The Complete Guide to Camping in Yellowstone National Park

Camping in Yellowstone National Park is one of the best ways to explore the crown jewel of America’s national park system.

Notable as the world’s first national park, a Yellowstone camping trip should be high on every outdoor lover’s camping bucket list.

In addition to the stunning natural beauty, visitors can observe the diverse array of wildlife that calls the park home and explore the widespread geothermal activity that has helped shape the park over thousands of years.

Although cabins, lodges, and hotels are available both inside and outside of the park, staying at a Yellowstone campground will give you a true taste of what this outdoor wonderland is all about.

Here is our ultimate visitors guide to help you plan your Yellowstone National Park camping trip.

Index

  1. Highlights
  2. Park Layout
  3. Best Campgrounds in the Park
  4. Other Park Campgrounds
  5. Best Campgrounds Near the Park
  6. Free Camping
  7. Other Lodging
  8. Camping Gear Checklist
  9. Additional Camping Tips
  10. Must-See Destinations
  11. Hiking & Backpacking
  12. Other Park Activities
  13. Things to Do Nearby
  14. Plan Your Visit
  15. Sample Camping Itineraries

Yellowstone National Park Highlights

Established in 1872, Yellowstone is not only the first national park in the United States, but also the first national park in the world.

Today, over 4,200,000 people visit Yellowstone National Park each year, making it the 6th most visited national park in the country.

The vast majority of the (just under) 3,500 square mile park is located in the northwest corner of Wyoming. Small slivers also stretch into Idaho and Montana.

Although much of the park, including some of its wildlife, can be seen from established roads, the true essence of Yellowstone lays off the beaten path.

Surprisingly, the majority of visitors don’t venture more than one hundred yards from a parking lot, paved path, or boardwalk. This makes it easy to see a side of the park few others have seen – just set off a mile or two on one of Yellowstone’s popular day hikes.

Wildlife sightings are also central to the Yellowstone National Park visitor experience. Wake up early for the best chance of seeing grizzly bears, gray wolves, bighorn sheep, and other rare animal species. Bison, on the other hand, are a common sight, even causing Yellowstone traffic jams while lazily crossing the road!

Yellowstone’s unique position atop the Yellowstone Caldera, a massive super volcano, gives the park its famous geothermal features. These include Old Faithful, a water geyser that erupts to over 100 feet roughly every hour, as well as boiling mud pots, brilliantly colored hot springs, and steaming fumaroles.

Although visiting Yellowstone in the winter is possible, many of the roads, campgrounds, and other visitor services are closed. June to August is undoubtedly the most popular time to visit. April to May or September to November have cooler temperatures but smaller crowds.

You can spend years camping in Yellowstone National Park – but with a little planning, it’s easy to see all the major attractions on a single trip.

Yellowstone National Park Layout

There are five entrances to Yellowstone National Park.

The entrance that you should take depends on where you’re coming from, what you want to see, where you plan to go next, and the time of year you’re visiting.

Your best bet is to consult a detailed map of Yellowstone. This will also help you decide the best campgrounds to stay at on your trip.

The North Entrance sits on US 89 just south of Gardiner, Montana. It’s the only entrance that’s open year-round. Nearby attractions include Mammoth Hot Springs.

The Northeast Entrance sits on US 212 west of Red Lodge, Montana. You pass through Cooke City, Montana just before entering the park. This is arguably the most stunning entrance to the park as you pass through the Beartooth Mountains shortly before dropping down into Lamar Valley, one of the best places to see wildlife in Yellowstone.

The East Entrance sits on the Yellowstone Highway (US 16-20-14) about an hour east of Cody, Wyoming. Fans of Old West history shouldn’t miss the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody. This entrance brings you right to Yellowstone Lake and several nearby campgrounds.

The South Entrance is just shy of 60 miles north of Jackson, Wyoming (also known as Jackson Hole) on the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Highway. Along the way, you’ll pass right by Grand Teton National Park, home to one of the most striking mountain landscapes in the United States. Upon entering Yellowstone, you’re in for a 20-mile drive before reaching the West Thumb Geyser Basin.

The West Entrance is located on US 20 just east of West Yellowstone, Montana. This town is among the busiest gateways to Yellowstone National Park and has dining, shopping, lodging, and camping opportunities galore. This entrance brings you to the Madison Area of the park and is just a short drive to geothermal attractions like Grand Prismatic Spring and Old Faithful Geyser.

The main road around Yellowstone is known as the Grand Loop. It loops 142 miles around the park (with a connecting road through the middle, making it a figure 8). It passes by almost all of Yellowstone’s main attractions. The Grand Loop can be driven in a single day but you’re far better off spending at least one or two nights (if not more) completing the circumnavigation.

It takes between four and seven hours to drive the Grand Loop in Yellowstone National Park with (extremely) minimal time for stopping.

Best Campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park

Camping in Yellowstone National Park is the best way to get the full Yellowstone experience.

There are currently 12 campgrounds in Yellowstone. The five largest are managed by Xanterra. These also have the most amenities and offer reservations. The National Park Service manages the remaining seven first-come, first-served campgrounds. These are typically smaller and more primitive.

Here are the best campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park.

Bridge Bay Campground

Bridge Bay Campground is the largest campground in Yellowstone National Park. It’s beautiful location next to Yellowstone Lake makes it very popular with anglers and boaters.

This Yellowstone campground is open mid-May to mid-September. It has 400 reservable sites and is RV friendly. Flush toilets and running water are available.

Learn more about Bridge Bay Campground.

