which state truly reigns supreme. Are you ready? Let the adventure begin!

Montana vs South Dakota: Why Are They Being Compared and Which Is Better?

View of The Badlands National Park in South Dakota

Montana and South Dakota are two captivating states that have been pitted against each other in the ultimate battle for supremacy. You may be wondering, why compare them?

Montana beckons with its breathtaking landscapes, from the rugged peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the serene beauty of Glacier National Park.

But wait, South Dakota isn’t one to be outshined. Its enchanting natural wonders, including the iconic Mount Rushmore and the Badlands National Park, captivate visitors from near and far.

Both states boast rich cultural histories, warm-hearted communities, and a deep connection to nature. Join me on this adventure and discover what makes each one so irresistibly special.

Montana vs South Dakota: Size and Population

People Walking Down a Long Road in Montana

When it comes to size and population, Montana and South Dakota paint different pictures.

Montana ranks as the 4th largest state in the nation. This vast expanse is renowned for its breathtaking “Big Sky” scenery that stretches as far as the eye can see.

Meanwhile, South Dakota is the 17th largest state in the country by area.

Montana earns the distinction of being the state with the 3rd lowest population density. Contrastingly, South Dakota is the 46th most densely populated state in the US.

These two states may differ in size and population, but their distinctive charms will captivate any explorer ready to venture into their expansive territories. 

These figures provide insights into the geographical and population size of each state:

Land area in square miles147,040 77,116 
Population estimates (as of 2022)1,086,760 903,027 

Montana vs South Dakota: Lifestyle and Cost of Living

Seven People in Montana with Two Arms Up Looking at the Sunset

When it comes to lifestyle and cost of living, Montana and South Dakota offer unique experiences and varying economic conditions. Let’s delve into the intriguing differences between these two captivating states.

1. Family Arrangements, Age, and Sex – Montana has a slightly older population compared to South Dakota, with a lower percentage of persons aged under 18.

On the other hand, South Dakota has a slightly lower percentage of its population aged 65 and over compared to Montana. The female person population is similar in both states.

For family arrangements, both states have similar percentages of persons per household.

Family arrangements, age, and sexMTSD
Percent of the population aged 65 years and over21.30%24.60%
Percent of the population aged under 18 19.60%17.50%
Female population49.30%49.20%
Percent of the population age under 18 2.41%2.46%

2. Housing – Housing costs are generally higher in Montana compared to South Dakota.

Housing units529,152408,306
Owner-occupied housing unit rate69.10%68.40%
The median value of owner-occupied housing units$263,700$187,800
Monthly owner costs (with a mortgage)$1,538$1,434
Monthly owner costs (without a mortgage)$476$521
Median gross rent$886$809

3. Education – While Montana has a slightly higher percentage of individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to South Dakota, both states exhibit commendable educational achievements at the college level.

High school graduation rate (percent of persons age 25 years and older)94.40%92.50%
Bachelor’s degree or higher 33.70%30.00%

4. Economy – South Dakota shows slightly higher figures in both retail sales per capita and decent median household incomes compared to Montana. Business firms thrive in both states.

Total retail sales per capita$16,070$16,794
Median household income$60,560$63,920

5. Healthcare – For persons without health insurance, both states show a need for improved access to healthcare coverage.

Individuals under 65 without health insurance 10.10%11.40%

6. Labor Force – South Dakota has a higher percentage of the population aged 16 years and older participating in the civilian labor force compared to Montana.

Labor ForceMTSD
Civilian labor force participation rate (workers ages 16 years and older) 62.90%67.50%

7. Transportation – The mean travel time to work is slightly higher in Montana compared to South Dakota for workers aged 16 and above.

Mean travel time to work (minutes)18.617.4

8. Income – South Dakota has a slightly higher median household income and annual payroll than Montana, indicating relatively better income levels in the state. 

Median household income$60,560$63,920
Per capita income$34,423$33,468

9. Poverty – Montana’s persons in poverty percentage is lower than South Dakota’s, indicating a significant portion of their respective populations living below the poverty line.

Population in poverty 11.90%12.30%

10. Computer and Internet Use – Both Montana and South Dakota have a strong presence of technology and internet connectivity in their homes.

Computer and Internet useMTSD
Households with a computer 91.80%91.50%
Households with a broadband internet subscription85.20%85.20%

Montana vs South Dakota: Weather and Terrain

Aerial View of the Dakota Badlands National Park

Montana is known for its vast expanses of open plains, rolling hills, and majestic mountains like the Rocky Mountains and the Bitterroot Range.

SD’s landscape varies across the state, with rolling hills and plains dominating the eastern part, while the western region features drier and more rugged terrain.

Both states offer natural beauty and breathtaking mountain ranges, providing a picturesque backdrop to explore and enjoy.

The following provides a glimpse into the diverse seasons and landscapes of MT and SD.

From enjoyable summers and variable falls to distinct winters and transitional springs, these states offer a range of weather patterns and picturesque environments to explore.

