With over 3,472 square miles of wilderness to explore and a diverse and spectacular array of wildlife to look out for, it’s little surprise camping in Yellowstone is on the bucket list of many.
We outline everything you need to know about camping and dispersed camping in Yellowstone right here. We then share some of our favorite dispersed camping spots, walks, explain the rules around campfires, and what weather to expect in this stunning national park too.
Facts about Yellowstone:
- Yellowstone is home to more than 500 active geysers (hot springs). Watch where you step!
- It is also home to the largest concentration of mammals in the United States – 67 species to be precise.
- There are over 1,800 known archaeological sites within the park.
- There’s around 300 waterfalls in Yellowstone too!
Camping in Yellowstone
July and August are the most popular months to visit as the temperature is warm enough to sleep outside. However, if you want to avoid the peak summer tourist season, April to May and September through to October are also good times to visit thanks to the mild temperatures and fewer crowds.
Within Yellowstone there’s 12 campgrounds to choose from with over 2,000 pitches. Below we tell you five of our favourite ones, but you can see information on all 12 at this link. If you’re hoping to hike some of Yellowstone’s spectacular trails, then a good walking in Yellowstone book – like this one – can help you plan which campsite may be the best for you.
Yellowstone also has nearly 300 backcountry sites for dispersed camping – these don’t have facilities and can’t be reached by RV. We look at this type of camping – and show you where those sites are located – further down in this article.
Some of the best campgrounds and RV parks in Yellowstone
There is a culture of family-friendly campgrounds in Yellowstone, and often there is the option for glamping as well as pitches for your own tent or RV.
This is especially important for RV owners as you are only allowed to stay overnight in a RV if you’re in a designated campground.
As we mentioned above there are 12 campgrounds, but below we share our five favorites:
This is one of the most popular campgrounds, is situated within a mile of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and is open to reservations.
At an elevation of 7,900 feet, this area boasts a wooded setting and a central spot within Yellowstone – making it the perfect base for exploring this exceptional region.
Do keep in mind that most campsites in the area cannot accommodate oversized units. Similarly, Canyon Campground can accommodate a maximum combined length of 40-feet.
This campground is in close proximity to the Madison River which rushes through the lush mountain setting here.
The area is rich in wildlife, and despite being at an elevation of 6,800 feet, the campground offers many shaded spots thanks to being in a partially wooded area. RVs up to 40’ long can be accommodated in pull-through and back-in sites.
The campground is also located 14 miles east from West Yellowstone and 16 miles north of the famous geyser – Old Faithful.
Situated five miles south of the park’s North Entrance, we find this campground so special because you will come across elks and bison passing through it!
The scattered Juniper and Douglas fir trees here will provide you with shade during summer, whilst the campground’s close proximity to the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, along with great fishing and hiking opportunities, makes it a perfect place to pitch your tent or park up.
Even better is the fact this campground is the only one in Yellowstone that is open year-round. It can accommodate RVs at a maximum combined length of 40 feet (12.2 m), but from mid-October to April, it has a total vehicle length limit of 30 feet (9.1 m).
Bridge Bay Campground
At an elevation of 7,800 feet, this picturesque campground is close to Bridge Bay Marina and looks onto amazing open meadows, wooded areas and has lake views.
Perfect for fishing and boating enthusiasts, this spot also has a lovely picnic table and fire grate area. Like most campsites in this area, RVs at a maximum combined length of 40 feet (12.2 m) are accepted. If you are looking for a shady spot, do choose the wooded upper loops of the campground.
Grant Village Campground
If you are looking for a spacious area to relax and unwind, this cozy campground has it all.
Located on the southwest shore of Yellowstone Lake, Grant Village Campground is set in a lodgepole pine forest and is just a short distance from West Thumb Geyser Basin.
We love the easily navigated boardwalk and trail system here which leads you up to breathtaking views of hot springs and thermal features.
Along with easy access to services, amenities and several accommodation options, RVs at a maximum combined length of 40-feet are accepted here. This charming spot also has picnic tables and a fire grate on site.
Dispersed camping in Yellowstone
Thankfully dispersed camping in Yellowstone is legal, although only if you are pitching a tent in special areas set aside for primitive camping. Dispersed camping (also known as boondocking) with an RV is not allowed throughout the park, and rather you will have to stay in a designated campsite.
However, you’re not allowed to pitch your tent anywhere. There are close to 300 designated ‘backcountry’ campgrounds that dispersed campers are allowed to use. These are the only places where dispersed camping in Yellowstone is allowed. You can see them all on a map by clicking here. With that backcountry campground map you can plan what trail you wish to hike, and where you will camp for each night.
Once you’ve decided where you want to camp, you will then have to apply for a permit in advance. The application form to do that can be found by clicking here – but you can’t apply for a permit more than three days in advance of your trip.
Dispersed campers are not usually allowed to stay at one site for longer than three days, so keep that in mind when putting together your application. If you have questions, you can find the email address and phone number for permit applications at the following link.