Canyon Campground

Canyon Campground is one of the most popular campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park. It’s located just one mile from the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Visit the canyon to observe the two towering waterfalls and hike the North Rim Trail for a closer look.

This Yellowstone National Park campground is open late May to late September. It has 270 reservable sites and is RV friendly. Flush toilets, running water, and showers are available.

Learn more about Canyon Village Campground.

Fishing Bridge RV Park

RV camping in Yellowstone National Park doesn’t get much better than Fishing Bridge RV Park. The only campground in Yellowstone with full RV hookups, it’s also conveniently located on Yellowstone Lake’s scenic north shore.

This Yellowstone campground is open early May to mid-September. It has 340 reservable sites designated for RVs only. Flush toilets, running water, showers, and laundry services are available.

Learn more about Fishing Bridge RV Park.

Grant Village Campground

The bustling Grant Village Campground is located on the southwest shore of Yellowstone Lake. It’s an excellent jumping off point for exploring the geothermal features in West Thumb Geyser Basin, including Abyss Pool and Fishing Cone.

This Yellowstone National Park campground is open early June to mid-September. It has over 400 reservable sites and is RV friendly. Flush toilets, running water, and showers are available.

Learn more about Grant Village Campground.

Indian Creek Campground

If peace and quiet is what’s on your Yellowstone camping radar, then Indian Creek Campground might be for you. In addition to its relatively small size, the use of generators is prohibited, further promoting a sense of calm serenity.

This Yellowstone campground is open mid-June to mid-September. It has 70 first-come, first-served sites and is RV friendly (no generators). It has vault toilets only.

Learn more about Indian Creek Campground.

Lewis Lake Campground

Another quiet, low-key place for camping in Yellowstone, Lewis Lake Campground is notable as the southernmost campground in the park. In addition to its location near the Lewis Lake hiking trail, the campground serves as a great resting point on the way to Grand Teton National Park to the south of Yellowstone.

This Yellowstone campground is open mid-June to early November. It has 85 first-come, first-served sites and is RV friendly. It has vault toilets only.

Learn more about Lewis Lake Campground.

Madison Campground

Just 13 miles from Yellowstone National Park’s west entrance, Madison Campground is a popular home base for exploring nearby Old Faithful and the Madison River. It’s riverside location makes it a popular campground for fly fishing in Yellowstone.

This Yellowstone National Park campground is open from late April to mid-October. It has 278 reservable sites and is RV friendly. Flush toilets and running water are available.

Learn more about Madison Campground.

Mammoth Campground

Mammoth Campground, also known as Mammoth Hot Springs Campground, is the only Yellowstone National Park campground that’s open year-round. It’s located a short walk away from its namesake Mammoth Hot Springs, one of Yellowstone’s most popular visitor attractions.

This Yellowstone campground is open all year round, although there’s a 30 foot length limit for RV camping in the winter. It has 85 first-come, first-served sites and is RV friendly. Flush toilets and running water is available.

Learn more about Mammoth Hot Springs Campground.

Norris Campground

The centrally located Norris Campground, sometimes called Norris Hot Springs Campground, is undoubtedly one of the most pleasant places for camping in Yellowstone. It sits on the Gibbon River (home to excellent fly fishing) next to a large meadow where bison sightings are common. Norris Geyser Basin is a short distance away as is the Museum of the National Park Ranger.

This Yellowstone campground is open mid-May to late September. It has 111 first-come, first-served sites and is RV friendly. Flush toilets and running water is available.

Learn more about Norris Hot Springs Campground.

Pebble Creek Campground

Remote camping in Yellowstone National Park doesn’t get much better than Pebble Creek Campground. Located in the far northeast corner of the park, it’s the ideal place jumping off point for viewing wildlife in the Lamar Valley (including your greatest chance to see wolves).

This Yellowstone campground is open mid-June to late September. It has 27 first-come, first-served sites and is RV friendly (no generators). It has vault toilets only.

Learn more about Pebble Creek Campground.

Slough Creek Campground

Slough Creek Campground is chief among the most legendary places to go camping in Yellowstone. It’s nestled along the banks of Slough Creek two miles into the famous Lamar Valley. Arrive early – this first-come, first-served campground typically fills up just after sunrise.

This Yellowstone National Park campground is open mid-June to early October. It has 16 first-come, first-served sites and is RV friendly (up to 30’). It has vault toilets only.

Learn more about Slough Creek Campground.

Tower Fall Campground

Tower Fall Campground is the perfect place for exploring the northern reaches of Yellowstone National Park. Just across the road from the beautiful 132 foot Tower Fall, it’s perched high upon the uniquely beautiful Dunraven Pass. Nearby Mount Washburn Trail is a popular 6.5-mile roundtrip hike that provides panoramic views of the surrounding area.

This Yellowstone campground is open late May to late September. It has 31 first-come, first-served sites and is RV friendly. It has vault toilets only.

Learn more about Tower Fall Campground.

Other Campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park

Camping in Yellowstone National Park is a sometimes hectic experience.

Thanks to the park’s incredible natural beauty, the main Yellowstone campgrounds become crowded during the summer. Luckily, a wide variety of backcountry camping options give you the opportunity to enjoy camping in some of the park’s less developed areas.

Here are the best backcountry campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park.

Backcountry Campgrounds

Yellowstone National Park is home to over 300 designated backcountry campsites.

Connected by over a thousand miles of hiking trails, backpackers have an almost endless variety of trips to choose from. Many trails even allow horseback riding and camping – there are even a few boat-in campsites in Yellowstone.

