What Type of Camper Are You?
You’re headed to Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park, where some of the world’s most incredible geysers, vistas and wildlife await you for an adventure full of fun. But where should you camp? Here’s a personalized guide to help you decide where to spend the night, from car camping paradise and remote backcountry sites to a slice of RV heaven.
1. I Love Car Camping
Near Yellowstone Lake: Bridge Bay Campground
Put yourself in the heart of it all at Bridge Bay Campground, one of the park’s largest with 432 camp sites. With flush toilets and sinks with running water, you don’t have to sacrifice modern comforts to enjoy outstanding views of Yellowstone Lake and the Absaroka mountain range.
Plus, you are close to the launching point for the one-hour scenic Yellowstone Lake cruises hosted by a park ranger who will tell you all sorts of interesting things about the area and lake. Held mid-June through mid-September, these boat trips require advanced reservation by calling 307-344-7311 or stopping in the Bridge Bay Marina.
When you get off the water, the 6-mile round trip hike to Natural Bridge starts right near the campground. Or go to the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center to find out details on how to participate on programs like a ranger-led hike or family-focused wildlife workshop.
At the campground, wheelchair-accessible sites are available. Reservations for Bridge Bay Campground are required, and it is strongly recommended you make them far in advance by calling 866-Geyserland or 307-344-7311 or by going online at www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com.
Easy Access to Geysers: Norris Campground
At the Norris Campground, you can guarantee yourself easy access to some of the world’s most incredible geysers and flush toilets (although both operate on separate plumbing systems)!
Because this campground is so close to the Norris Geyser Basin, you can sleep in a bit before rolling out of bed and hitting the basin’s boardwalks and dirt trails before everyone else. The basin has been home to thermal features for 115,000 years, and you’ll find the Steamboat Geyser here, the tallest geyser in the world at 300-400 feet. Illustrating the changing nature of the basin’s geysers, one of Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk’s favorites ⎯ the Echinus Geyser ⎯ used to erupt on a regular basis 30 years ago. Today, it might erupt only a couple of times per month.
Nestled under lodgepole pines with the Gibbon River snaking by part of it, the Norris Campground is open late May through late September. It has 111 sites, only 7 for RVs. It is a first-come, first-served campground. Each site has a picnic table and fire pit. An added bonus: you can walk to the Museum of the National Park Ranger from the campground.
Rustic Setting Away from Crowds: Slough Creek Campground
Get away from it all in this gem of a campground that is home to only 23 sites. Tucked along the picturesque Slough Creek in a sage meadow and located between Lamar Valley and Tower-Roosevelt, the campground puts you close to some of the best wildlife viewing in Yellowstone. In fact, you may see bison, deer and bears from the campground.
Rustic is the name of the game here with clean pit toilets and a water pumping station. Since generators are prohibited, you will fall asleep to the sounds of the creek and possibly the cries of wolves.
Slough Creek Campground changed from first-come, first-served to having reservations at recreation.gov on March 24, 2021. It’s usually open mid-June through early October. Owners of small RVs up to 30 feet should do a walk-through of the site first to see if this campground is appropriate for your rig.
2. My tent is an RV
Hookups Available: Fishing Bridge RV Park
NOTE: This campground is closed for 2021.
Within driving distance of the wildlife-packed Hayden Valley, Fishing Bridge RV Park is your one-stop shop in the park if you are traveling in an RV. It’s the only Yellowstone campground with a dump station and water, sewer and electrical hook-ups.
On the eastern side of the park a stone’s throw from Yellowstone Lake, the campground is across the road from the historic Fishing Bridge Museum and Visitor Center. Don’t miss the nightly evening ranger programs at the visitor center’s amphitheater June through early September.
Because the campground is located in the heart of grizzly country, only hard-sided campers (no tents or tent campers) are allowed, which makes for excellent bonding amongst you and your fellow RVers. Its 325 sites fit maximum 35-foot RVs and an 18-foot truck side by side. You can turn your generator on from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
You can take a shower here (2 showers per night are included in your reservation fee), use the flush toilets and do laundry, but leave your campfire supplies at home. No campfires or portable fire pits are allowed.
Reservations are required, and it is strongly recommended you make them far in advance by calling 866—Geyserland or 307-344-7311 or by going online.
