How to Visit Montana on a Budget: 11 Affordable Day Trips

Have you ever wondered how to visit Montana on a budget, making the most of your time and money without missing out on the state’s majestic beauty? I’m about to guide you through the valleys and peaks of Montana’s most affordable day trips, from the historic streets of Philipsburg to the breathtaking expanse of Kootenai Falls.

We’ll uncover the secrets to enjoying Big Sky Country’s vast array of attractions without splurging. I’ll share my own experiences of savoring the charm of small towns, the thrill of natural wonders, and the echoes of history—all on a shoestring budget.

Whether you’re a solo traveler thirsting for adventure, a family seeking a memorable vacation, or a couple in search of a romantic getaway, this article speaks to you.

I’ll hook you with tales of my budget-friendly expeditions and entice you with the promise of an unforgettable journey. Keep reading, as the trails of adventure await your eager footsteps.

7 Key Takeaways on Montana’s Most Affordable Day Trips

  1. Affordable Gems – Discover budget-friendly day trips across Montana, from charming towns like Philipsburg to natural wonders like Kootenai Falls.
  2. Philipsburg Charm – Explore Philipsburg’s Sweet Palace for affordable treats and discover local shops on its quaint Main Street.
  3. Virginia City’s History – Step back in time in Virginia City, where historic downtown, theater shows, and a train ride to Nevada City await.
  4. Crystal Park Treasures – Crystal Park offers rockhounding adventures, picnic spots, and scenic drives to find quartz crystals and minerals.
  5. Holland Falls Adventure – Enjoy a scenic 1.6-mile (2.57-km) hike to Holland Falls, with options for picnicking, fishing, and camping in the area.
  6. Gardiner’s Accessible Wonders – Gardiner, the Yellowstone gateway, provides budget-friendly access to Yellowstone’s wonders, hot springs, hikes, and wildlife.
  7. Miles City Charm – Miles City offers the Range Riders Museum, winery tastings, outdoor pursuits, and nearby attractions for a budget-friendly adventure.

Most Affordable Montana Day Trips

A group of friends walks along a path as they enjoy their budget-friendly day trip in Montana.

I’ve traversed Montana’s rugged landscapes and sprawling wilderness, seeking out the most breathtaking and affordable day trips the state has to offer.

From hidden gem hiking trails to quaint small towns, there’s no shortage of budget-friendly adventures waiting to be discovered in Big Sky Country. So, let’s dive into the top Montana day trips that won’t break the bank.

1. Philipsburg

An aerial view of a small Montana town in winter.

If you’re in Montana and looking for a budget-friendly day trip that’s big on charm, Philipsburg is your hidden gem. This historic town consistently voted one of the Prettiest Painted Places in America, offers a range of activities that won’t be expensive.

  • A Sweet Treat at the Sweet Palace – A visit to the renowned Sweet Palace candy store is a must. It’s a colorful wonderland of confectionery delights, and the best part? Most treats are surprisingly affordable.
  • Stroll Down Quaint Main Street – As you wander down the picturesque main street, you’ll be treated to more than just pretty views. The locally-owned shops and boutiques offer unique souvenirs and gifts at reasonable prices.
  • Dig into Sapphire Mining Take a step back in time with a visit to Gem Mountain Mine, where sapphire mining has been a local tradition for over a century. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that won’t dig too deep into your wallet.
  • Raise a Glass at Philipsburg Brewing – After all that exploration, you’ll want to kick back and relax. Philipsburg Brewing offers a taste of the local craft beer scene at prices that won’t leave you feeling tapped out.
  • Stay the Night, Without the Bite If you’re not in a rush to leave, consider an overnight stay. Affordable accommodation options like the Charming 30’s Bungalow offer a cozy and budget-friendly home base.

Philipsburg is a town that’s as rich in history as it is in charm, and the best part is that you don’t need a fortune to enjoy it. A day trip here is not only easy on the wallet but also a feast for the senses.

2. Virginia City

Buildings in a quiet town in Montana, with a jeep parked along the road.

