All you need to know about camping in Yellowstone

Although Yellowstone was only one part of our 4-week trip around the West of US, it certainly became a jewel in the crown of what became a holiday of a lifetime.

If you are thinking of camping in Yellowstone, be ready to spend time and effort planning your visit (hopefully this guide will help!). In return, the park will offer some of the most bizarre landscapes on the planet, unravelled and vast expanses of wilderness and a window into Earth’s distant past.

Grand Prismatic Spring_Yellowstone_12

Camping vs. Lodging

The first decision while researching Yellowstone is where to stay. The park is enormous with over 300 miles of roads and main attractions are scattered so being strategic about your base is important. With that in mind, you need to decide whether you want to stay inside or outside of the park. Just outside Yellowstone, West Yellowstone (West), Gardiner (North) and Cody (East) are within a 30-60 min driving range and have all the amenities if staying in comfort is a priority. Lodging within the park is limited but it provides an advantage of beating the crowds early in the morning (if that’s your thing) and saving extra time heading in/out of the park.

For us, the idea of lodging was quickly put aside once we started looking at prices for AirBnB, hotels and lodges in and around the park. On average, a stay at an AirBnb or a lodge ranged between $200-$500. As our budget was limited, we quickly made our minds that we would go for camping.

Booking a Campground

Choosing to camp ticked two vital boxes at the same time – 1) it’s super cheap – $28 for a tent site per night; 2) you are inside the park at all times. You also get to experience sleepless nights due to torrents of rain pounding on your tent and having to walk in freezing cold to the restrooms… But that’s another story. All pros and cons considered, book in advance to get a tent spot in of park’s campground as they fly off the shelf starting 6-3 months in advance. If your campground of choice is booked out, don’t worry, there are tons of tent spots that are First Come First Serve (FCFS) – however be prepared to drive to those sites before 7 am during summer season and queue up for your spots.

Yellowstone offers 12 campgrounds with over 2,000 sites, but only 5 of these are reservable: 1) Canyon Campground, 2) Bridge Bay Campground, 3)Fishing Bridge RV Park, 4) Madison Campground and 5) Grand Village Campground. After much consideration, we booked Madison Campground for its proximity to the Geyser area – and we were really happy with the choice.


Reservable Campgrounds 

You can check availability and book any of these campgrounds via this website: Yellowstone National Park Lodges

Canyon Campground
Opens: May –  September
The Canyon Campground is a favorite due to its wooded setting and relatively central location within Yellowstone Park.

Bridge Bay Campground
Opens: May –  September
The area is quite scenic, with wooded areas, open meadows and some limited views of the lake.

Fishing Bridge RV Park
Opens: May –  September
The Fishing Bridge Recreational Vehicle Park is located near the mouth of the Yellowstone River as it leaves Yellowstone Lake.

Madison Campground
Opens: April –  October
The area is known for its great fishing and convenient location with regards to Old Faithful and the Upper, Midway and Lower Geyser Basins.

Grant Village Campground
Opens: June –  September
The campground offers a relaxing setting with easy access to many services and amenities.

The rest of the campgrounds inside the park are first-come, first-served. To see the map, current status, and fill times, go to this website: Yellowstone Live – Campgrounds

One more important thing to note is that there’s also many campgrounds conveniently located just outside park. You can find them on Google Maps – a great alternative if none of the campgrounds inside Yellowstone work for you. 


Good to know

  • Campgrounds’ open dates may vary every year, make sure to check this website for the latest information.
  • The Mammoth campground in Mammoth Hot Springs is the only campground that is open year-round.
  • If you want to make a reservation for summer, make sure you do it early in the year. Campgrounds get filled up very quickly!
  • If you are going for First Come First Served, it is recommended to arrive to the campground before 7am during summer season to get a spot.
Lamar Valley

Spotting buffalos and their calves in Lamar Valley

Ok, we are camping – what’s next?

If you are starting your trip in Salt Lake City, then there are 3 magic letters that you need to know – REI – a massive outdoor recreation retailer with a huge selection of rentals for your Yellowstone camping trip. Conveniently, in the same area, there is also a thrift store – Savers – selling items you may want to consider for your trip. We used a combination of REI, Savers and Walmart for all our camping needs.

Below are the camping essentials we took with us. It turned out to be just perfect, we didn’t really need any more than this!