Among the most popular Yellowstone backpacking trips are the 17-mile roundtrip Firehole Meadows trail, the 23-mile roundtrip Shoshone Lake trail, and the short 4.7-mile there-and-back jaunt to a handful of backcountry campsites near Ribbon Lake.

Remember to pick up backcountry permits for all overnight wilderness camping and boat trips at a park ranger station.

Backcountry camping in Yellowstone is limited to minimize environmental impact, so arrive early to score a permit. Advance reservations are available for a portion of the park’s backcountry campsites – and are recommended for the most popular destinations.

The national park service advises all backpackers to develop a back-up itinerary (ideally to a less popular area of the park) just in case their first choice is already filled.

A fee of $3 per person per night is charged for all backpackers and boaters during the peak season (Memorial Day to September 10).

In addition to following all wildlife safety best practices, including using a bear canister to store food and carrying bear spray while hiking, all backpackers should be very careful when traveling through backcountry geothermal areas that don’t always have boardwalks.

Our beginner’s guide to backpacking is an excellent resource to start planning your Yellowstone backpacking trip.

Learn more about the best backpacking in Yellowstone National Park.

Best Campgrounds Near Yellowstone National Park

Camping while visiting Yellowstone doesn’t necessarily mean camping within the national park itself.

There is a lot of fantastic camping just outside the park’s borders. Some of the campgrounds near Yellowstone are small and help you avoid the crowds while others are large and full of amenities for RV campers.

Here are a few of the best campgrounds near Yellowstone National Park.

Baker’s Hole Campground

Located just minutes north of West Yellowstone outside the park’s west entrance, Baker’s Hole Campground has 73 first-come, first-served campsites. 33 of these campsites have electrical hookups. This Custer Gallatin National Forest campground is situated alongside the Madison River.

Learn more about Baker’s Hole Campground.

Big Game Campground

Big Game Campground is located about midway between Yellowstone’s east entrance and Cody, Wyoming. This quiet Shoshone National Forest campground has 16 reservable campsites. It sits alongside the Shoshone River, making it a perfect place for fishing.

Learn more about Big Game Campground.

Buffalo Bill State Park

Buffalo Bill State Park is one of the best places for camping near Yellowstone National Park. It’s just 10 miles from Cody, Wyoming and 40 miles from the park’s east entrance. This campground has two reservable camping areas, one with 37 sites and the other with 62 sites, plus a group camping area. Many of the campsites have full RV hookups. The Buffalo Bill Dam Visitor Center is just minutes away.

Learn more about Buffalo Bill State Park.

Cody KOA

Families and RV campers love to include a stop at the Cody KOA on their Yellowstone camping trip. The large, spacious campground has dozens of RV sites with full hookups, a grassy tent camping area, and numerous camping cabins – all reservable online. A swimming pool, dog park, bike rentals, children’s fun zone, lawn games area, and free shuttle to the Cody Nite Rodeo are additional summer amenities.

Learn more about Cody KOA.

Colter Campground

Located just outside of Cooke City, Montana near the park’s northeast entrance, Colter Campground is a popular Yellowstone National Park campground for RV camping. This Custer Gallatin National Forest campground has 18 first-come, first-served campsites – but allows hard-sided camping only. This means no tent camping.

Learn more about Colter Campground.

Eagle Creek Campground

Just north of the park’s north entrance near Gardiner, Montana is Eagle Creek Campground. It has 16 first-come, first-served campsites for tent and RV camping. It’s one of the most affordable places to go camping near Yellowstone National Park.

Learn more about Eagle Creek Campground.

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park is just south of the south entrance into Yellowstone. Many visitors camp in Grand Teton, especially at Headwaters Campground at Flagg Ranch or Lizard Creek Campground, before entering Yellowstone.

Learn more about camping in Grand Teton National Park.

Soda Butte Campground

Another Yellowstone campground just off the Beartooth Highway near Cooke City, Soda Butte Campground is a quiet, peaceful place for RV camping. Like Colter Campground, another Custer Gallatin National Forest campground near Cooke City, Soda Butte allows hard-sided camping only – no tent camping is allowed.

Learn more about Soda Butte Campground.

Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park & Cabins

Another option for RV camping and cabin camping in Yellowstone is Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park & Cabins. Located just blocks from the park’s west entrance in West Yellowstone, this Yellowstone campground has large pull-thru RV sites with full hookups, three styles of camping cabins, and countless amenities. No tent camping is allowed. This RV Park is very close to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.

Learn more about Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park & Cabins.

Yellowstone RV Park

Just north of the park in Gardiner, Montana, Yellowstone RV Park is home to some of the best RV camping in Yellowstone National Park. In addition to its convenient location, it boasts large pull-thru sites, full RV hookups, free cable TV and free Wi-Fi, and a scenic location right on the Yellowstone River. A grassy tent camping area is also available. You can make reservations online.

Learn more about Yellowstone RV Park.

Yellowstone Park/Mountainside KOA

Another great KOA near Yellowstone, the Yellowstone Park/Mountainside KOA is located just 7.5 miles from the west entrance to the park. It accommodates even the biggest RVs with large pull-thru sites with full RV hookups. A grassy tent camping area and several camping cabins are other lodging options. The neighboring West Yellowstone Super 8 is perfect for those that prefer a motel over camping.

Learn more about Yellowstone Park/Mountainside KOA.

