Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Ways Yellowstone Lied To You About Montana

There's no doubt that "Yellowstone" has been a massive hit for Paramount. There's a lot to love about the blue-collar world that Taylor Sheridan has created, which is full of Montana cowboys and a "Sons of Anarchy" level of intensity. With multiple spin-offs either airing or in development, such as the Old West exploration "1883," the Texas-based "6666," and the upcoming Great Depression epic "1932," it's clear that "Yellowstone" has taken the world by storm.

There's a lot that "Yellowstone" gets right about Montana. The constant push by East Coasters and Californians alike to develop Montana into another Colorado, the state's conservative politics, and Native American issues are all fairly represented. Mentions of small things like Murdoch's (a real, local ranching store), brucellosis (a cattle disease), and the Deer Lodge prison (one of the only adult male correctional facilities in Montana) all point to Sheridan doing his due-diligence researching the "Last Best Place." That's no wonder, considering that Taylor told The Missoulian that he spent some time in Montana while writing the show!

While it's clear that "Yellowstone" gets some things right, there are still a few things the show is at least less-than-honest about. For those hoping to escape to Montana after watching the show, here are a few things you might want to know about the Treasure State before you embark there.

Paradise Valley and Bozeman aren't in the same county

One of the biggest inconsistencies in "Yellowstone" is how often the Duttons travel between their family ranch (located somewhere in Paradise Valley) and Bozeman in seemingly no time at all. Casual viewers might watch and assume that the college town of Bozeman, home of Montana State University, and Paradise Valley, the location of the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch, aren't far, but the truth is they're not exactly as close as they're said to be. Don't get us wrong, they're close by Montana standards, but there's still a hefty distance. The northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park itself, which the Dutton Ranch apparently borders, is about an hour and a half away, yet they travel between the two almost constantly.

The truth is, Paradise Valley is located in Park County, while Bozeman is located further westward in Gallatin County. The two locations are separated by the Bozeman Pass, which can get pretty dangerous during the winter. 

In fact, the town of Livingston — which sits near the Paradise Valley entrance which is closest to Bozeman — is 25 miles away. This might seem like a nitpick, especially since it's only a half-hour difference between Bozeman and Livingston, making the full trip about an hour if we assume the Dutton Ranch is closer to Yellowstone. Still, since the show has led many to assume that Bozeman and Yellowstone are right next doors, it seems like a worthy distinction to make.

There is no reservation in Gallatin or Park Counties

The world of "Yellowstone" is open, vast, and full of countless storytelling potential — so why they keep doing the same "land grab" plot every season is beyond us. One of the best parts of the series is Sheridan's representation of Native American issues, which he also examined in his directorial debut "Wind River." On the show, the Yellowstone Ranch is bordered by the Broken Rock Indian Reservation, with Gil Birmingham's Chief Thomas Rainwater leading his people's charge to take back their native land from Kevin Costner's John Dutton. This is a major conflict in the first few seasons, though it sadly takes a back seat later.

Throughout the show, it's unclear exactly where the fictional Broken Rock Reservation is meant to exist. The first few seasons make it seem as if Broken Rock is relatively close to Yellowstone National Park, bordering the Dutton Ranch. However, in Season 4, Kayce and Monica look at homes in Pryor because it's close to the Rez and the ranch. The problem is that Pryor is located on the Crow Indian Reservation (in Big Horn and Yellowstone Counties) nearest Montana's biggest city, Billings. The Crow Reservation also shares a border with the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation to the east. 

In reality, there is no Reservation anywhere near Bozeman or Paradise Valley, with the nearest one in Montana being nearly three hours away and multiple counties over.

The Yellowstone Ranch isn't anywhere near Yellowstone

While John Dutton may not actually exist (and if he did, that would be frightening), there really is a Yellowstone Dutton Ranch out there! Although, it's not called the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch, nor is it anywhere near America's first National Park. In fact, it's even further away than the park is from Bozeman! 