1. Summer – Summer brings warm temperatures, occasional thunderstorms, and opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities in their beautiful landscapes.

  • In Montana, summers are dry and sunny, with occasional clouds, and gentle rain showers with temperatures between 75-90°F, with the possibility of heat waves reaching the low 100s °F.
  • Thunderstorms may occur, especially in eastern Montana, where dry thunderstorms pose a wildfire risk.
  • In South Dakota, summer brings approximately 15 to 16 hours of daylight, occasional thunderstorms, and semi-humid conditions, with average highs of 90°F and lows around 60°F. 

2. Autumn – Autumn offers a mix of Indian summer days, cooler temperatures, and the colorful transformation of foliage, creating a picturesque season for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.

  • Autumn weather in Montana begins in late September and extends into November. It can be quite variable, with weeks of Indian summer followed by cold rain and sporadic snow showers.
  • Autumn in South Dakota is mild, with average highs of 57°F and lows of 44°F, featuring fluctuating temperatures and precipitation.
  • Though it may vary per city, in South Dakota, Autumn days are usually sunny and pleasant, and evenings become cooler, with the first freeze typically occurring in early October.

3. Winter – Winter brings cold temperatures, occasional snowfall, and diverse weather patterns that vary across the states.

  • Eastern Montana tends to experience colder weather than the western part, as the first cold air of the season moves in from Canada. Winter weather in Montana showcases extreme variations across the state.
  • Areas east of the Continental Divide can endure below-zero temperatures, while western cities like Missoula and Kalispell enjoy relatively milder conditions, with temperatures often 50°F higher.
  • Western Montana receives more snowfall compared to the eastern region, and strong winds and blowing snow are common in the east.
  • Winter in South Dakota alternates between dry and snowy periods, lasting from December to early March, with average highs below 32°F and lows below 10°F.

4. Spring – Spring ushers in changing weather, with a mix of snow showers, rain, and gradual warming, offering a diverse transition from the winter season.

  • Spring in Montana brings both delight and unpredictability. Snowfall may continue throughout the season, gradually lessening. Rain becomes prevalent in May and June, preventing forest fires and providing moisture for the valleys.
  • Western Montana warms up slowly, experiencing cloudy days, cool air, and light spring showers. In contrast, eastern Montana warms up faster, occasionally experiencing scorching weather.
  • Spring in South Dakota sees temperatures ranging from 50°F to 60°F during the day and freezing temperatures at night, with varying levels of precipitation, including snow showers in the west.

Montana vs South Dakota: Natural Resources and Wildlife

Grizzly Bear on Top of a Log in Montana

In Montana, you’ll find two of the country’s most iconic national parks: Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park.

These parks are home to a wide variety of wildlife species, including grizzly bears, beavers, deer, ground squirrels, magpies, and many more.

The rugged mountains, pristine lakes, and sprawling meadows of Montana provide the perfect habitat for these animals to thrive. But Montana’s key natural resources go beyond its wildlife.

Montana is the only producer of palladium and platinum in the country. It also leads in talc production and is a major producer of copper/molybdenum, garnets, and silver.

Additionally, Montana boasts abundant reserves of bentonite, common clays, construction sand/gravel, crushed/dimension stone, gold, lime, and gemstones.

In South Dakota, you’ll find equally breathtaking natural wonders. The Badlands National Park and Wind Cave National Park showcase the state’s unique landscapes and diverse wildlife.

From bats and gray wolves to otters and prairie dogs, South Dakota is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. The iconic bison herds that roam across the state’s grasslands are a sight.

South Dakota leads in mica production and produces various minerals, including construction sand and gravel, crushed stone, dimension stone, feldspar, gemstones, gold, gypsum, industrial sand, gravel, lime, and silver.

Iron ore mined in South Dakota is used for cement clinker, further contributing to the state’s mineral wealth.

Living in Montana Pros and Cons

Photo of Yellow and Pink Flowers along with the Mountains of Montana

Living in Montana offers a unique and captivating experience that sets it apart from other states. Here are some of the pros of living in Montana:

  1. Natural Beauty – Montana is known for its stunning landscapes, including the Rocky Mountains, Glacier National Park, and Yellowstone National Park.
  2. Low Population Density – Montana holds one of the lowest populations in the US, which means more space and a slower pace of life. If you prefer a quieter rural lifestyle, Montana may be an option.
  3. Outdoor Recreation – With its wilderness areas and numerous recreational opportunities, whether you enjoy camping, hunting, rafting, or simply exploring nature, there is plenty to keep you engaged.
  4. Lower Cost of Living – Montana generally has a lower cost of living compared to many other states. This is an advantage if you want to stretch your budget.