Also read: 8 RV Tips for Yellowstone
No Hookups: Mammoth Campground
Nestled in sage brush country with juniper and Douglas fir trees providing shade in the summer, Mammoth Campground is a fantastic place to relax and spot bison or elk wandering through or near the campground. It’s also really close to Mammoth Hot Springs, so you can beat the crowds in the early morning and explore this natural wonder.
In the evening, return to the campground for live entertainment in the form of ranger programs in the amphitheater located at the back loop June through mid-September.
The park’s only year-round campground, Mammoth changed from first-come, first-served to a reservation system through recreation.gov on March 24, 2021. Each site has a picnic table and fire pit with grate. There are flush toilets and water pumps with potable water.
The campground can accommodate RVs up to 75 feet long, and most sites are pull-throughs. Don’t expect hook-ups or a dump station as you will find neither here. However, you can run your generator from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
If you find you forgot to pack something, Gardiner, Mont., is just fives miles down the road and has a grocery story, outdoor supply shops and a colorful selection of restaurants and shops.
3. It’s Backcountry or Bust for Me
Canyon Village Area: Grebe Lake
For a family friendly hike with very little elevation gain, head to Grebe Lake for a night or two. There are four campsites marked around the lake. It’s a 3-mile hike into the lake from the Grebe Lake trailhead.
In this area, there are a chain of lakes connected by trails, so you can spend a day exploring nearby lakes like Cascade Lake, just 1.9 miles away. Or summit Observation Peak, which is 4.4 miles away from Grebe Lake one-way. Be prepared to work hard as you will gain 1,400 feet in elevation in 3 miles. The views of Yellowstone are incredible, though, from the top.
Because the Grebe Lake area is at 8,000 feet, snow can hang on until mid-June and mosquitos until early July, so if you want to avoid mud and mosquitos, do this trail later in the summer rather than early.
To get to the Grebe Lake trailhead, head 3.5 miles west of Canyon Junction on the Norris-Canyon Road. It will be on your right.
You do need a backcountry use permit to spend the night in the backcountry. To reserve in advance, complete a trip planning worksheet at www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/backcountryhiking.htm and return it in person, by mail or fax. Park officials recommend you submit starting on March 1 when the backcountry office is adequately staffed with processing beginning April 1.
It costs a nominal (nonrefundable) fee to make an advance reservation, so enclose this with your reservation request via check, money order or credit card. This fee is in addition to backcountry permit fees that you will pay in person when you go to pick up your permit at a backcountry office in Yellowstone.
You can also try for a walk-in permit in person no more than two days before your departure.
Between Old Faithful and West Thumb: Shoshone Lake
Just 10 minute drive from Old Faithful lies a trailhead to an incredible backcountry lake ⎯ Shoshone. It’s the second largest lake in Yellowstone, but there are no roads to it, so backpacking three miles to it and sleeping along its black-sand shores is an incredible experience. You’ll go through a forest before the trail opens up to grassy plains and the shores of the lake.
With its deepest section stretching down 205 feet, its beauty has been attracting people for hundreds of years, including members of the Shoshone tribe and early fur trappers, including Jim Bridger who allegedly visited it in 1833. The lake is the source of the Lewis River, which enters the Snake River system and eventually reaches the Pacific Ocean. Lake trout, brown trout and Utah chubs inhabit the lake.
There’s also an amazing geyser basin northwest of the shores, which is fun to explore. There are no boardwalks, so park officials urge visitors to act responsibly to protect the fragile thermal features and to avoid getting hurt.
You can make this a one-night out-and–back or camp around the lake for more mileage and nights.
To get to the DeLacy trailhead from Old Faithful, head east on the Grand Loop Road. The trailhead will be on your right.
A backcountry use permit is required to spend the night in the backcountry. Park officials recommend you submit starting on March 1 when the backcountry office is adequately staffed with processing beginning April 1. To reserve in advance, complete a trip planning worksheet at www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/backcountryhiking.htm and return it in person, by mail or fax.
The park service charges a nominal (nonrefundable) fee to process your early reservation, so enclose this with your reservation request via check, money order or credit card. This fee is in addition to backcountry permit fees that you will pay in person when you go to pick up your permit at a backcountry office in Yellowstone.