If you’re a history buff or just someone looking to step back in time, Virginia City is a must-visit. Just a stone’s throw away from Helena, Bozeman, Belgrade, and Butte, this is a historic destination that’s easily accessible.

Spring and summer are especially delightful times to visit Virginia City, as the weather is pleasant and the town is abuzz with activity.

What to do in Virginia City:

  • Explore the Historic Downtown – Stroll through streets lined with well-preserved buildings, each with its own story to tell. The charming atmosphere is something you won’t find anywhere else.
  • Catch a Show at the Opera House – The Virginia City Players put on unique theater performances, from melodramas to vaudeville acts. It’s a fun and interactive experience for all ages.
  • Hop on a Fire Engine Tour – For a bit of historical entertainment, take a half-hour tour on a vintage fire engine. It’s a hit with the kids!
  • Take a Train to Nevada City – For a change of scenery, the train ride from Virginia City to Nevada City is both educational and engaging.

You don’t have to be too expensive to enjoy a day or two in Virginia City. The Dream Drift Motel, located at 3 Cameron Drive, Cameron, MT, offers affordable yet comfortable lodging. It’s the perfect option for a budget-friendly day trip or an extended stay.

Virginia City is more than just a stop on your Montana itinerary. It’s a journey back in time that won’t empty your wallet.

3. Crystal Park

A family enjoys their budget-friendly day trip in Montana, as they explore a wooded area.

Crystal Park is nestled in the Pioneer Mountains, close to Dillon, at an elevation of over 7,000 ft. (2,134 m). This 220-acre site has been designated by the Forest Service for rockhounding, with quartz crystals abundantly scattered throughout the area.

These hexagonal (six-sided) prisms come in various appearances, ranging from clear and cloudy to white, gray, or purple due to the minerals within. The range of crystal sizes found at Crystal Park is impressive, spanning from smaller than a little finger to several inches in diameter, with distinctions like “smoky” for gray crystals and “amethyst” for highly prized purple ones.

What to do at Crystal Park:

  1. Picnicking – Crystal Park has 3 picnic sites with tables and grills, making it a great spot for a meal outdoors.
  2. Mineral Collection – The Crystal Park Mineral Collection Area is nearby, where you can explore and collect minerals.
  3. Scenic Driving – The Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway is nearby, offering stunning views and a scenic drive.
  4. Rockhounding – Crystal Park is known for its rockhounding opportunities, and you can find various minerals and crystals in the area.

Insider tip: Pack a picnic! With the prevalence of single crystals here, you can easily spend the entire day scouring for treasures.

Other must-knows:

  • Seasonal Opening – Crystal Park welcomes visitors from mid-June through mid-October, depending on weather and snow conditions.
  • Universally Accessible – The facilities are designed to accommodate all, and you’ll find interpretive and information signs throughout.

So, if you’re looking for a day trip that’s both educational and budget-friendly, Crystal Park is your go-to.

4. Holland Falls

Holland Falls in Montana

Holland Falls in Holland Lake is an ideal day trip located in the Seeley-Swan Valley. This popular and easy day hike starts at the end of the parking area to the right. Follow the trail for 500 ft. (152 m) to the trail junction, then continue straight following signs for Trail #416.

The Holland Falls National Recreation Trail is a 1.6-mile (2.57-km) hike with an elevation gain of 750 ft. (229 m), leading gradually to the base of the falls along the shoreline of Holland Lake. There’s also a spectacular campground available at the lake, turning the day trip into an overnight stay.

This recreational area offers a variety of affordable outdoor activities and beautiful scenery. Visitors can enjoy picnicking at the picnic area, fishing for rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, and bull trout, and boating with a boat ramp and rentals available.

The per-vehicle fee for the Holland Falls National Recreation Trail is $5.00, but there is no fee for hikers or bicyclists. The facilities within the park are universally accessible, and interpretive signs and information signs are scattered throughout the area.