We also recommend printing out this useful leaflet which is produced by Yellowstone National Park for backcountry camping.
Some of our favorite dispersed camping spots in Yellowstone
Although you’re not allowed to camp anywhere you wish in Yellowstone, there are nearly 300 backcountry sites where camping is allowed. Here are a few of our favourites areas:
This huge lake is an unbelievably serene place, perfect for camping and swimming in solitude. There are several backcountry sites for camping near the lake. You can see them on this map.
Coyote Creek Trail
This trail takes you through wildflower meadows, and its mostly flat nature means there’s great opportunities to spot wildlife. There’s a backcountry camping site around five miles in. A wonderful place to enjoy a starry night.
There’s nothing better than camping beside a lake. You can have an evening swim and a morning shower right in the heart of nature.
This little lake in the Canyon Area of Yellowstone is deep in the forest and has to be reached after hiking the Ribbon Lake Trail. You can see a map of the trail here.
Being a responsible camper
Once you’ve reached your camping spot, make sure you leave your pitch the way you found it, and minimize waste. When going to the toilet you should do it at least 100m from a water source (such as a river or lake), and use a trowel (like this folding one) to bury human waste at least six inches underground. Take any tissue paper back home with you – use a ziplock bag to keep it sealed.
There are many different water sources in Yellowstone, but remember to always have plenty of water on you when camping and walking. A space-saving collapsible water bottle would be a good purchase. But do ensure that water from any undeveloped source is safe by treating it. That means heating it until it comes to a boil, or using water purification tablets/filter.
Campers should also abide by the seven principles of leave no trace – they can be seen here.
Furthermore, with bears roaming Yellowstone, you must take steps to avoid attracting them to your campground. We advise:
- Use a bear box or bear canister to store food, rubbish, and anything with a scent
- Don’t pitch your tent near where food is being stored
- Never approach any bear, regardless of its size
- Don’t spray anything with a scent
- Keep at least 100 yards from a bear
- Read and put into practice the camping in bear country information on the Yellowstone National Park website. You can find that here.
The rules around campfires when camping in Yellowstone
Wildfires are a big problem in Yellowstone, and the penalties for ignoring fire restrictions can be severe.
As a result campfires are only allowed in established fire rings – many exist in official campsites. Check when booking a campground whether campfires are allowed or not.
However campfires are sometimes completely banned, depending on the daily fire danger level. That can be seen here.
Instead of using campfires, we recommend using a storm cooker. Then there is much less wildfire risk and you can cook knowing that the fire is contained. We believe the best ones on the market are Trangia storm cookers.
Some of the best walks in Yellowstone
Sky Rim Trail
Test your skills with this 31km long trail, which will take around 13 hours to complete.
With enthralling views of dramatic peaks and vast valleys, this trail isn’t easy and is ideal for hikers looking for a challenging hike.
The hard work is worth it though, and the dramatic views on offer are second to none. It’s our favourite trail in Yellowstone.
Upper Geyser Basin Trail
This moderately challenging trail of 8km should take around 3 hours and takes you to one of the highlights of the park – Upper Geyser Basin – which has the densest concentration of hydrothermal features worldwide.
The starting point is at the famous Old Faithful geyser where you can enjoy panoramic views with a drink in hand at the viewing deck of the Old Faithful Inn.
Other highlights of this trail include the regal Castle Geyser and the hot spring that’s named (seriously…) the Morning Glory Pool.
Lamar River Trail
If you are looking for amazing wildlife watching opportunities, along with dramatic views, then this trail is ideal for you.
It’s 53km in length and is a moderate hike, but will bring you to pristine meadows, have you walking through wildflowers, and then enjoying incredible mountain views.
The vast array of wildlife on show – such as bison, bears, pronghorn, elk and coyotes – will make the long walk well worth it. This area is probably the best in Yellowstone for spotting wolves too.
This walk from Biscuit Basin to Freight Road is nearly 30km in length but will take you through some of Yellowstone’s most iconic landscapes.
Expect waterfalls and meadows as you make your way along a trail with ample wildlife watching opportunities.
Camping in Yellowstone: The weather and best months to visit
With mild to warm temperatures, spring is the perfect time to visit Yellowstone as families can make the most of a full day exploring the beautiful geysers and waterfalls. However temperatures can range from 0°C to 20°C depending on where you are in the park, but it is a great season to spot wildlife.
Summer is a great time to visit as Yellowstone’s daytime temperatures range between 15 and 30°C. It’s also a perfect time to undertake relaxing walking trails as the land should be dry and hikers can enjoy the longer daylight hours. Kids will love the opportunity for fishing and wildlife watching during this season too.
With temperatures during fall that range between 0°C to 20°C, some areas of the park are perfect for hikes. The changing colors of the woodland during this season make for spectacular pictures, and in particular, we love the atmosphere when visiting Madison River at this time of year.
Winter brings the shortest daylight hours and coolest temperatures, ranging between a freezing -16°C and 0°C! Be careful if visiting the area during this season, although the fresh crisp air during accessible walks on the different trails can be refreshing.