You also can try for a walk-in permit in person no more than two days before your departure, but have a plan B in case others have gotten in line before you.
4. Yellowstone Campgrounds at a Glance
Campgrounds Managed by Yellowstone National Park Lodges
Five of the 12 campgrounds in Yellowstone are managed by Yellowstone National Park Lodges and require reservations (shown with a single asterisk below). Note that Fishing Bridge RV is closed in 2021.
Make Reservations at
Advance reservations: 307-344-7311
Same-day reservations: 307-344-7901
Campgrounds Managed by the National Park Service
Starting March 24, 2021, three campgrounds managed by the National Park Service, Mammoth, Slough Creek and a portion of Pebble Creek, change from first come-first serve to a reservation system (shown with a double asterisk below). Make Reservations at www.recreation.gov
The remaining four campgrounds, Indian Creek, Lewis Lake, Norris and Tower Fall, are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
|Campground||Sites||Toilets||Shower/Laundry||Dump Site||Generators Permitted|
|Fishing Bridge RV*||344||Flush||Yes||Sewer||Yes|
*Reservations required at Yellowstone National Park Lodges
**Reservations available at www.recreation.gov
5. Yellowstone Camping Rules
Camping or overnight vehicle parking in pullouts, picnic areas, picnic grounds or any place other than a designated campground are not permitted and there are no overflow camping facilities. However, camping is often available in neighboring communities and forests outside the park.
Camping in Yellowstone Park is limited to 14 days between July 1 and Labor Day to 30 days the rest of the year. There is no limit at Fishing Bridge RV Park. Check-out time for all campgrounds is 10 a.m.
Wood and charcoal fires are permitted only in locations with fire grates. Special fire restrictions are occasionally put in place when the danger of wildfires is great. If you plan to light a fire in the park, please ask about current fire restrictions at the entrance station when you arrive or email our Visitor Services Office immediately prior to your visit.
Camping in Yellowstone Park is a special experience. Each visitor deserves the opportunity to hear the birds, wildlife, and streams in this beautiful environment. Respect this by complying with the law: generators prohibited 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.; quiet hours 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. No loud audio devices, or other noise disturbances will be allowed in the Park during this time. Generators are only permitted in six Yellowstone campgrounds and the Fishing Bridge RV Park.
Yellowstone Campgrounds for Bicyclists and Hikers
Camping for bicyclists is limited to the developed Yellowstone campgrounds located throughout the park. Campsites are available by reservation (through Xanterra Parks and Resorts) and on a first come, first served basis. The distances separating the different Yellowstone campgrounds and the fact that the campgrounds typically fill early each day during the peak visitation season will pose logistical problems for the bicycle camper in Yellowstone. A limited number of campsites are reserved for hikers and bicyclists at all campgrounds with the exception of Slough Creek. If you are camping in Yellowstone Park, it is not available at Old Faithful. If you are traveling with a group of bicyclists, call Xanterra Parks and Resorts prior to your arrival to check on group campsite availability; not all Yellowstone campgrounds can accommodate groups. If you have access to a vehicle, use it to find a campsite in your destination campground early each day.
Bicyclists camping in Yellowstone without a vehicle can use designated hiker sand bikers sites for $ 5.00 per individual per night. All other vehicle campsites range from $12 to $17 per night depending on the campground. Opening and closing dates vary considerably for each campground. Check the table above to make sure that a Yellowstone campground is open if you are planning a spring or fall visit to Yellowstone Park.
Group Camping in Yellowstone Park
Group camping in Yellowstone Park is available at Madison, Grant, and Bridge Bay from late May through closing date for organized groups with a designated leader such as youth or educational groups. Campsite fees range from $49-79 (plus tax) per night, depending on group size. Advance reservations campsites are required and can be made by writing:
Xanterra Parks and Resorts: PO Box 165 Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190, or by calling 307-344-5437
Since food and odors attract bears, items such as cooking stoves, utensils, coolers, trash bags, food, and toiletries may not be left outside or in tents or tent trailers, unless they are in immediate use.
Do you have a park map? You’ll receive a free park map when you enter the park or you can download one now. But if you’d like to plan your trip with a detailed topographic map, consider purchasing a Trails Illustrated map of Yellowstone on REI.com that includes hiking trails, iconic sights and more.