Monday, August 13, 2007

Yellowstone Campground Guide

We've made trips to Yellowstone a number of times. We've gone early in the spring a couple of times. It was great to be there before the crowds arrived. We've also been there one year in the fall after the crowds had left. While some things change from year to year, this is a rough guide for people who've never been there.

Camping is a great way to see the park. In reading the forums at, people always seem to have questions about planning their camping trip to Yellowstone. I'm trying to put together a resource to help people.

Some of the campgrounds can be reserved in advance through Xanterra. During peak season the campgrounds are going to get booked up well in advance. But don't let that totally discourage you about camping in the park. People have things happen that change their plans - so the bookings are always going to be dynamic. If the dates you want are booked, keep calling to see if they have had cancellations. We wanted to extend our stay at Fishing Bridge, by checking daily we were able to add on the extra days we needed. But we had to check every day for those cancellations. But if the reservations don't open up for you, don't despair, it is still possible to camp in Yellowstone without prior reservations. There are 7 campgrounds in Yellowstone that are first come - first served. We have found that we can spend a night outside the park (we usually choose Gros Vente in Grand Tetons - it usually has openings even in busy season - there are also national forest campgrounds outide the northeast entrance. There is also a large RV park in West Yellowstone.) We get up very early in the morning and head straight for the campground we're hoping for. Many people chose to stay in several campgrounds while at Yellowstone to be closer to the different attractions. Therefore, people are always moving out of a campground each morning. The earlier you can get to these campgrounds the more likely you are to get a spot.

We've used two different camping patterns. We find that we like to pick a central location such as Canyon, Fishing Bridge, Norris, or Madison. We can set up camp and then not waste valuable time moving several times. In many ways, I prefer the Canyon and Fishing Bridge area because they are right next to Hayden Valley. I love to be at Hayden Valley at sunset to watch the animals. Canyon gets me a little closer to get to Lamar Valley. We probably spend more time in those two locations than elsewhere in the park. But when you are chosing where to stay, consider what you are most interested in. If it is geysers, then the Madison campground is much closer to the geyser basins. If you are interested in watching wolves, Canyon (this year wolf viewing was good at the north end of Hayden Valley) or Slough Creek or Pebble Creek would be good base camps.

If you are going to be in Yellowstone two weeks, you might enjoy choosing two camping areas - one closer to the major geysers and one for the viewing the wolves and bears. If you're bringing a boat and plan to spend a lot of time on the lake, your camping choices will be different. If you are fly fishing, you will want to be over at Madison or Norris (I think fishing is illegal in Hayden Valley.) While moving does take some time, it does shorten your drive time to get to see the far corners of the park at the early morning - evening wildlife viewing times.

Some people really enjoy spending a couple of days at the Lake, a couple of days at Norris or Canyon, a couple of days at Mammoth, and a couple of days at Slough Creek or Pebble Creek. If you have a camping set up that is quick and easy to set up and disassemble this has the advantage of giving you time to experience the different areas of the park.

Another thing to think about - the Mammoth area has the lowest elevation - so it will be hotter in the summer but that warmth will feel good in the early spring and late fall.

Right now our campground of choice is Fishing Bridge RV park because we are in an RV and things run more smoothly when we have access to electricity. It has a good central location - fairly easy to get all over the park. The disadvantage of Fishing Bridge is that all of the RV's are parked very close together - it is NOT a scenic camping area. We stayed at Pebble Creek a few days and found that you really can survive without a generator several days- but we kept the inverter off most of the time and really worked to minimize the electricty we used. And Pebble Creek is one of the more scenic pretty areas to camp. Slough Creek, Norris, and Indian Creek all have charm in their settings.

I also learned that I enjoy my stay in Yellowstone better if I'm not trying to fix 3 meals a day. Yellowstone is a long drive for us - so I don't want to spend all my time cooking. We find that eating breakfast at home works. Sometimes we take a picnic lunch and then eat a hot meal at one of the restaurants for supper. Other times we grab a quick hamburger for lunch and then have chili, frito pie, or sandwiches for supper. One year I was tring to do fancy campground cooking while at Yellowstone - I gave that up quickly. There is too much to see and experience at Yellowstone to waste a lot of time cooking elaborate campground meals.