However, it’s essential to consider the drawbacks as well. Here are some of the cons of living in Montana:

  1. Harsh Winters – Montana experiences long, cold winters with heavy snowfall in many areas. If you’re not a fan of cold weather or dealing with snow, the winters in Montana may be challenging.
  2. Limited Job Opportunities – Montana’s economic drivers are agriculture, tourism, and natural resource extraction. While there are opportunities in these industries, employment in some fields is challenging.
  3. Remote Location – Montana is geographically isolated, with larger cities and major amenities far apart. Access to certain services may be limited, and travel to other regions can be time-consuming.
  4. Healthcare Services – In some rural areas of Montana, access to healthcare services can be limited. Finding specialized medical care or facilities may require traveling to larger cities.

Living in South Dakota Pros and Cons

Old Barn House in a Grassland

Living in South Dakota has its pros and cons. Here are some positive sides of living in South Dakota:

  1. Affordability –  Housing, groceries, and healthcare expenses tend to be more affordable, allowing residents to save money or allocate their resources elsewhere.
  2. Strong Economy – The state’s economy is stable with industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, and tourism, along with a national unemployment rate of 1.9% in May 2023.
  3. Outdoor Recreation – South Dakota is known for outdoor activities. There are opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing, and hunting. The state also has national parks and monuments to explore.

While living in South Dakota has its advantages, it’s important to consider some potential drawbacks as well. Here are a few aspects that individuals might perceive as challenges to living in the state.

  1. Harsh Winters – This can be challenging for individuals who are not accustomed to such weather conditions. Adequate winter preparation and clothing are necessary to endure the harsh climate.
  2. Limited Entertainment Options – South Dakota may lack entertainment options found in larger cities. Residents may have limited access to events, concerts, and nightlife which city people prefer.
  3. Remote Location – South Dakota is relatively isolated, with limited access to major metropolitan areas. This can make traveling to other parts of the country more time-consuming and expensive

Montana vs South Dakota Final Thoughts

Glacier National Park Lake View

When comparing Montana and South Dakota, it becomes clear that these states have both similarities and differences.

They both offer stunning natural beauty, with MT boasting its majestic mountains and SD showcasing its iconic landmarks like Mount Rushmore.

Both states also have thriving economies, with SD’s stable and diverse industries and MT’s strong focus on agriculture and tourism. 

In terms of the economy, both Montana and South Dakota demonstrate stability. The latter shows slightly higher figures in terms of retail sales and household income compared to Montana.

However, both states have very low unemployment rates exhibit economic stability, and provide opportunities for residents to thrive.

Ultimately, the final decision between MT and SD depends on personal preferences and career aspirations.

If you prioritize higher income and affordable housing, South Dakota might be a better fit. However, if you value the beauty of mountains and prefer a quieter and rural lifestyle, Montana could be the ideal choice. 

Each state has its own unique benefits and drawbacks, and it is up to you to decide which aligns more closely with your lifestyle preferences and career goals.

Montana vs South Dakota FAQs

1. Which State Is Better: Montana or South Dakota?

Determining which state is better is subjective and depends on personal preferences.

MT offers breathtaking natural beauty, outdoor activities, and a lower population density, while SD boasts historical landmarks, a lower cost of living, and a slightly stronger economy.

2. Why Does South Dakota Enjoy Such Popularity?

With its rich Native American culture, vibrant festivals, and iconic monuments, SD has gained fame as a popular state for both locals and tourists alike.

The state proudly houses the world-renowned Mount Rushmore, a monument frequently showcased in Hollywood films, which further adds to SD’s allure and popularity. 

3. What Is Montana State University Bozeman Renowned For?

Montana State University (MSU) is an internationally recognized institution, ranked in the top five percent of global universities. It is regarded as the number one university in MT and among the top 175 colleges in the US.

With its strong programs in Earth science and a track record of producing numerous Goldwater Scholarship recipients, MSU attracts high-achieving students from both MT and beyond.

4. In Which City Is South Dakota State University Located?

South Dakota State University’s main campus is located in Brookings, SD.

As a prominent institution of higher education in the state, it offers diverse academic programs, including a strong focus on agricultural sciences and related fields.

5. What Are the Distinctions Between North and South Dakota?

North Dakota has a lesser population compared to SD, and flat terrains and agriculture mainly characterize its landscape, whereas SD showcases picturesque rolling hills, mountains, and renowned national parks.

Moreover, North Dakota’s economy is heavily dependent on its thriving oil industry, while South Dakota exhibits a broader economic base that includes sectors such as tourism, healthcare, and manufacturing.

Additionally, these states diverge in terms of climate and cultural makeup, which adds to their allure as captivating subjects for exploration and scholarly examination.

To quench your fascination with Montana and gain deeper insights, stay connected and explore these captivating articles:

Photo of author

Written by:

Ashley Smith
Hello there! I'm Ashley Smith, born on a chilly winter's day, Montana has been my playground since childhood. The first snowfall of the year always brings back memories of building snowmen and winter hikes. Co-founding was my way of sharing the magic of Montana's seasons with the world. While Chris dives deep into the landscapes, I'm obsessed with Montana's rich culture, from the local festivals to the tales passed down generations.

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