5. Gardiner

A stone arch nestled in a grassy field in Montana, with a mountain range in the background.

Gardiner, the northern gateway to Yellowstone National Park, is a pocket-friendly paradise for those seeking an affordable day trip in Montana. The town not only offers jaw-dropping views but also a range of activities that won’t be expensive, such as:

  • Experiencing Yellowstone – The starting point for your Yellowstone adventure, Gardiner lets you experience iconic sites and wildlife without shelling out extra cash.
  • Hiking – From the famous Mount Washburn Trail to shorter strolls, the area has a hike for every level of adventurer.
  • Wildlife Watching – Gardiner Basin is a wildlife haven, offering you a chance to spot bison, elk, and bears without the need for pricey guided tours.
  • Soaking in Hot Springs – The Boiling River is a natural hot spring where you can soak away your worries, and the best part? It’s free!

Even accommodation in Gardiner won’t burn a hole in your pocket. The Yellowstone Gateway Inn, for instance, offers cozy rooms at affordable rates, ensuring you can make the most of your budget without compromising on comfort.

So, if you’re looking for a day trip offering natural wonders and financial solace, Gardiner is your go-to spot. It’s a place where the stunning landscapes of Yellowstone meet the practicality of a well-planned budget.

6. Miles City

A quiet road in a rural town in Montana

Looking for a budget-friendly day trip that’s big on charm and light on the wallet? Let me introduce you to Miles City, a Montana gem that’s as affordable as it is captivating.

Here’s why Miles City is the perfect destination for a cost-conscious adventurer like you:

  • Range Riders Museum – Step back in time at this fascinating museum, offering a window into the Old West, all for a wallet-friendly entrance fee.
  • Tongue River Winery – Sip and savor without being very costly. This local winery offers affordable wine tastings that are as delightful as they are economical.
  • Main Street Meander – Take a stroll along Main Street, where you can window-shop, support local businesses, and soak up the small-town ambiance, all for free.
  • Sculpture Hunting – Art enthusiasts will delight in the numerous sculptures peppered throughout Miles City. It’s a cost-free way to engage with the town’s artistic side.
  • Outdoor Pursuits – From fishing to bird watching to hiking, nature is your playground in and around Miles City. These activities offer budget-friendly entertainment for the whole family.
  • Low-Cost Day Trips – Use Miles City as a launchpad for even more affordable adventures. Nearby attractions like the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area and the WaterWorks Art Museum offer additional bang for your buck.

My tip? Start your day at the Range Riders Museum, then take a scenic drive to the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area for a picnic lunch. You’ll get a taste of both history and nature without putting a dent in your wallet.

Miles City is a budget-friendly day trip that doesn’t skimp on experiences. So if you’re in the mood for a little nostalgia, a touch of art, and a whole lot of nature, this Montana town should be at the top of your list.

7. Kootenai Falls

A picturesque waterfall nestled among a lushly forested hillside in Montana

If you’re looking to immerse yourself in Montana’s natural beauty, a visit to Kootenai Falls is a must. Nestled in Northwest Montana, this stunning wonder is renowned as one of the state’s most captivating attractions.

And here’s the best part: it’s an easy day trip from major cities like Whitefish and Kalispell, which also happen to be prime locations for viewing Montana’s Northern Lights.

Why is Kootenai Falls such a big deal? For starters, it’s the largest untouched waterfall in Montana. But what sets it apart is the seamless blend of accessibility and jaw-dropping scenery.

You can reach the falls via a short hike, and the masterpiece is the Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge, which spans the Kootenai River Gorge. Trust me, the view from that bridge is a memory you won’t soon forget.

Things to do and places to visit at Kootenai Falls:

  • Hiking – Take a short hike to the falls and then cross the giant swinging bridge for a thrill.
  • Swinging Bridge – Experience the unique sensation of crossing the Kootenai River Gorge.
  • Picnicking – Enjoy a meal outdoors in the park’s picnic area, complete with tables and fire pits.

But it’s not just about the falls themselves. The park is designed to be universally accessible, with facilities that cater to everyone.