There are small grocery stores in Yellowstone. You can certainly get bread, lunch meat, chips, canned goods, milk, eggs, soda,some frozen dinners, pizzas, etc. I have been trying to eat a lo-carb diet - I didn't find things like my lo-carb slimfast or the low carb yogurts. So, if you are tent camping you can probably go get these limited items throughout your stay. If you are coming in an RV, I strongly recommend doing a good stockup in one of the towns right outside the park. (that may seem obvious, but we were midway between grocery runs when we entered the park this time - we had stocked up a day or so before, but did not "top off") The Teton store had a larger selection of grocery items. And of course you can make a run into West Yellowstone or Gardiner. But we spent most of our last trip at Fishing Bridge - so making a big grocery run with items needing refrigerating was not an option. We spent three weeks at the park and got by pretty well with the items we could get in the stores in the park.

If you are going very early in the season or very late in the season, my other blog, Yellowstone Facilities 07 Schedule will help you know what will be open to provide your gas and supplies.

Campground Information

Xanterra Campgrounds
To make reservations with the Xanterra campgrounds: Phone numbers: Same day #307-344-7901 Future Reservations: 307-344-7311 or 866-439-7375 Vehicles over 30 foot should make reservations in advance because limited number of sites that can accommodate the larger RV's.

Bridge Bay
Fishing Bridge - only campsite in Yellowstone with water, sewer, and electrical hookups - hard sided vehicles only
Grant Village

Park Service First come first served campgrounds

Indian Creek
Lewis Lake
Slough Creek
Pebble Creek
Tower Falls

Outside the Park
Flag Ranch, West Yellowstone, National Forest Campgrounds east of Cooke City (NE Entrance)

No overnight camping outside designated camping areas.

For those campers that prefer flush toilets: Bridge Bay, Canyon, Fishing Bridge RV, Gramt., Madison, Mammoth, Norris,

No generators: Indian Creek,Lewis Lake, Pebble Creek, Slough Creek, Tower Falls

Calendar (2007)

Mammoth - open all year

Order in which they open:

May 4-October 28 Madison
May 18-Sept 30 Fishing Bridge
May 18-Sept 24 Norris
May 18-Sept 24 Tower
May 25-Sept 16 Bridge Bay
May 25-Oct 31 Slough Creek
June 8-Sept 9 Canyon
June 8-Sept 17 Indian Creek
June 8-Sept 24 Pebble Creek
June15-Nov 4 Lewis Lake
June 21-Sept 23 Grant

Order in which they close
Sept 9 Canyon
Sept 16 Bridge Bay
Sept 17 Indian Creek
Sept 23 Grant
Sept 24 Norris
Sept 24 Tower
Sept 24 Pebble Creek
Sept 30 Fishing Bridge
Oct 28 Madison
Oct 31 Slough Creek
Nov 4 Lewis Lake'


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much! I took a lot of notes :)

Unknown said...

Hi I had a question, and I want to get the inside track. In have a 36ft travel trailer. Do they physically measure the length of travel trailers when you arrive? Because they have plenty of double wide 35ft spots at Fishing Bridge, but the 40ft spots are already booked full all summer. Will I be able to put a 36ft trailer in a 35 ft spot? Or will they really turn be away at the door? Thanks.

Mary Ann Melton said...

I would not think 1 foot would matter that much. However spacing IS tight in the Fishing Bridge Campground. I suspect that as long as you fit into the spot, you would be fine. However, if your trailer sticks out such that parking your car is a problem or it extends into the roadway, that would be a problem.

Brian said...

Hi I had a question, and I want to get the inside track. In have a 36ft travel trailer. Do they physically measure the length of travel trailers when you arrive? Because they have plenty of double wide 35ft spots at Fishing Bridge, but the 40ft spots are already booked full all summer. Will I be able to put a 36ft trailer in a 35 ft spot? Or will they really turn be away at the door? Thanks.

Brian said...

Thanks for the fast reply. The main reason I ask is because I have heard that other national parks some times have lines painted on the road. Also the the Yellowstone website makes it sound as of you are an inch longer than 35ft you will be turned away. I just wanted to figure out if that was reality or mostly just so people with 39ft campers didn't try to cram into a 35ft spot. Again thank for your insight,I really appreciate it.

Mary Ann Melton said...

The Fishing Bridge campground is mainly a nice parking lot with trees through it with parking spaces with hookups for RV's. Wildlife will go right through it - I remember seeing a coyote go through the campground. But it is centrally located within the park and it DOES have electricity. Which is all we ever want for a several day stay. We can fill our water and dump and last several days to a week without having to refill or dump. The campgrounds in West Yellowstone are outside the park and you have a drive each day to get to what you are interesting in seeing and doing. Madison Campground inside the park also allows reservations but it does not have electricity or water at each site. You can call and get more information. The other thing to remember is that people DO cancel reservations so you can check back regularly and see if the size campsite you want comes available.