Yellowstone Park/Westgate KOA

Less than a mile and a half from the Yellowstone Park/Mountainside KOA and only 6 miles from the park’s west entrance, the Yellowstone Park/Westgate KOA is a fantastic option for RV camping, tent camping, and cabin camping in Yellowstone National Park. A swimming pool, bike rentals, mini golf, shuttle tours, pancake breakfast, and BBQ dinner are additional amenities offered during the summer months.

Learn more about Yellowstone Park/Westgate KOA.

Free Camping in Yellowstone National Park

It might seem too good to be true but free camping in Yellowstone National Park is possible.

Or, rather, free camping near Yellowstone is possible. No matter which of the five entrances you plan to arrive through, there is likely free camping close at hand.

The key is to start your search in the national forests and other public land surrounding the national park. Another option is camping on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land near Yellowstone.

Do note that most, if not all, free campsites near Yellowstone National Park are dispersed camping. This means few if any amenities (prepare for boondocking if you’re RV camping).

Although some of these camping areas will have port-a-potties or vault toilets, most do not. So prepare to go to the bathroom in the woods or buy a portable camping toilet. Bring all your own water and pack out all of your trash.

Like most campgrounds near Yellowstone, even the more remote of these free campsites fill up fast. Arrive early in the afternoon to ensure you have somewhere to stay the night.

FreeCampsites.net is an invaluable resource to find free campsites near Yellowstone National Park – and pretty much anywhere else in the country, for that matter.

Our ultimate guide to free camping in the United States has even more tips and tricks.

Other Lodging in Yellowstone National Park

If camping in Yellowstone doesn’t appeal to you, there’s plenty of other lodging options to choose from.

Lodging in Yellowstone National Park ranges from simple cabins to sprawling lodges. There are nine total hotels, lodges, and cabins within the park. Like Yellowstone campgrounds, these fill up fast. So make your reservations early (up to a year in advance at the more popular locations).

A wide range of hotels, motels, and cabins are available just outside of Yellowstone as well.

Canyon Lodge

Canyon Lodge is the largest lodging facility in the park with over 500 rooms and cabins. It’s located just minutes from the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

It’s open from early June to early October. It features multiple lodge buildings and a smattering of cabins as well as restaurants and gift shops.

Learn more about Canyon Lodge.

Grant Village Lodge

Grant Village Lodge boasts two hotel buildings with 50 rooms each. Rooms are slightly cheaper than most others in the park. It’s located near Grant Village Campground next to the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake.

It’s open mid-May to the beginning of October. In addition to the two hotel buildings, it features two restaurants, a cafeteria, a lounge, and a gift shop.

Learn more about Grant Village Lodge.

Lake Lodge Cabins

Lake Lodge Cabins are located on the shore of Lake Yellowstone. They feature a main lodge building flanked with several small log cabins.

They’re open from early June to late September. Both recently renovated and more rustic cabins are available. A large lobby with two fireplaces is located in the main lodge building.

Learn more about Lake Lodge Cabins.

Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins

Lake Yellowstone Hotel is one of the most historic structures in the park. It’s designed in the Colonial Revival style. It sits on the beautiful shores of Lake Yellowstone.

It’s open from early May to early October. Once known for their simple, rustic charm, recent renovations give rooms much more elegance. A dining room, bar, and boat pier are all available.

Learn more about Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins.

Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins

Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel is notable as the only year-round lodging in Yellowstone National Park. The main hotel was built in 1936.

Though the hotel is open year-round, the cabins are only open during the summer. Both simple cabins and premium cabins (with hot tubs) are available. A popular restaurant is also on-site.

Learn more about Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins.

Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Inn is the most well-known lodge in the park. It was originally constructed in 1903. It’s registered as a national historic site.

It’s open from early May to early October. It boasts 327 rooms as well as a gigantic stone fireplace in the lobby. A restaurant, lounge, and snack bar are available.

Learn more about Old Faithful Inn.

Old Faithful Lodge Cabins

Old Faithful Lodge Cabins consist of a main lodge building (complete with a view of Old Faithful Geyser) plus several small cabins.

It’s open from mid-May to the beginning of October. It features a restaurant, bakery, and gift shop.

Learn more about Old Faithful Lodge Cabins.

Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins

The Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins are one of the newest additions to the park’s lodging buildings.

They’re open from December to March and May through October. Two restaurants and a gift shop are also available.

Learn more about Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins.

Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins

Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins are just minutes from Tower Fall. They’re notable for their location near where President Theodore Roosevelt once camped.

They’re open from early June to early September. A main lodge plus several cabins (both premium and rustic) are available. Ride out into the backcountry on horseback or a stagecoach for the delicious Old West Dinner Cookout, a hit with families with children of all ages.

Learn more about Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins.

Specific Camping Gear You’ll Need

Camping in Yellowstone National Park is fairly straightforward.

Unlike other national parks that are either remote or have minimal amenities (or both), Yellowstone is quite built up with large campgrounds, plenty of amenities close at hand, and several in-park stores to stock up on supplies.

That said, it’s always a smart idea to double-check that you packed everything you need before you leave with our complete camping checklist.

Also be aware that weather changes quickly, even during the middle of the summer. In fact, although daytime summer temperatures are usually between 60° and 70°, you should prepare for the chance of rain – and even that of snow – no matter when you visit.

The unpredictability of Yellowstone’s weather is largely due to its high elevation. Just remember to pack lots of layers, a warm sleeping bag, waterproof tent, and read up on how to camp in the rain and how to camp in the snow.

In addition to the proper camping equipment for unpredictable weather conditions, it’s important to bring proper food storage equipment and bear safety gear, especially when camping in the backcountry.