You’ll find interpretive signs and information boards throughout, offering insights into the area’s rich history and geology.

8. Anaconda

Vehicles parked along the road in a Montana town, with a mountain in the background.

Nestled in Deer Lodge County, Anaconda sits pretty at a lofty elevation of 1 mile (1.61 km) above sea level. Why does this matter? Well, for starters, it means you get to bask in some seriously breathtaking mountain views. 

Anaconda has more than just pretty landscapes going for it. Did you know that this humble town was once a contender for the title of Montana’s state capital?

Yes, it almost beat out Helena, but under rather questionable circumstances, it lost the race. The town’s rich history and its almost-capital status make it a fascinating place to explore.

So, what can you do in Anaconda? Here’s a quick rundown of some of the must-try activities and places to visit:

  • Horseback Riding at the Iron Wheel Guest Ranch – Get in touch with your inner cowboy or cowgirl and explore the surrounding trails on horseback.
  • Granite Ghost Town – Step into the past as you wander through the remnants of this once-thriving silver mining town.
  • Historic Bus Tours – Let the town’s history come alive as you’re guided through its most significant sites.
  • Zip Line Adventure with Montana Zipline Adventures – For the adrenaline junkies, this thrilling experience is a must-try.
  • Backwoods ATV – Rent an ATV and embark on an off-road adventure through Anaconda’s rugged terrains.
  • Anaconda Smelter Stack Tour – A unique opportunity to see the iconic smelter stack and learn about the area’s industrial history.

And here’s a little secret: Anaconda is not just a feast for the eyes; it’s also light on the wallet. With affordable accommodation options like the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, you can easily plan a budget-friendly day trip or even extend your stay without very costly.

So, whether you’re a history buff, an outdoor enthusiast, or just someone looking for a change of scenery, Anaconda has got you covered.

9. Custer Gallatin National Forest

A view of Custer Gallatin National Forest from the top of a hill

Unlike its neighbor Yellowstone National Park, Custer Gallatin National Forest is a wilderness you can explore without reaching for your wallet. Imagine hiking through untamed forests, crossing streams, and setting up camp under a star-studded sky — all without incurring any fees.

If you’re not one for pitching a tent, the forest also offers charming cabins that are maintained by the park itself. They’re a perfect blend of comfort and wilderness, allowing you to embrace your rustic side without sacrificing modern conveniences.

Top activities in Custer Gallatin National Forest:

  • Hiking – From the Lava Lake Trail to the Mystic Lake Trail, the forest is a hiker’s paradise. You can also opt for the Bear Basin Trail or the Middle Cottonwood Trail, both offering unique vistas and challenges.
  • Wildlife Viewing – Elk, deer, and even black bears call this forest home. For a unique experience, visit the Little Bear Whitebark Pine Seed Orchard, a project aimed at restoring the forest’s ecosystem.
  • Photography – The forest’s diverse landscape, from the East Crazy Inspiration Divide to the Spanish Peaks, offers endless opportunities for breathtaking photos.
  • Mountain Biking – If you prefer two wheels over two feet, the Reas Pass and Middle Cottonwood Trail are calling your name. These routes take you deep into the forest, offering a remote and exhilarating ride.

So, if you’re looking to escape the crowds and the fees, Custer Gallatin National Forest is your untamed haven.

10. Martinsdale

An old abandoned wooden building and a shed lie in a grassy field in Montana

Nestled between the Crazy Mountains and the Castle Mountains, Martinsdale is a Central Montana gem that beckons those with a penchant for Montana traditions.

The Bair Family Art Museum, a pivotal repository of Montana’s history, is an unmissable stop. Situated along the Upper Mussellshell River, this museum is a treasure trove of Native American artwork.

Don’t forget to swing by the museum’s gift shop. You might just stumble upon a one-of-a-kind Montana memento.

