Our Top Cheap Travel Destination: Anaconda, Montana

By: Steven Gillman

Looking for cheap travel destinations is a habit we developed during leaner times. Necessary or not, it still means being able to do more for the money. We also continually discover that the cheaper places can be just as much fun. Anaconda, Montana is a great example of this.

When we first drove into Anaconda in 2002, we loved this little mountain town immediately. We bought a nice house the next day for $17,500. A few months later we sold the home for a small profit and moved on, but we have wondered about the town over the years, so in August of 2007 we returned for a visit.

The home prices may have doubled or tripled since 2002, but this is still one of the more beautiful and affordable vacation destinations you'll find. Anaconda is surrounded by mountains. At the east edge of town is the Old Works Golf Course, designed by Jack Nicholas. 18 holes cost between $29 and $46. Twenty miles away is the Discovery Ski Basin. It has some of the steepest lift-served skiing around, and a full day is just $32.

If you stay in Anaconda, you can find a nice room in one of the several hotels for around $60 to $80. The Harp and Thistle Inn downtown (Main and Commercial), a classic historical building, has rooms for about $43, or you can rent one for the whole week for $140.

On weekends, the noise from the bar downstairs may keep you up, but if you decide to join the party, there is hardly a drink they don't serve.

There are several campgrounds in the area, and some are as cheap as $10 per night. You can also do as we did and camp for free along any of the dirt roads that head into the national forest lands west of town. There are also two RV parks in Anaconda.

We never have been gamblers, but it is cheap entertainment here. The dozen or so casinos in town all have nickel slot machines. On Park Street Nickel Annies will give you $2 just for signing in, and the 1st Quarter Restaurant and Casino (also on Park) always has free snacks out, as well as free drinks while you gamble. Buy a copy of the Anaconda Leader newspaper (50-cents - it comes out on Wednesday and Saturday) and you'll usually find coupons good for a free $3 of play at several places. Will these deals last until you get there? Who knows, but they have been running the same specials since we lived here five years ago.

The Washoe Theater, on Main Street, was built in 1936 with Art Deco furnishings, murals, and ornamentation in silver, copper and gold leaf. It's on the National Register of Historic Sites, and is rated a national treasure by the Smithsonian Institution, due to the lavish interior. A ticket costs just $4, and it may be the only movie theater where you can still get a small popcorn or drink for under a dollar (90 cents each). For 25-cents extra you can sit up in the balcony.

Ready for a beer or some music? The Rock Inn, on Commercial, has live music on Saturday nights - no cover charge. The Classic Cafe, on Park, has draft beer for $1.25. To really go cheap, drop a few nickels in a slot machine - most of the casinos in town offer free drinks while you play.

When we lost at the casinos, hours of entertainment cost us less than ten dollars. A basket of fries, three beers and two cups of tea cost us a total of $8.25 at the Classic Cafe, with free wi-fi internet. Wi-fi is also available for free here in the beautiful Hearst Library on Fourth and Main, where I am writing this. At the momentFree Articles, Anaconda is our top cheap travel destination.

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