Camping in Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone became the nation’s first national park on March 1, 1872. Home to nearly half of the world’s active geysers, the 2.2 million acre park is located primarily in Wyoming, but portions of the park expand into Idaho and Montana.
Yellowstone has over 10,000 hydrothermal features and hundreds of different wildlife species – all really good reasons to visit. But, with nearly four million visitors a year, this is a very busy park and it’s popular with campers. To make sure that you can beat the crowds and find a great campsite for your Bowlus, we’ve put together this handy guide to help you plan your trip.
Things to See and Do In Yellowstone National Park
When you get to the park, make sure you check out the many visitor and education centers. As with any national park, the rangers will be able to guide you to the perfect place to see the things on your bucket list. Albright Visitor Center is located near Mammoth and features a number of exhibits on the park’s natural features and wildlife. Fishing Bridge Visitor Center is at the north end of Yellowstone Lake and offers an amazing museum focusing on the park’s bird life. Grant Visitor Center is in the West Thumb region of Yellowstone Lake and is a great place to learn about the role fires play in the park’s ecology.
To help guide you on your way, the NPS Yellowstone App is handy to have loaded on your device because it provides live updates on the status of campgrounds and roads, plus it has geyser predictions. You can also download self-guided audio tours to use when you’re offline or out of cell phone service (which will be the case in much of the park because cell service is very limited). Here are some of the things we love to see and do at Yellowstone:
Natural Ecosystem: Yellowstone is known for her amazing geysers and hot springs. Old Faithful may well be the symbol of the park, but Grand Prismatic Spring, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and the Norris Geyser Basin are also popular sights. Make sure you stay on the marked paths or boardwalks as you’re exploring the park. The crust around the springs can break easily, exposing you to scalding water.
Wildlife Viewing: With the largest concentration of wildlife in the lower 48 states, Yellowstone is home to black bears, grizzly bears, moose, elk, wolves, and a host of other animals, including the iconic bison. Wildlife traffic jams are common on the park’s roads – give the bison the right of way! Make sure you keep a safe distance from the park’s wild residents. The bison may be clip-clopping down the road next to your car, but they aren’t tame (especially when they have babies to protect).
Hiking: One of the best ways to get away from the crowd is to hit the trail for a hike through nature. As you wander into bear country, make sure you’re hiking safely. The park recommends hikers carry bear spray with them (in a holster for easy access, not in your backpack).
When To Visit Yellowstone
The park has put together a guide to help you know what’s happening in the park in every season. The park is open year-round, but summer is the busiest time of year. From Memorial Day to Labor Day you can expect large crowds at the main attractions so plan to get an early start to your day, or to sightsee after dinner (in the summer it doesn’t get dark until around 9 pm).
Spring or fall may be the best time to visit, as there are fewer visitors. Park services can be limited, but the tradeoff is worth it. In the spring you may be able to catch sight of a newborn bison, wolf pup, or black bear cub as you witness the Yellowstone basin emerging from winter. And the fall colors in Yellowstone are stunning.
The park is open during the winter months, but the only road that’s plowed is the section between Mammoth Hot Springs and the northeast entrance. Access to the interior of the park and popular attractions like Old Faithful is limited to guided or unguided snowmobile or snowcoach tours. Snowshoeing and cross country skiing are also popular winter activities in the park.
You may not have thought much about winter camping, but when you have a Bowlus, you have an all-season travel trailer. It’s low center of gravity and aerodynamic shape make it easier to maneuver in winter driving conditions. It also has the same clearance as most tow vehicles, so it can go anywhere your SUV can. Every Bowlus comes with a 28.3 pound propane tank that fuels the heater, cooktop, and the luxurious heated floors. Bowlus trailers also have a high R-value polystyrene insulation to keep the heat in, so you’ll have a comfortable and warm retreat after a day of cold winter activities. When you’re in a Bowlus, you’re not limited to fair weather camping!
There are 12 campgrounds within the borders of Yellowstone, but if you want to stay in the park, you’ll need to make reservations well in advance of your trip. Millions of people visit the park each year, most between the months of June and August, and many of them will be competing for one of the 2,000 camping sites available. Reservations can be made through Yellowstone National Park Lodges for Bridge Bay Campground, Canyon Campground, Fishing Bridge RV Park (closed for the 2021 season), Grand Village Campground, and Madison Campground.
New for 2021, you can make reservations at the park’s seven other campgrounds through Recreation.gov. Norris Campground and Tower Fall Campgrounds are both closed for the 2021 season, but Mammoth, Slough Creek, Pebble Creek, Indian Creek and Lewis Lake campgrounds are all open. There are some first-come, first-serve sites, but you’ll need to get there early in the day to grab one – they fill up quickly during the summer.
Because the park’s campgrounds are so popular, you can only stay for 14 days between July 1 and Labor Day. There is a thirty day limit the rest of the year.
Camping Near Yellowstone
Yellowstone is so big (nearly 3,500 square miles) that it’s hard to use one campsite as a launching pad for your entire visit. You can’t easily get from one end of the park to the other and back again in a single day, and with just twelve campgrounds in the park, finding a place to set up camp can be a challenge. Fortunately there are a lot of options outside of the park.
Yellowstone’s neighbor to the south is Grand Teton National Park. Stunning in its own right, it’s well worth spending some time there if you’re in the area. There are seven campgrounds that could be used to launch your sightseeing into the southern part of Yellowstone. There’s also camping west of the park around West Yellowstone, Montana and Island Park, Idaho.
There are a wide variety of boondocking options near Yellowstone. Nestled between Grand Teton and Yellowstone is the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway. There are eight first-come, first-served primitive camping areas along the road, including one on the Snake River. Bridger-Teton National Forest borders Yellowstone and has a number of boondocking opportunities available. Caribou-Targhee National Forest to the west of Yellowstone, Custer Gallatin National Forest to the north, and Shoshone National Forest to the east also have great boondocking sites.
Boondocking may be your best bet for finding a campsite near Yellowstone, and if you’re in a Bowlus, your RV is built for off-grid, primitive camping. The Bowlus Endless Highways Performance Edition offers an electrical system designed for effortless off-grid adventures. Our best-in-class lithium ion phosphate battery can power your unit for up to two weeks, completely off-grid. The battery will even run the air conditioner for up to two overnights. Plus, every Bowlus is solar panel ready so you can generate power for your camper – no hookups required! Bowlus also makes it easy to efficiently manage your water usage when you’re off the grid. Our Terra Firma and Endless Highways Edition luxury RVs come with instant hot water heaters and low-flow flush toilets, so you won’t waste a drop.
Bowlus makes it easy to skip the crowded Yellowstone campgrounds and enjoy the true beauty of this amazing national park. We’re ready to pack the camper and go see Old Faithful. How about you?