Despite rising costs everywhere, some of the most rewarding travel experiences in Bozeman can still be had for free.

If you’re into the great outdoors on a tight budget, then you’re particularly in luck. The epic hiking, mountain biking and backpacking in the Gallatin Valley are all free, with no parking fees at trailheads or fees to access trails or national forests. As an added bonus, Bozeman’s summer festivals offer a slice of arts, music and culture – gratis.

Check out the following events and activities that everyone can enjoy in Bozeman at no cost.

Catch a free concert at downtown’s Music on Main

Head to downtown Bozeman on a Thursday evening in summer and you’ll enjoy free live music thanks to the annual Music on Main festival. Drink stands and food trucks are on standby to keep you fed and watered as local Bozeman- and Montana-based bands play their hearts out. Concerts run from late July to mid-September, including during the Sweet Pea Festival, a free week-long arts festival in August.

Take in the Bozeman art scene on a free art walk

Free art walks take place monthly in Bozeman, linking together the Emerson Center for the Arts, Bozeman Art Museum and several private downtown galleries, many of which offer free canapés and live music for droppers-in. Chat with artists at the Emerson, then head to Visions West Contemporary to eye up cool, contemporary Western art in a relaxed vibe. Walks take place on the second Friday of the month from July through September (with a bonus winter walk in December).

If an art walk isn’t happening during your visit, then grab a map and track down the collection of outdoor sculptures curated by the Gallatin Art Crossing, an art trail leading from the Emerson Art Center to Bozeman Public Library and on to Sculpture Park south of downtown. You’ll feel like you’re on an urban scavenger hunt as you track down these publicly displayed artworks.

Stroll through Bozeman’s farmers markets

During the summer (June to September) Bozeman is blessed with two weekly farmers markets, both of which offer the best of locally grown and handcrafted items. Tuesday’s Bozeman Farmers Market at Lindley Park is closest to downtown – yet Saturday’s Gallatin Valley Farmers Market is bigger, with around 200 vendors gathering at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds. There are also twice-monthly markets in winter. No tickets are necessary to enter; after you do, you’ll find live music galore and plenty of free samples. (Though we can’t guarantee you won’t walk away with armfuls of purchased goodies.)

The snow-capped peaks of the Bridger Mountains in winter
Views of the majestic Bridger Mountains are always free ©Carol Polich/Lonely Planet

Pack a backpack and go for a hike

If you want to burn calories and save pennies at the same time, there’s plenty of great hiking in Bozeman, even within the city limits. Hike the popular “M” or nearby Drinking Horse Mountain trails from the same trailhead in the northern suburbs, or head up to Peets Hill/Burke Park inside town, along the Bozeman or Gallagator trails, for some fine sunset views or winter sledding.

Heading further afield, dozens of fantastic day hikes in the Gallatin and Bridger Mountains south and north of town beckon. Check out our favorite hikes around Bozeman for inspiration.

Sunbathe at Bozeman Beach or cycle the town’s trails

Bozeman has several good city parks, all of which are happily free. Glen Lake Rotary Park is particularly worth a visit on a hot summer’s day, as it boasts a lake and a sandy beach (800 miles from the sea), with volleyball and paddle boarding, along with picnic tables and three miles of hiking trails.

The town of Bozeman offers miles of hiking and biking trails inside the city limits as part of its Main Street to the Mountains network. See the map and plan a route at Gallatin Valley Land Trust.

Get cultured with some Shakespeare in the Parks

Theater fans should not miss the two free Shakespeare plays performed in June by Bozeman’s Shakespeare in the Parks. The plays are presented as they first were at the Elizabethan-era Globe Theater in London: in the open air (in this case at MSU Duck Pond). Bring a camp chair.

The professional troupe (which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2022) tours Montana after the Bozeman performances, giving an impressive 60 performances in two months, before returning to Bozeman for an encore during August’s Sweet Pea Festival.

Brother and sisters playing in small tent on a rocky creek bank
You don’t need to shell out for a permit to enjoy camping in the Gallatin Valley © Darrin Klimek / Getty Images

Head into the wilderness for some backcountry camping

You don’t need to shell out $20 for a Forest Service campsite thanks to several free, numbered, dispersed camping sites in the Hyalite Valley, southeast of Bozeman. (Dispersed camping is allowed at other sites, but only at least a half-mile away from a road.) Check with the USFS office in town for exact locations and regulations.

Backcountry camping in the Custer Gallatin National Forest around Bozeman requires no permit or fees – so backpackers can head off into the wilderness and find the perfect wild camping spot. Be sure to stay 50 yards from a river or lake and to Leave No Trace.

Camp for free at Fairy Lake or Battle Ridge

Up in the Bridger Mountains, perfectly situated next to a beautiful turquoise lake, is Fairy Lake Campground, which, perhaps surprisingly, charges no fees. It’s a great choice for families, who can stroll around the lake, and for day hikers headed up to Sacagawea Peak. (Note that low-clearance vehicles will struggle on the rough, five-mile gravel road.) No reservations are accepted – so get here early, especially on summer weekends. It's open July through September, and is 23 miles from Bozeman.

If you’re up for some hiking in the Bridger Mountains you can also consider Battle Ridge, a pack-in, pack-out Forest Service campground 22 miles from Bozeman, offering a dozen free sites but no water.

Take the bus around town for free

Bozeman’s Streamline Bus is a city transit service operating four routes in town – all free of charge – including late-night services on Friday and Saturday nights until 2am between downtown and the MSU college district. There are also free bus services within Big Sky and from Bozeman to Bridger Bowl Ski Resort in winter.

Learn to cast during a free fly-fishing class

Making that first step into the world of fly fishing can be daunting – which is why the free, hour-long Orvis 101 classes offered by Bozeman’s Fins and Feathers are such a great deal. Offered twice a week in summer, the sessions teach the basics of casting. They’re understandably popular, so register well in advance. (A reasonably priced – if not fully free – alternative is the two-hour, $25 Foundations of Fly Fishing class.)

A Tyrannosaurus skeleton on display at the Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman
Local library members can score gratis entry to admire the dinosaurs at the Museum of Rockies ©Hugh K Telleria/Shutterstock

Celebrate your Montana residency with some free stuff

Montana residents are eligible for some useful freebies in Bozeman. Those with a library card can apply for a free entry ticket to the Museum of the Rockies. At the other end of the activity spectrum, residents can also score free ice-climbing tuition at Hyalite Canyon on Friday afternoons through Montana Alpine Guides. Those with Montana plates will also pay lower parking and camping fees in state parks like the Headwaters of the Missouri. Being a Montanan comes with many advantages.

You might also like:
The best hikes in Bozeman for outdoor splendor
The best outdoor activities in Bozeman, Montana are easy to come by
Fly fishing and beyond: 8 Montana adventures

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