Scenes set at the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch are filmed on the Chief Joseph Ranch, located in the town of Darby, which is much closer to the city of Missoula and near the border between Montana and Idaho. The ranch property was originally homesteaded in 1880 and was originally known as the Shelton Ranch. No doubt, the "Yellowstone" prequel series "1883" explains the Dutton's history with the land a bit differently.

One thing you see on the show that is true, though, is that the Chief Joseph Ranch is, to this day, a working family ranch — but that's not all it is. As a dude ranch, the Chief Joseph brings in guests to stay in the Dutton family home, specifically in the cabin of John Dutton's fallen son Lee and the home of fan-favorite Rip Wheeler. Sadly, you can't stay at the "log mansion" that we know so well from the series, as that's the owner's family home. Although the Dutton Ranch isn't anywhere near Yellowstone itself, we're glad to know that it's not just a set in the middle of nowhere but rather an actual, working Montana ranch.

Most of those beautiful landscapes aren't Montana

For the first three seasons of "Yellowstone," the show wasn't filmed in Montana but rather parts of Utah. This means that besides the quick-or-you'll-miss-it establishing shots of downtown Bozeman or anything shot on the Chief Joseph Ranch in Darby, almost everything you're seeing in the first three seasons of "Yellowstone" is actually the Beehive State. To be fair, much of northern Utah looks pretty similar to western Montana, making this a wise choice on Sheridan's part. Still, we have to point out that many of those beautiful "Paradise Valley" landscapes aren't Montana at all.

During that time, "Yellowstone" was primarily filmed in Park City, which is ironic given that the show's "big bad" Market Equities wants to base their new "ski town" in Paradise Valley off Park City (which lies just southeast of Salt Lake City). But that's not all. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that over twenty filming locations around Utah were used in shooting the first few seasons, with most of their interiors filmed at Utah Film Studios

However, when Season 4 came around, Sheridan and company moved production from Utah to Montana, filming most of the latest season in and around the city of Missoula and other western Montana locations. Guess they realized a show about Montana should probably be made in Montana!

An unrealistic number of ranch hands and cowboys

While the exact size of the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch is pretty unclear, the show's first episode explains that the Dutton's land is larger than the entire state of Rhode Island. If that's true, that means the Yellowstone Ranch itself is probably somewhere around 800,000 acres, especially if we consider that the largest working ranch in America is King Ranch in Texas, which covers about 825,000 acres. That's a lot of land to cover, especially when we consider how many different locations we've seen on the show. In fact, besides releasing a nature documentary in the place of next season, there's practically no way "Yellowstone" could even utilize all that acreage on screen!

That said, the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch's half-a-dozen ranch hands and cowboys is probably one of the most unrealistic elements in the show. King Ranch has over 500 employees, which makes us wonder how the Dutton Ranch would even manage to make a profit year after year. Fans have rightfully pointed out that in real life, a ranch like the Yellowstone would easily have to have somewhere between 100 to 200 cowboys to make it work — far more than the dozen or so that viewers have encountered in the series. 

Who knows, maybe the Texas-based spin-off will address this and add more cowboys to their roster. Of course, that still wouldn't solve the issues up north in Montana, but at this point, "Yellowstone's" gonna do what it's gonna do!

Forever summer? More like an eight month winter

The exact timeline of "Yellowstone" is somewhat hard to pin down, especially given that at least some of the series seems to take place during the academic school year based on Monica's job as an MSU adjunct in Bozeman. Because the timeline is so unclear, it's often hard to pinpoint each month and season that "Yellowstone" takes us through. But one thing is clear — the general lack of snow proves that "Yellowstone" is ignoring a large part of the Montana way of life, a part that keeps many from sticking around for more than a month or two out of the year.

In reality, Montana experiences winter conditions for about eight months out of the year, give-or-take, depending on where in the state you're at. In Bozeman and Paradise Valley, the home of the Dutton family, snow can begin to fall as early as September and last as long as early June. In fact, sometimes temperatures drop to around twenty below. The show's constant lack of snow is a serious stretch, even if there are occasional flurries caught on camera. Here's hoping that future seasons throw the Dutton's into a harsher Montana winter and shows what the Treasure State is really like for most of the year!