By Matt, Updated Dec 2021
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I’ll never forget the time we camped near Hebgen Lake, just outside of Yellowstone. We were in a tent. And at night, we heard coyotes howling nearby. It was thrilling! You can’t get that in a hotel.
If you’re thinking about camping in Yellowstone, good decision!!
In this article, I hope to provide the most complete guide for camping in and around Yellowstone.
Quick overview of Yellowstone
Before we cover the campgrounds, get to know the layout of the park. There are five entrances to the park. From the entrances, it can take 10-30 minutes to get to the Grand Loop Road, which is where the main attractions are.
The Grand Loop Road is basically a figure 8. We always just refer to it as the Upper Loop and the Lower Loop. For a quick overview of the two loops and what to do on them, watch our video.
Campgrounds inside Yellowstone
There are 12 campgrounds and over 2,000 campsites in Yellowstone.
The easiest way to divide these campgrounds is by Upper Loop, Lower Loop, and those in the middle of the Loops.
Campgrounds on the Upper Loop include:
- Indian Creek
- Tower Fall
- Slough Creek (Lamar Valley)
- Pebble Creek (Lamar Valley)
Campgrounds on the Lower Loop include:
- Lewis Lake
- Grant Village
- Bridge Bay
- Fishing Bridge
Campgrounds in the middle of the loops (basically, located on both loops) include:
Visiting Yellowstone and need a game plan to see the park? We got you covered! We offer a must-have travel guide, complete with audio.
What are the best Yellowstone campgrounds?
It sort of depends on what you’re after.
- If you want the most convenient place to stay so you can see as much of the park as possible, stay in Madison, Norris, or Canyon.
- If you want seclusion, aim for a small campground like Lewis Lake, Indian Creek, Slough Creek, or Pebble Creek.
- If you want to stay near Grand Teton National Park as well, stay in Grant Village or Lewis Lake. You can also stay in Grand Teton at Headwaters or Lizard Creek (not covered in this article). However, if you’re visiting both parks we recommend changing loding/camping locations rather than trying to use one location.
- If you have a big RV, stay outside the park (see below).
- If you want to be close to the lake, stay at Bridge Bay, Fishing Bridge, or Grant Village.
- If you want to be near wildlife, stay at Slough Creek, Pebble Creek, Fishing Bridge, or Grant Village.
How to reserve campgrounds in Yellowstone
Yellowstone’s campgrounds are managed by two different entities: the National Park Service (NPS) and Xanterra. Most are reservable, but some are only first-come, first-served.
- I did A LOT of research on this and put together a comprehensive spreadsheet with all the amenities each campground offers. If you would like this, sign up for our newsletter and it will be in the first newsletter which you’ll receive immediately.
National Park Service Campgrounds
These campgrounds are managed by the NPS:
|Pebble Creek (sites 1-16)||Upper||16||Jun-Sep|
To book one of these campgrounds, you must visit recreation.gov.
Xanterra is a concessionaire for the park. It manages ALL the lodging in the park as well as some of the campgrounds:
|Fishing Bridge RV||Lower||346||May-Sep|
To reserve one of these campgrounds, visit Xanterra at yellowstonenationalparklodges.com.
First-come, first-served (FCFS) campgrounds
Just to make things more confusing, some of the campgrounds in the park are not reservable, and one of them has some sites that are reservable and some that are first-come, first-served.
|Pebble Creek (sites 17-27)||Upper||11||Jun-Sep|
In recent years, getting an FCFS site usually requires arriving around 6:00 AM. Yes, in the early morning.
The park updates its website when the campgrounds fill up, which is helpful if you have an internet connection. You probably won’t have any connection inside the park, but if you’re considering an FCFS site, monitor that website in the days before your trip to see when the campgrounds usually fill up.
One thing to note about that: the fill-times might not be all that helpful because sometimes there’s a line of people waiting to get in the park and they can’t get a site until someone leaves their campground. So while the fill time might show as 9 am, there might be people who were waiting in line hours before that who never made it in.
I’ve read stories online of people getting to a campground at 5:00 AM and waiting in line until a spot opened up around 10:00 (check-out time). I guess if you’re in an RV you can hang out and sleep or something, but this isn’t something I want to do.
Does Yellowstone have Group Sites?
Yes, there are three campgrounds in Yellowstone that have group sites, and they are all managed by Xanterra: Bridge Bay, Grant Village, and Madison.
Prices range from around $150-$450, depending on the campsite and group size.
It’s difficult to find them on the Xanterra website, however, so I recommend calling them at 307-344-7311. I’ve spoken to them many times and they are very helpful!
Does Yellowstone have ADA Accessible sites?
Every campground except Tower Fall and Lewis Lake has ADA Accessible sites.
How do you find these ADA Accessible sites?
