Summer is halfway over, and if you're like us, you are still looking for fun things to do in the summer without blowing the rest of your budget. Believe it or not, there are summer activities in Helena, Bozeman, and their surrounding areas that will be fun for you and your whole family.
In Helena you could be doing these things
Montana WILD is located right by Spring Meadow Lake State Park. You can let your kids burn up their energy running around the lake using the paved and unpaved trails. They can also jump into the lake to cool off from the heat of the summer. Once you have had your fill of fun in the sun, make your way inside to the wildlife education center. Exhibits include the Living Stream Aquarium and displays of Montana fish and wildlife. If you pick the right day, you and your kids can join the Spring Meadow Lake Scavenger Hunt or get in on some of the live exhibits that Montana WILD offers.
Plan ahead and pack a blanket and a picnic lunch. By the time late afternoon rolls around you will have had exercise, fun in the sun, and learned a bit about Montana’s great fish and wildlife. And it was free of charge.
Just in case you, like many of us, are at work all day; Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has your back. Family friendly evening activities include family fishing, youth archery, and a movie night. There is even late-night adventuring with a midnight bat walk! Be sure and check the calendar here and see if registration is necessary.
Gates of the Mountains
Gates of the Mountains is another option for a fun thing to do in the summer. This day trip is about 20 miles north of Helena and offers history, boating, and a fun day of sunshine. The marina is located on the south end of Holter Lake and is part of the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area. Lewis Meriwether referred to this location as the “Gates of the Mountains,” because as you look behind you traveling through the canyon, the towering limestone cliffs appear to close as a gate would.
With several departure times throughout the summer this ride will give you a chance to see wildlife and historical pictographs. You will view Mann Gulch while the guide recounts the tragedy where thirteen smokejumpers lost their lives in August of 1949. The Missouri River provides beautiful scenery and history during this two-hour tour. Cameras and binoculars are recommended, young children are not.
A family of five will be entertained for the day at the reasonable cost of $62. Pack a lunch and have a picnic at the stop along the tour to help keep this trip on budget. Online reservations guarantee boat seating. Directions and more information can be found here.
Geocaching is an activity we've all heard of, but what is it really? And how do you do it? Geocaching is when you use a GPS device or use the Geocaching app to join the world of treasure hunters. In 2013, Rand McNally named Helena the number one spot for Geocaching in the United States!
The caches are small containers or boxes that you locate using GPS coordinates. When you find the cache, there is usually a small logbook and a pencil where you can add your own personal thoughts. Sometimes there is a little treasure or trinket that you can keep. When this happens, there is a rule to follow; if you take a treasure, you must leave a treasure for the next hunter.
Within 30 miles of Helena there are over 800 caches. You can easily rent a GPS unit at The Base Camp. These Garmin units are only $5 per day and come with an information pamphlet listing sites and coordinates. This video showcases the sounds and scenery at one cache site.
Geocaching has a blog, a YouTube channel, and a forum for educators, so that you can learn more about the summer activity. Spend a day or an hour hunting for caches in the area, knowing that you found a fun summer activity that's actually affordable.
Happening in Bozeman
Emerson Center for the Arts & Culture
Count on the Emerson Center to provide several summer activities to keep you and your family busy at little or no cost. Every Wednesday during the summer enjoy live music via the Lunch on the Lawn Series. Beginning at 11:30 am relax to live music, children’s activities, and local food vendors. Bring a blanket and if you want to keep the budget tight, pack a lunch. There is no admission but get there early because the fun ends at 1:30 pm.
During the summer, The Emerson Center also offers no cost enrichment and culture the second Friday of every month. The event, Downtown Bozeman Art Walks begins at 6:00 pm but the Emerson Center opens an hour earlier with access to their galleries, beverages, and snacks.
Montana Grizzly Encounter
Just in case you haven’t seen a grizzly bear, head on over to Montana Grizzly Encounter. These grizzly bears were rescued from captive situations, some of which were inhumane conditions. For that reason, these bears cannot be released into the wild.
At most, you will see two bears in the viewing area at a time, this is because Montana Grizzly Encounter keeps track of which bears get along, and only puts them together if they are sure they will be in safe environments. You will have a chance to learn about all of them; their names, stories, and different personalities. Human education of bears helps to keep you safe in the wilderness, and keep the bears safe in their natural habitats.
A family of five can enjoy this center at the reasonable cost of $34-40, however, if you have young children this summer activity might not be for you. 85% of admissions fees and 100% of the gift store earnings go directly to the maintaining the bears and keeping the center open, so you can feel good knowing that this summer activity is doing good in the community.
The fresh grown staples of a farmer’s market are available and local food vendors mean that you can have dinner at the market and not heat up the kitchen. Starting at 5:00 pm and ending at 8:00 pm the Bogert Farmer’s Market has you covered through September 25th.
Add some exercise to your trip, and climb Peet’s Hill before or after your trip to the farmer’s market. Considered a moderate climb, this off leash dog friendly park is easy to access from Bogert Park. Views from the top include the Bozeman Valley and distant mountain ranges.
Day Trips and Excursions on a Budget
If you have budgeted a certain amount for a day adventure and come home with a wallet lighter than you intended, review the day. Check any admissions receipts and make sure that you were charged correctly. Did you stop at a convenience store for chips and drinks? If so look at that receipt.
The number one area where spending gets out of control is eating out. To stop this before it gets started, plan ahead. Pack a cooler that includes everyone’s water bottles. If you will be gone over lunch, plan to pack one. Even if you plan to cook dinner when you are back home, pack snacks. This will keep everyone full and keep kids and adults from getting hangry - a phenomenon that no one wants to experience after a fun day in the sun.
Sticking to your budget while still enjoying the fun things to do in summer, doesn't have to be impossible. If you want help budgeting your next month of summer activities, download our free budget worksheet.