Outside Pursuits

Montana On A Budget

   ~Outside Pursuits

With its stunning landscape, popular national parks, and key role in American history, Montana attracts a lot of visitors every year. Whether you want to admire the wildlife in Yellowstone National Park, hike along the trails in Glacier National Park, or fish in its lakes and rivers, there’s always lots to see and do in Big Sky Country.

But how can you live your big dreams on a budget? Well, that’s all down to how you get around, where you stay, what you eat, and what you do.

Getting around

Historically, Montana boasts some of the lowest gas prices in the US. And if you want to explore Montana’s vast prairies and rugged mountains, traveling by car provides much more flexibility and accessibility than airports and train tracks.

But if you want to really explore Montana, your own two feet will be best. Once you’ve driven to the trailhead, hiking will get you to the most beautiful lakes, waterfalls, and mountain views.

Another thing that’s great about hiking is that it costs little. You may have to pay to park your vehicle in a national park parking lot, but the trails themselves are usually free. And in winter, those same wilderness trails become perfect for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Where to stay

If you want cheap accommodation, the best place to stay is inside your own tent. You’ll find popular campgrounds all over the state. Some are private, but many are public. Some provide running water and flush toilets, while others are completely undeveloped. The fees at private campgrounds are reasonable ($15 or less), and the undeveloped, public campsites are usually free.

However, you may prefer a roof over your head, especially if you’re visiting Glacier National Park in winter. You can find a mix of affordable motels and remote cabins inside the national forests and state parks.

Did you know you can rent disused ranger stations, bunkhouses, and fire lookout posts in the national forests? Some include modern conveniences, but others are just a roof over your head. They can be rented for as little as $30.

On a hiking, hunting, or fishing expedition lasting several weeks, it’s a good idea to combine rough camping with budget motel rooms. You can spend two or three nights in the wilderness, then clean up during one night in a motel with showers and other modern amenities.

Wherever you stay, it’s a good idea to book in advance. That’s essential around tourist hotspots, especially during summer. During summer, even budget motels near the parks may be pricy. At those times, consider more remote hostels, hotels, and motels to keep costs low.

What to eat

Generally, if you can prepare your own meals at campsites, your money will stretch further. Across Montana, you’ll find many Saturday farmers’ markets. You can pick up some great bargains there, and there’s no sales tax.

If you’re fishing or hunting, acquiring protein shouldn’t be a problem. And, if you’re brave and knowledgeable enough, you can forage for berries in the forests.

What to do

There are lots of fantastic activities to do in Montana, and this is not a complete list. But many people come to the Land of the Shining Mountains to hike, ski, and ride horses.


Hiking is a popular activity in Montana, and often it’s free. The Glacier National Park, for example, boasts over 700 miles of trail, with both short and long trails to choose from. You can even join ranger-led hikes if you prefer to explore the wilderness with a helpful expert.

Skiing and snowshoeing

When winter comes and the snow falls, the hiking trails can become blocked. But not if you wear snowshoes. At the Glacier National Park, you can join a ranger-led, two-hour snowshoe adventure. And many of the trails in both Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park are also suitable for cross-country skiing. 

If you own your own skis or snowshoes, these activities are either free or cost very little. Park entrance fees may apply (typically $25) depending upon where you go.

There are also plenty of ski resorts for downhill skiing. While some larger resorts are expensive, many smaller mountains offer skiing destinations where you can enjoy the slopes on a budget.

Horseback riding

Cattle ranches have been important to Montana’s economy since before the creation of Montana Territory in 1864. And alongside ranching came horse riding.

There are many ranches in Montana that offer combined accommodation, food, and horse riding. Although this is more expensive than camping and hiking, combining these activities in one package makes for a relatively low-cost adventure holiday.

To take just one ranch as an example, the Bar W Guest Ranch in Whitefish offers fishing, dog sledding, snowmobiling, square dancing, archers, and many other activities as well as horseback riding. Given that TripAdvisor rates this venue as 5-star, you know you’ll get value for money.

If you prefer to camp or stay in a budget hotel, you can still ride horses at the Bar W Guest Ranch. They offer one-hour, two-hour, and half-day rides along wooded mountain trails. That way you can enjoy horse riding through Montana’s beautiful Alpine scenery on a tighter budget.

Enjoy the Last Best Place!

You don’t have to spend a fortune to experience the Wonder of Creation that is Montana. With a little thought and careful planning, you can enjoy affordable food, accommodation, and thrilling activities in Big Sky Country.