Additional Camping Tips and Information

Use the following resources to help plan your Yellowstone National Park camping trip.

Do I Need to Make Reservations?

Reservations are always smart when camping in Yellowstone National Park, especially during the summer.

Advance reservations are available at five of the 12 total campgrounds in Yellowstone – Bridge Bay Campground, Canyon Campground, Fishing Bridge RV Park, Grant Village Campground, and Madison Campground.

The other seven Yellowstone campgrounds are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Arrive by late morning in the summer to secure a campsite.

First-Come, First-Served Camping

Seven out of 12 campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park are first-come, first-served – Indian Creek Campground, Lewis Lake Campground, Mammoth Campground, Norris Campground, Pebble Creek Campground, Slough Creek Campground, and Tower Fall Campground.

RV Camping

Most Yellowstone National Park campgrounds are set up to accommodate RV camping.

That said, Fishing Bridge RV Park is the only in-park campground that offers RV hookups and an RV dump station. This is also the best campground for larger RVs, especially those with numerous slide-outs.

Bridge Bay Campground, Canyon Campground, Grant Village Campground, and Madison Campground also have sites that accommodate RVs up to 40 feet. All of these campgrounds (plus Fishing Bridge RV Park) offer reservations.

RV camping in Yellowstone National Park is strictly monitored in terms of length of rig. When making a reservation, you must give the exact length of your RV (or, alternatively, the exact length of your trailer and vehicle). If the measurements are inaccurate, your reservation won’t be fulfilled.

RV campers that prefer more space or have even larger rigs should look into RV camping in West Yellowstone or Gardiner. Many RV campgrounds outside the park, such as Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park, have much larger pull-thru sites than their Yellowstone counterparts.

Also note that the roads in Yellowstone often feature tight turns, steep climbs, and frequent wildlife-related traffic jams. Although thousands of large RVs make the journey every year, many visitors prefer a camping trailer that they can detach from their vehicle and leave at their campsite as they explore the park. A pop-up camper is a popular option.

Finally, those new to RV camping as well as those renting an RV might be best to avoid the steep, narrow, and all-around treacherous Beartooth Highway into Yellowstone’s northwest entrance.

*Check out our guide to renting an RV or camper for your Yellowstone camping adventure!

Camping in the Summer

Like most national parks, summer is the busiest time for camping in Yellowstone National Park.

And as one of the most popular national parks in the country, you better believe that campsites fill up fast during the peak season between June through August.

Major campgrounds and lodges fill up months in advance for the summer months – so make reservations early. The same goes for campgrounds near Yellowstone, just outside the park’s borders.

You do not need reservations to enter Yellowstone National Park.

Camping in the Off-Season

The north entrance through Gardiner, Montana is the only entrance open year round.

In the off-season, the majority of the campgrounds, lodges, and other visitor services are closed. The big exceptions are Mammoth Campground, the only year-round campground in Yellowstone, as well as Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins and Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins.

Do note that winter camping in Yellowstone National Park is not for the faint of heart.

Although Mammoth Campground is open for first-come, first-served tent and RV camping in the winter, you should expect snow, daytime temperatures around freezing, and nighttime temperatures well below freezing.

Don’t go winter camping in Yellowstone without the proper winter camping gear, including a winter tent, winter sleeping bag, winter tent heater, and winter hiking boots.

Camping in the Shoulder Season

The shoulder season is undoubtedly one of the best times to go camping in Yellowstone National Park.

In Yellowstone, the shoulder season is April and May as well as September and October. These months still have decent weather but also have much smaller crowds.

Camping reservations are typically easier to find, it’s still warm enough to sleep outside, but you won’t have to deal with the heavy crowds that flock to Yellowstone in the summer.

Camping With Pets

Access to Yellowstone National Park is limited if you decide to bring your pets on your trip.

Pets are not allowed on any hiking trails, boardwalks, backcountry areas, or thermal areas.

Pets are allowed on roads, parking lots, campgrounds, and other developed areas, but must be attended (no leaving your dog in the car) and kept under control (on a leash or crate) at all times.

The strict pet rules in Yellowstone are enforced to keep your pet safe, protect wildlife and natural areas, and to increase the enjoyment of all park visitors.

Although backpacking in Yellowstone with your dog is not allowed, our guide to backpacking with dogs has some excellent tips for camping with your dog.

Food Storage and Wildlife Safety

One of the best things about visiting Yellowstone National Park are the amazing natural wonders.

But these same natural wonders can be dangerous.

Stay safe in Yellowstone by staying at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards away from all other animals, including bison.

Never feed wildlife. Properly store all food, garbage, and scented items in a hard-sided vehicle or bear canister, especially while camping and backpacking in Yellowstone.

Take extra precautions when hiking, including carrying bear spray, knowing what to do if you encounter a bear, and avoiding all areas closed for bear management.

In addition to wildlife, it’s extremely important to be cautious in Yellowstone thermal areas. Never leave the boardwalk or designated trail. Never touch any of the features or throw anything into them. Never swim, soak, or otherwise enter a hot spring.

The Yellowstone National Park safety page has more information regarding these and other dangers.

Where to Buy Groceries/Supplies

Compared to some national parks, it’s relatively easy to buy groceries and other supplies, as well as gasoline, within Yellowstone.

There are a number of general stores and gift shops within the park. Every major campground, lodge, and visitor area has some type of store on the premises.

The same goes for dining. There are a number of cafes, cafeterias, and restaurants in Yellowstone.

