Outdoors on the Cheap

Although money is tight for many Montana families, there's an abundance of low-cost outdoor recreational activities right outside the front door. From state parks to rivers to fishing access sites, there's something for everyone, so why not hit the road?

State Park Road Trip
June is Family Month at Lewis & Clark Caverns. Two adults and two children can have an "out-of-this-world" experience in the caverns for $20. After your caverns tour, hop on your bikes or put on your hiking boots and hit the park's nine miles of trails. It's a great place to see wildlife and many bird species. Or set off toward Bannack and experience Montana's first territorial capital. The ghosts of Bannack—gold miners, vigilantes, saloonkeeps, and dancing girls—keep this abandoned town alive. Visit on July 18 and 19 for Bannack Days, which offers demonstrations, dramatic reenactments, and hands-on activities for the whole family. On your way back to town, visit Madison Buffalo Jump State Park and experience the geologic hunting tool that drew native people to this region. Here they used remarkable skill to drive buffalo off the cliff, which ultimately provided food, clothing, shelter, tools, and weapons. (Note: If you have a light vehicle with Montana plates, an optional $4 fee gets you free admission to all Montana state parks.)

Rivers, Lakes, and Fishing-Access Sites
We're fortunate to have an abundance of world-renown blue-ribbon streams. Whether you're casting a line for trout on the upper Madison, whitewater rafting in Bear Trap or Yankee Jim canyons, canoeing on the Yellowstone, motoring on Canyon Ferry Lake, or floating the lower Madison on an inner tube on a beautiful sunny day, we've got it all. Along those rivers and lakes are 91 fishing access sites to put in and take out, picnic, fish, and play. Some also allow camping. To get a list of access sites, check out fwp.mt.gov/lands/searchfas.aspx.

Wildlife Management Areas
In the winter months, Wildlife Management Areas provide vital habitat for big game and other wildlife species. In the summer months they're open to the public for hiking, antler collecting, wildlife watching, camping, and many other activities. There are 11 Wildlife Management Areas in southwest Montana, many just a short drive from Bozeman. For example, Dome Mountain in the Paradise Valley has wildlife viewing opportunities galore-elk, mule deer, black bears, eagles, hawks, ducks, and more. Dailey Lake offers rainbow trout, perch, and walleyes. Mountaineers can set up camp at Bear Creek Wildlife Management Area on the east side of the Madison Valley. From there, climb Sphinx Mountain (10,876 feet) in the rugged Madison Range for an incredible reward of breathtaking views. An abundance of wildlife-wolves, elk, grizzly and black bears-can make for a truly special trip.