But wait, there’s more to Martinsdale than just its museum. Here are a few other must-visit spots:

  • Martinsdale Reservoir – A haven for fishing, boating, and camping, this reservoir and its smaller counterparts are a water enthusiast’s paradise.
  • Musselshell River – If you’re an angler, the Musselshell River is your playground. The fishing here is consistently good, and the serene surroundings only add to the experience.

Martinsdale is a place where Montana’s past and present coexist harmoniously. Whether you’re diving into the annals of history at the art museum or casting a line in the Musselshell River, this small town offers a window into the heart and soul of Montana.

11. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Looking for a budget-friendly day trip in Montana? Look no further than Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.

With over 120,000 acres of diverse ecosystems, this wild landscape offers unparalleled opportunities for nature viewing. And the best part? It won’t break the bank.

Fishing and boating enthusiasts will find excellent opportunities on the Bighorn River and Bighorn Lake. Catch a diverse variety of fish while enjoying the scenic waters.

Hiking and wildlife watching are also popular activities, with numerous trails and abundant wildlife, including a large herd of wild horses.

If you’re in the mood for a picnic or want to spend the night under the stars, there are numerous spots for picnicking and five camping areas with over 100 spots, surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the West.

For history buffs, the park features an amazing collection of historic ranches and interpretive sites that tell the stories of open range, family, and dude ranching, providing a glimpse into the area’s rich history.

So, if you’re craving a day of adventure without breaking the bank, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area has got you covered.

How to Visit Montana on a Budget Final Thoughts

A couple plans their budget-friendly day trips to Montana.

Exploring Montana on a budget opens up a world of enriching experiences. From the historical charm of Philipsburg to the natural wonders of Bighorn Canyon, each destination offers a unique and diverse range of attractions.

The variety of landscapes, cultural heritage, and affordable activities in Montana is truly impressive. Whether it’s family-friendly adventures in Virginia City, crystal hunting in Crystal Park, or serene hikes to Holland Falls, there’s something for everyone.

Martinsdale, Gardiner, and Anaconda also offer a blend of outdoor adventures, historical landmarks, and scenic beauty.

Montana provides fulfilling day trips for budget-conscious explorers, with a multitude of affordable accommodations and activities. So, travelers can immerse themselves in Montana’s beauty and heritage while staying budget-conscious.

Whether it’s a thrilling outdoor adventure or a peaceful escape into nature, Montana has it all without breaking the bank. So, start planning your budget-friendly trip to Montana and prepare to be amazed at what this stunning state has to offer.

How to Visit Montana on a Budget FAQs

1. What Is the Best Way to Explore Montana?

Exploring Montana is best done by a road trip through its stunning landscapes, stopping at iconic places like Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, and the Beartooth Highway.

You can do outdoor activities like hiking, wildlife spotting, and taking in the breathtaking scenery for an amazing Montana experience.

2. What Is the Best Home Base for a Montana Vacation?

Bozeman serves as an excellent home base for a Montana vacation

This town offers proximity to Yellowstone National Park, outdoor activities like hiking and skiing, along with a vibrant downtown scene featuring dining, shopping, and cultural attractions.

3. What Is the Cheapest Part of Montana?

Generally, eastern Montana tends to have lower living costs compared to the western part of the state.

Places like Butte, Miles City, or Anaconda might offer more affordable housing and living expenses compared to cities closer to the Rockies or tourist-heavy areas.

4. What is the Cheapest Way to Visit Montana?

Opting for camping instead of hotels, cooking your food, and exploring low-cost attractions like state parks and hiking trails can cut costs while visiting Montana.

Also, traveling during the off-peak seasons can often result in cheaper accommodation and fewer crowds.

Fascinated by this topic? Dive deeper into Montana with these recommended articles:

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Written by:

Elizabeth Hawley
Hey, fellow travelers! I'm Elizabeth Hawley, stepping into the world in the hues of fall. For me, Montana is more than just a state; it's a muse. The golden aspen trees and russet landscapes in the fall have always fueled my creativity. Co-founding was a no-brainer, blending my love for art, photography, and Montana's ever-changing palette.

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