Do note that most stores, restaurants, and other visitor services shut down during the winter (exceptions are in the Mammoth area and at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge).

In addition to buying groceries and supplies in Yellowstone, there are several towns located near park entrances, including West Yellowstone, Gardiner, Cooke City, Red Lodge, Cody, and Jackson.

Your best bet is to buy groceries and other supplies before arriving at the park as prices for goods in Yellowstone are much higher than normal.

In fact, most people that go camping in Yellowstone stock up on supplies outside of the park – see our list of 25 make ahead camping meals for some tasty ideas!

Yellowstone National Park Must-See Destinations

Yellowstone National Park is filled to the brim with must-see destinations.

Many of these can be seen from your car or RV while others require a short hike or walk to access.

Don’t go camping in Yellowstone without checking out these gorgeous attractions.

Blacktail Plateau Drive

Few scenic drives in Yellowstone are more beautiful than Blacktail Plateau Drive. Winding about six miles down a one-way dirt road, this drive is the perfect way to get a taste of the Yellowstone backcountry without leaving your vehicle. Wildlife sightings, including bears, are common.

Boiling River

Boiling River is one of few places where swimming in Yellowstone is allowed. Created where a hot springs enters the Gardiner River, this popular swimming and picnicking destination is the perfect place to soak in a natural hot tub and enjoy the surrounding natural beauty.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

One of the most impressive geologic features in the park, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is roughly 20 miles in length. The Upper and Lower Falls are two popular individual overlooks, both reached by short hikes to the viewpoints.

Grand Prismatic Spring

One of the park’s most iconic geothermal features, the Grand Prismatic Spring is a must-see destination for anyone camping in Yellowstone National Park. The beautiful hot spring is enormous and shines in a rainbow of colors. An elevated boardwalk gives you an up close and personal view.

Hayden Valley

In addition to Lamar Valley, Hayden Valley is one of the premier places to see wildlife in Yellowstone. Arrive early and bring binoculars for the best chance to spot grizzly bears and gray wolves.

Lamar Valley

One of the most rugged regions in the park, Lamar Valley is one of the best places to spot wildlife, especially bear and wolves, in Yellowstone National Park. Thanks to the prevalence of animal life, the valley is commonly referred to as the American Serengeti.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs is a unique Yellowstone thermal feature. The formation changes frequently as the flow of the springs fluctuates on a daily basis. The hot springs is notable for the chalky white material that coats their surface.

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin is another must-visit destination when camping in Yellowstone National Park. It’s home to a variety of geothermal features, including colorful hot springs, bubbling mud pots, soaring geysers, and more.

Old Faithful Geyser

Old Faithful Geyser is arguably the face of Yellowstone National Park. The large geyser erupts up to 180 feet for up to five minutes at a time. It typically erupts between every hour and two hours. Predicted eruption times are posted at the nearby visitor center. Over 150 additional geysers and thermal features are located in the surrounding Upper Geyser Basin.

Tower Fall

No waterfall in Yellowstone National Park is more beautiful and accessible as Tower Fall. Just 150 yards from the parking lot, the roaring waterfall tumbles 132 feet down a unique rock formation.

West Thumb Geyser Basin

West Thumb Geyser Basin is smaller than other Yellowstone geyser basins, but it’s just as beautiful. Located along the shores of Yellowstone Lake, this geyser basin is home to interesting features like Fishing Cone, Thumb Paint Pots, and Abyss Pool.

Yellowstone Lake

Close to some of the best camping in Yellowstone National Park, Yellowstone Lake is roughly 20 miles long by 14 miles wide. The 132-square mile lake is the largest lake above 7,000 feet sea level in North America (it sits at 7,733 feet above sea level). It’s a popular location for fishing and boating.

Hiking and Backpacking in Yellowstone National Park

Hiking in Yellowstone National Park is one of the best ways to see the park the way it was meant to be seen – with minimal other human beings around.

Remember that most of Yellowstone is covered in snow during the fall, winter, and spring months, so most of these hiking trails are for summer use only.

Here are some of the best Yellowstone National Park hikes for all skill levels:

Bunsen Peak

Just 5 miles south of Mammoth Hot Springs is the ever popular Bunsen Peak hike. At 4.2 miles roundtrip, it’s not exactly long, but it is strenuous. It climbs 1,300 feet from a thick forest to the peak’s summit. Stop for breathtaking views of Blacktail Plateau, Yellowstone River Valley, and the Gallatin Mountain Range.

Learn more about Bunsen Peak.

Cascade Lake

Cascade Lake is a 5-mile roundtrip, mostly flat trail. It’s easy enough for Yellowstone hikers of all ages and skill levels. The trail wanders through colorful wildflower meadows. Keep your eyes open – you might just spot some of the wildlife that frequents the area.

Learn more about Cascade Lake.

Fairy Falls

Fairy Falls is either a 5-mile or 7-mile roundtrip hike. It’s regarded as one of the most beautiful hikes in Yellowstone National Park. You pass countless geysers and other thermal features (including the impressive Imperial Geyser) before ending at the 197-foot Fairy Falls.

Learn more about Fairy Falls.

Grizzly Lake

Just south of Beaver Lake, the 4-mile roundtrip hike at Grizzly Lake meanders through pleasant meadows to a long, narrow lake. The area around the lake is heavily wooded and quite swampy, but many anglers push on to fish it for brook trout.

Learn more about Grizzly Lake.

