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.
What Type of Camper Are You?
I love car camping.
What do you want to be close to?
I want to be by Yellowstone Lake: 1
I want easy access to geysers: 2
I want to be in a rustic setting away from crowds: 3
My tent is an RV.
How important are a dump station and hook-ups?
Very important: 4
Not important: 5
It’s backcountry or bust for me.
What part of the park do you want to be in?
Canyon Village Area: 6
Between Old Faithful and West Thumb Area: 7
1. 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. Adults cost $15 plus tax while children ages 3-11 are $10 plus tax. Children under 3 are free.
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. For a site, you’ll pay $23.50 per night. 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.
2. Norris Campground
For $20 per night 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.
3. 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.
Since Slough Creek Campground is first-come, first-served, get here as early as possible to reserve your spot. Open mid-June through early October, it costs $15 per night. 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.
4. Fishing Bridge RV Park
Closed summer 2020; possibly opening early September 2020
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.
It’s $50 per night. 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
5. 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 is a first-come, first-served campground in the northwestern area of the park. Each site has a picnic table and fire pit with grate. There are flush toilets and water pumps with potable water. The price for this slice of paradise? $20 per night.
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.
6. 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 $25 (nonrefundable) 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. Backcountry permit fees for trips between Memorial Day and Sept. 10 are $3 per person per night for those ages 9 and older. The group fee is capped off at $15 per night.
You can try for a walk-in permit in person no more than two days before your departure. As noted above, backcountry permit fees for trips between Memorial Day and Sept. 10 are $3 per person per night for those ages 9 and older. The group fee is capped off at $15 per night.
7. 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 $25 (nonrefundable) 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. Backcountry permit fees for trips between Memorial Day and Sept. 10 are $3 per person per night for those ages 9 and older. The group fee is capped off at $15 per night.
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. Backcountry permit fees for trips between Memorial Day and Sept. 10 are $3 per person per night for those ages 9 and older. The group fee is capped off at $15 per night.