What we rented from REI:

  • Tent
  • Sleeping Bags
  • Sleeping Mats
  • Stove
  • Headlamps (purchased)
  • Propane Gas (purchased)

What we bought from Savers (Thrift Store):

  • Stock Pot
  • Bowl
  • Plates
  • Coffee Mug
  • Knife
  • Table Cloth
  • Towel

Tip: Call REI or your rental shop in advance to check availability of the items you need. If available, they will have them ready for you to go pick them up at your convenience. Saves time!

Hiking the Specimen Ridge Trail

Our experience at Madison Campground

Camping in Yellowstone was a top-notch experience. Our tent site in Madison campground was set amongst beautiful pine trees with enough space and seclusion to feel that we had the whole place to ourselves yet not entirely isolated. Our picnic table and fire pit (with grate) were conveniently located next to each other, restrooms were 1-minute walk from the site and had flush toilets as well as a sink for dishwashing.

SHOWERS

We didn’t have showers on the grounds, but they are available at other sites around the park:

  • Old Faithful – a lady at the reception showed us where the showers were located and told us we could just pop over there free of charge.
  • Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel – The charge here is $4.40 per person for which you get an enclosed shower room. We use this facility once, paid for 1 ticket and sneaked the other person in for free.
  • Canyon Campground also has a set of showers at $4 per person, which we tried and thought it was inferior to Mammoth Hot Springs showers.

FOOD

This is where you may need to plan ahead – it’s well worth stocking up on essential proteins and carbs at a hypermarket on the way to the park to avoid dishing out large sums of money on the same items at price multiple. Having said this, there are tons of shops and restaurants in the park as well as surrounding towns. Our strategy was to purchase enough food for the first 4-5 days and then make a trip out to a nearby town for top-ups.

Renting a stove was the best decision ever! Below was a typical menu offered in our tent:

Breakfast:

  • Dark rye bread with smooth peanut butter and banana slices
  • Oats slow-cooked on a stove drizzled with peanut butter and a sprinkle of dried fruits
  • Coffees and Teas

Lunch:

  • Dark rye bread with boiled eggs, avocados, tomatoes and red-onions with a side of canned sardines, salt and pepper
  • Packet rice cooked with chopped vegetables
  • Spicy noodles

Dinner:

  • Various Uncle Bens Rice & Noodle with vegetables
  • Boiled potatoes, eggs and fresh veg salad

WEATHER

In late May, we experienced pretty much all types of weather there is to experience – snow, hail, sunshine, wind, rain, fog – you name it. Yellowstone is spread out across 3500 square miles with a varying altitude between 7000 to 11000 feet.  Such geographical diversity provides for all kinds of weather. Primarily, it rained a lot at night making it difficult to fall asleep. During the day, you definitely need to wear a multitude of layers to be ready for anything that the heavens will throw at you.


YELLOWSTONE PACKING LIST


Layer up for that unpredictable Yellowstone weather! It can get cold in the evening even during summer.

Shop utility jackets

Protect yourself from the harsh sun. Hats and sunglasses are a must.

Shop hats & sunnies

Wear sturdy and comfortable hiking shoes. Be ready for lots of walking!

Shop sports shoes

Overall, we loved our experience camping in Yellowstone because it made us feel closer to nature and we were able to maximize our time for sightseeing. To finish up this post, I thought I’d share our day-by-day itinerary in case you’re interested! Hope you find this useful and if you have any questions that I didn’t cover on this post, please leave a comment down below – I’d love to hear from you.

Our 7-day Itinerary in Yellowstone

  • Day 1: Arrive & explore Salt Lake City
  • Day 2: Drive to Yellowstone via Idaho Falls, Set up camp in Madison Campground
  • Day 3: Old Faithful Loop Biscuit Basin
    • Old Faithful Geyser
    • Black Sand Geyser
    • Midway Geyser Basin (Grand Prismatic Spring)
    • West Thumb Geyser Basin
    • Mud Volcano
    • Sulphur Caldron
    • Quick stop at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
  • Day 4: Mammoth Springs, GardinerMammoth Springs
    • Quick stop at Gardiner to re-stock food supplies
    • Canyon Village – Drive over snow peaked mountainous range, check out visitor center
  • Day 5: Road to CodyBuffalo Bill Cody Scenic Highway (Yellowstone to Cody)
    • Quick tour of Cody
  • Day 6: Lamar Valley1 hour hike at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
    • Hayden Valley
    • Specimen Ridge Trail
    • Lamar Valley
  • Day 7: Drive to Salt Lake City

Mesmerizing views of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

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