Lake Overlook

Lake Overlook is a short, sweet hike for those that want to see something off the beaten path. It’s just 1.2 miles roundtrip. The trail starts near the West Thumb Geyser Basin, passing geothermal features, before passing a high mountain meadow with views of Yellowstone Lake.

Learn more about Lake Overlook.

Mount Washburn

The trail at Mount Washburn ranges in length from 2.5 to 8.7 to 13.6 miles depending on your starting point. The strenuous hike climbs 1,400 feet to the mountain’s summit. At 10,243 feet, it’s among the highest points in the park. It’s also home to one of just three working fire lookout towers within Yellowstone. Keep your eyes open for bighorn sheep as you enjoy the beautiful view from the top.

Learn more about Mount Washburn.

Pelican Valley

Pelican Valley is a classic Yellowstone National Park hike. It takes you 6.8 miles roundtrip through prime grizzly bear country. The trail meanders through meadows, a forest, and a small hydrothermal area before reaching a cutbank with views of Pelican Creek. Day hikers turn around here while overnight backpackers continue on into the vast backcountry beyond.

Learn more about Pelican Valley.

Sky Rim Trail

Backpacking in Yellowstone National Park doesn’t get much better than Sky Rim Trail. The 21-mile trail is perfect for a short overnight trip. It passes along several ridges and peaks all with amazing views. Be wary though – over 3,000 feet of elevation gain makes this a demanding hike.

Learn more about Sky Rim Trail.

Backcountry Permits

Those backpacking in Yellowstone National Park must first obtain a backcountry permit.

Backcountry permits can be found at 9 locations throughout the park, including Bechler Range Station, Bridge Bay Ranger Station, Canyon Visitor Center, Grant Village Visitor Center, Mammoth Visitor Center, Old Faithful Ranger Station, Tower Backcountry Office, and West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center.

You must obtain your backcountry no more than 48 hours before the start of your trip (although a handful of advance reservations are available).

Other Activities in Yellowstone National Park

Camping, hiking, and backpacking are far from the only recreational activities in Yellowstone National Park.

Here are a few other great ways to enjoy the park:

Bicycling

Bicycling is an excellent way to explore the park on your Yellowstone National Park camping trip. Bicycling is restricted to established public roads and designated routes (so be wary of automobiles). Bring your own bicycle or rent bikes at Old Faithful Lodge.

Learn more about bicycling in Yellowstone National Park.

Boating

Boating is a popular Yellowstone activity in designated areas. Both motorized and non-motorized boating is allowed, including canoe and kayak camping. Boating permits must be obtained at a ranger station, backcountry office, or visitor center before the start of your trip.

Learn more about boating in Yellowstone National Park.

Eating and Drinking

Yellowstone has numerous in-park opportunities for eating and drinking, including snack shops, cafeterias, casual restaurants, full-service restaurants, and lounges. For example, Roosevelt Lodge is highly regarded for its “cowboy” style fare and “after dinner libations.” Eat in the dining room or ride out into the backcountry via horse or wagon for a cowboy cookout.

Learn more about eating and drinking in Yellowstone National Park.

Fishing

Yellowstone is home to some of the best fishing in the world. Anglers target Yellowstone cutthroat trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout among other species in the many lakes and rivers located in the park.

Learn more about fishing in Yellowstone National Park.

Horseback Riding

Horseback riding is a unique way to explore Yellowstone. Bring your own stock into the park (overnight trips are only permitted in summer) or enjoy a guided horseback ride out of the lodge areas at Mammoth, Tower-Roosevelt, or Canyon.

Learn more about horseback riding in Yellowstone National Park.

Ranger Programs

Yellowstone has a variety of informational ranger programs including guided ranger walks, Junior Ranger programs, and young scientist programs.

Learn more about ranger programs in Yellowstone National Park.

Skiing

Skiing is one of the most popular winter activities in Yellowstone National Park. There are opportunities for both cross country and downhill skiing for all skill levels.

Learn more about skiing in Yellowstone National Park.

Snowmobiling

Snowmobiling has long been an efficient way to explore Yellowstone during the winter months, whether you bring your own or join a guided snowmobile tour. Do note that years of controversy over their use has led to recently updated Yellowstone snowmobile restrictions.

Learn more about snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park.

Snowshoeing

There are few better ways to explore Yellowstone National Park in the winter than by snowshoeing. Miles of snowshoeing trails are available for all skill levels. Make sure to talk with rangers about predicted weather and snow conditions before heading out.

Learn more about snowshoeing in Yellowstone National Park.

Swimming

Take a dip at Boiling River, Firehole Cascades, or Yellowstone Lake. Note that the National Park Service doesn’t encourage swimming anywhere in Yellowstone due to the lack of lifeguards, cold water temperatures (especially in Yellowstone Lake), and presence of microorganisms (especially in thermal areas) that can cause illness or rashes. Never swim or soak in hot springs or other thermal areas.

Learn more about swimming in Yellowstone National Park.

Wildlife Viewing

It’s almost impossible to visit Yellowstone National Park without viewing the wildlife. Hundreds of species call the park home, including big mammals like bears, bison, deer, elk, and wolves. The best time to observe Yellowstone wildlife, especially bears and wolves, is just after sunrise and just before sunset. Rangers can point you in the direction of recent wildlife activity.

Learn more about wildlife viewing in Yellowstone National Park.

Things to Do Near Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is located in an extraordinarily beautiful part of the United States. There are countless places of interest on all sides of the park. Add a few extra stops into your itinerary for an even better camping trip.

Here are some of the best nearby things to do while camping in Yellowstone National Park.

