The wide open space that Montana is famed for is also the reason the cost of a trip can quickly add up – getting around this beautiful state to see and experience everything can burn up your bank account.

But there are ways to stretch your dollars and visit Montana on a budget. The incredible landscape is mostly free to enjoy, and outdoor activities are the name of the game. From major free events during the summer season, opting for self-catering to save on both accommodations and eating out, and getting creative with transport options, there are lots of ways to save money on a trip to the Treasure State. 

Daily costs

  • Campsite: $0–34
  • Hostel room: $30–60 (dorm bed)
  • Basic room for two: $130–180
  • Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): from $130
  • Gas price: $3.546 / gallon (regular)
  • Drip coffee: $2.50–3.50
  • Breakfast sandwich: $7–8
  • Fast-bite lunch: $10–12
  • Dinner for two: $60–90
  • IPA at a brewery: $6–7

Average daily cost: $40–220

A tent pitched at the edge of a mountain lake on a sunny day
Camping in Montana is either cheap or free but comes with priceless views. Elliot Stevenson / Getty Images

1. The cheapest airport is probably the one closest to your destination

Montana is immense, taking at least 11 hours to drive across the state. And because it's not a common connection for other flights, it's not always cheap or easy to fly there. But if you find affordable flights, they're probably landing at Bozeman Yellowstone International, the state's busiest airport, or the expanding Missoula Montana Airport.

But if you want to explore other parts of the state, any money you saved by flying into Bozeman or Missoula could be negated by travel costs. If heading to Glacier, try looking for flights to Glacier International Airport in Kalispell. And for those wanting to check out places like Fort Peck Lake or Makoshika State Park in eastern Montana, Billings Logan International Airport is a better starting point.

2. Attend free events throughout the summer

Every season adds to the beautiful landscape in Montana, but the summer makes everything shine. And Montana's cities and towns know how to celebrate the nice weather with family-friendly and free events almost every day of the week.

Hang around Caras Park on the Clark Fork River in Missoula, and you might catch live music on Wednesday afternoons or Thursday evenings as part of the Out to Lunch or Downtown ToNight series. This beautiful community space is also home to the Saturday Farmers' Market and ground central for First Friday celebrations every month. 

3. Travel during Montana's "off-seasons"

Scenic landscapes don't go dormant in Montana, but there is an off-season where you'll find better hotel rates and cheaper flights. Spring skiing and wildflower treks define this slow time between March through early May, with a chance of daytime showers and low overnight temps. Cloudy weather and the first hints of snow define a similar stretch between mid-September through October, alongside crisp autumn foliage and a good excuse for a campfire.

A male hiker stands on a rocky outcrop in the forest looking out at the view
Hiking is a way of life in Montana, and it's completely free. Kelly vanDellen / Shutterstock

4. Go for a hike

You'll notice that most people you meet in Montana always look ready to go on a hike, and that's probably because they are. There are hiking trailheads around every corner, and there's a community emphasis on protecting the wild lands they traverse. Whether a slow ramble next to the river or an all-day excursion to a mountaintop, hiking is a way of life in Montana for several reasons, including its ease of access and affordability.  

An entire summer season would be well spent hiking the public lands surrounding Bozeman free of charge, courtesy of Custer Gallatin National Forest. The College M Hiking Trail is an excellent place to start, seen prominently throughout town and part of the Main Street to the Mountains network. And less than 60 miles south, Beehive Basin, beneath the looming Lone Peak, belongs on everyone's hiking bucket list.

5. Fuel up at grocery stores and farmers markets

Montana has no sales tax, making it easier to stick to a budget when shopping at grocery stores, and shopping at an Albertsons or WinCo Foods is an excellent way to save money on vacation. Non-perishable items like trail mix and canned soup go a long way on a Montana camping excursion, while deli bars and made-to-eat options offer reasonably affordable options on the fly.

Farmers markets are a regular occurence throughout the extended summer season in almost every city. Plan a vacation around one of these community events and add some fresh produce to the diet. Food truck vendors also line the perimeters of these and other summer events with more affordable fares than traditional sit-down restaurants.

Woman looking out van window at bison in Yellowstone
Save money by only hiring a car for days you really need it. Abigail Marie / Shutterstock

6. You might not need a car for your whole trip (or at all)

Don't rent a car for the days you don't need one. Public transportation and ride-shares are available from all airports with a short trip into their respective cities, all endowed with buses, shuttles, and sidewalk rentals like bikes and scooters. Instead of paying for a car to sit in the driveway most of the day, consider only renting for days with planned out-of-town explorations.

7. Camp the night away

One of the best ways to save money on a Montana vacation is by camping under the stars. Designated campgrounds punctuate the national forests, national parks and state parks throughout Montana, featuring campsites for tents and RVs, always at a fraction of a hotel room cost. Just be sure to book months ahead for popular sites, such as anywhere in Glacier National Park. 

Free primitive camping is also available throughout the vast acreage of Montana's national forests. Primitive sites typically comprise a pull-out from a Forest Service road with zero amenities like running water or restrooms. Aim to camp at an already established pull-out, i.e., where someone else has camped before, and follow all tenets of Leave No Trace while free camping in Montana's national forests.

A senior couple smile on the porch of a wooden cabin
The cost of staying in a cabin starts at around $20 per night © Ryan McVay / Getty Images

8. Stay in a Forest Service cabin

If snoozing under canvas isn't for you, there are still plenty of options to sleep with four walls and a roof and save some money. The US Forest Service maintains approximately 100 cabins, lookouts and guard stations throughout the state, like Crystal Lake Cabin and Thompson Guard Station in Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. 

Recreation cabins range from $45 a night for the one-room Moose Lake Cabin near Georgetown Lake to $90 for the six-person Meyers Creek Cabin in Custer-Gallatin National Forest. Amenities vary widely between each place to stay, and some require a 4WD vehicle to access or a lengthy hike, bike ride or even backcountry ski. 

9. Bunk up at a hostel

Hostels aren't abundant in Montana, though some of the state's biggest adventure basecamps offer these economical solutions. Check out the Treasure State Hostel in Bozeman for bunk beds and private rooms, and likewise for the Shady Spruce Hostel in Missoula. And like any hostel experience, don't forget to pack earplugs and a sleep mask, and be open to meeting other travelers.

North Fork Hostel & Square Peg Ranch has offered dormitory rooms near Glacier National Park for over 40 years. This picturesque facility near Polebridge also provides private rooms, satellite cabins and camping options alongside charming communal areas like a book-strewn living room and self-serve kitchen facilities. Reservations are required.

10. Score yourself a ski deal come winter

Montana should be on your radar for a ski vacation. Enormous acreage and heavy snowfall complement the affordable lift tickets and general lack of crowds. Expect a daily lift ticket for under $100 at all Montana ski spots, except for one, but Big Sky Resort is worth the heftier price tag.

And many Montana ski resorts, including Big Sky, offer discounts for things like advance online purchasing and additional deals like hotel packages or promotional events. But perhaps none are as liberal as Lookout Pass, straddling two timezones and the Montana/Idaho border, with things like Birthday Passes, Toyota Days, and Bring-a-Friend Thursdays.

This article was first published Sep 22, 2023 and updated Jul 21, 2024.

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