Beartooth Highway

The 68-mile Beartooth Highway is one of the most scenic drives in the United States. It serves as the northeast entrance to Yellowstone, roughly spanning from Red Lodge to Cooke City. The highway zigs back and forth across an incredibly beautiful mountainous landscape, peaking at just under 11,000 feet above sea level.

Cody, Wyoming

The town of Cody, Wyoming sits just over 50 miles east of Yellowstone’s eastern entrance. It’s notable for its Old West history, including the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. The daily Cody Night Rodeo is a popular summertime event, especially among families with small children.

Cooke City-Silver Gate, Montana

Remote and beautiful, Cooke City-Silver Gate is located at the end of the scenic Beartooth Highway just before the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park. It features a picturesque downtown area with surprisingly good dining options. It’s an excellent jumping off point for exploring the surrounding national forests in addition to Yellowstone.

Gardiner, Montana

Just minutes from the north entrance to Yellowstone, the small town of Gardiner, Montana is worthy of your time in its own right. Slightly over 50 miles south of Livingston, a bustling town notable for its world-class fly fishing on the Yellowstone River, Gardiner itself is home to excellent dining and outdoor recreation activities.

Grand Teton National Park

Less than 10 miles south of Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park is not only one of the most scenic locations in Wyoming, but arguably the whole of the United States. In addition to the scenic peaks of the Teton Range, the park is notable for hundreds of miles of hiking trails, countless opportunities to view wildlife, and the ability to explore a gorgeous section of the Snake River.

Jackson, Wyoming

Jackson, Wyoming, sometimes called Jackson Hole, is a historic western town just south of Grand Teton National Park. In winter, Snow King Mountain Resort is an extremely popular destination for skiing and snowboarding. In summer, visitors flock to Jackson for world-class dining, proximity to unbeatable hiking trails (especially in the Gros Ventre Wilderness), and the chance to visit the National Elk Refuge.

Red Lodge, Montana

Located at the start of the Beartooth Highway, Red Lodge is one of the many gateways to Yellowstone National Park. The bustling western town is filled with family fun, including excellent dining and entertainment. Check out the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary in the summer and Red Lodge Mountain for skiing and snowboarding in the winter.

West Yellowstone, Montana

West Yellowstone serves as the west gateway into Yellowstone National Park. The town itself has a number of camping, dining, entertainment, and lodging options, including some of the best RV camping in Yellowstone. Don’t forget to check out the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center on your way through town.

Plan Your Visit to Yellowstone National Park

Use the resources below to help plan your next Yellowstone National Park vacation, whether you visit for just a day or two or for a whole week or longer.

How to Get There

A car is the easiest way to explore Yellowstone National Park, although bicycling and bus tours are additional options.

Enter through one of five entrances: north through Gardiner via Livingston, northeast through Cooke City via Red Lodge, east through Cody, south through Grand Teton National Park via Jackson, or west through West Yellowstone. The north entrance through Gardiner is the only Yellowstone entrance open year round.

Here’s more information on directions to Yellowstone National Park.

When to Visit

Yellowstone National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, because of its high elevation, winters are harsh. The best time to visit the park is late spring through early fall. Summer is the most popular time to visit Yellowstone but can be very busy.

Fees and Passes

Yellowstone National Park costs $25.00 per vehicle to enter (for a 7-day pass). Buy the America the Beautiful Pass for $80 for entrance to all federal recreation sites, including national parks, for one year.

Maps and Guidebooks

Chief among the best Yellowstone National Park maps and guidebooks are Lonely Planet Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks, Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks, and Hiking Yellowstone National Park: A Guide to More Than 100 Great Hikes.

Yellowstone National Park Camping Itinerary

Yellowstone National Park is located in one of the most naturally beautiful parts of the country.

Rather than dedicate your entire trip to camping in Yellowstone, add a few additional stops for the perfect family camping road trip.

Here are three popular itineraries for camping in Yellowstone National Park.

The Grand Loop

The Grand Loop consists of the primary road system in Yellowstone.

The 140-mile loop (more of a figure 8 actually) passes by the majority of the park’s main attractions. Spend at least one or two nights, if not an entire week, circumnavigating the route for the ultimate Yellowstone camping road trip.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Don’t stop with just Yellowstone – extend your camping trip by visiting nearby Grand Teton National Park, just 10 miles to the south.

A week gives you plenty of time to explore the best campgrounds in Yellowstone and Grand Teton as well as the major must-see attractions in both national parks. Check out Bearfoot Theory’s idea of the perfect 7-day Yellowstone and Grand Teton road trip.

Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks

Another popular family road trip is to combine camping in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks (or visit Grand Teton as well to see all three).

A little less than 400 miles apart, there are plenty of interesting towns and beautiful outdoor areas to explore between the two national parks. Spend a week or two driving from one park to the other or make it a loop with the ultimate Yellowstone and Glacier road trip. Major Montana cities like Missoula, Bozeman, and Helena are all along the route and worth a visit.

Additional Resources

Here at Beyond The Tent, it’s our mission to help you plan the perfect Yellowstone National Park camping trip.

Here are some additional BTT resources:

Here are some other helpful online resources:

And don’t forget to check out some our other national park camping guides:

Please let us know if you have any questions about camping in Yellowstone National Park – we’re here to help you answer them!

Yellowstone National Park Photos Pinterest

2 COMMENTS

  1. Wow! I had no idea that there was so much available at Yellowstone! This article made what once was a “Eh maybe I should visit it one day” place into a “Must-See Bucketlist” place. Thanks for this great article 🙂

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