If you’re booking one of the NPS sites through recreation.gov, you can filter the results by “Accessibility.”
If you’re booking one of the Xanterra sites, I recommend calling them at 307-344-7311. I’m not aware of a way to filter the results on their website.
- Disabled or elderly? Watch my video about visiting Yellowstone if you are disabled or impaired.
How much do Yellowstone campgrounds cost?
Campgrounds in Yellowstone range from $20-40 per night, except for Fishing Bridge RV Park, which costs over $80.
Bikers and hikers — people without a vehicle — pay $5-9 typically.
Those with a Senior Pass or an Access Pass (for the disabled) get a 50% discount at all the campgrounds except Fishing Bridge RV Park.
As mentioned above, group sites are more expensive.
- Is camping not your speed? Read our article Where to Stay When Visiting Yellowstone
- We recommend using Booking.com to book all lodging accommodations, flights, and rental cars.
Are there tent-only sites?
Yes! There are RV + tent sites and tent-only sites. Generally, the NPS campgrounds have 8 feet by 8 feet tent pads. The Xanterra campgrounds have 8 x 8, 12 x 12, and 18 x 18 tent pads.
How big are the campsites in Yellowstone (can I fit my RV/Trailer in them)?
When Yellowstone lists measurements for RVs/Trailers, they list the total vehicle + trailer length. So basically, at most campgrounds, there is only one parking spot for your truck and trailer — so both need to fit into the spot.
Most campgrounds do not have wide enough spots for you to park your truck next to your trailer. Most sites are either pull-through sites or back-in sites.
This means the combined length of your truck and trailer must be under the size limit for the campground!
Most campsites only allow up to a 30-foot RV/Trailer, although each campground has a few longer sites (they book up fast!).
One of the complaints I’ve seen online is that national park campsites are cramped. They tend to be smaller, which means your neighbors are closer. I’ve never been annoyed by this, personally. However, when I stay outside of Yellowstone, I’ve noticed the campsites are a little bigger.
So if it’s space you’re after, find a campsite near Yellowstone (see below).
Are generators allowed?
Generators are allowed in the following campgrounds from 8 am-8 pm ONLY.
- Bridge Bay
- Fishing Bridge RV
- Grand Village
Which campgrounds in Yellowstone have full hookups?
Only one campground has full hookups: Fishing Bridge RV.
Full hookups means electricity, water, and sewer.
There are no other campgrounds in Yellowstone with even “partial” hookups, meaning that no other campgrounds have electricity, water, OR sewer.
Which campgrounds in Yellowstone have dump stations?
Only the Xanterra campgrounds have dump stations:
- Bridge Bay
- Fishing Bridge RV Park
- Grant Village
Where can I get a shower in Yellowstone?
There are three campgrounds in the park that have showers.
- Grant Village Campground
- Fishing Bridge RV Park
- Canyon Village Campground
If you are staying at these places, you get 2 free showers per day. Anything beyond that and you need to pay. If you are not staying at that campground (or any campground for that matter), you can still pay to use the showers.
There are also four hotels that offer public showers. Anyone can pay to use their public showers.
- Old Faithful Inn (not a campground, but still publicly available)
- Old Faithful Lodge (not Old Faithful Snow Lodge)
- Mammoth Hotel
- Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins
I called the park and Xanterra and no one could tell me how much the showers are, nor how to pay for them! I believe you can pay at the front desk or camper services building with cash or card, but I recommend bringing cash just to make sure. I would also plan on at least $10 per shower, although I believe they are less than that.
Also, there is one place outside the park that offers showers:
- North Entrance Washtub
This is located in Gardiner, Montana. It’s a laundromat and it also offers 10-minute showers for $5.
Are there backcountry campgrounds in Yellowstone?
There are tons of campsites for hikers who want to get off the beaten path. You must obtain a permit for this. To find out more about the permit process, and where the campgrounds are, see this link on Yellowstone’s website.
What is the weather like in Yellowstone?
The temperatures fluctuate drastically in the area. During the day, the temperatures usually get to the 60s and 70s in the summer (sometimes 80s). At night, it’s usually in the 30s (yes, even in the summer). So BE PREPARED for cold nights and perfect days. Dress in layers. If you’re tenting it, make sure your sleeping bag is sufficiently warm.
That’s why we prepared a Yellowstone packing guide for you.
When are the Yellowstone campgrounds open?
Except for Mammoth, the campgrounds in Yellowstone gradually open from April to June, and they close in late September to mid-October.
It takes the park about two months in the spring to plow the hundreds of miles of roads to get the park fully open, which is why not all the campgrounds open at the same time.
They generally close in late September or mid-October. Lewis Lake (closest to Grand Teton on the south) stays open until November, however.
Mammoth campground stays open the entire year. It’s located on the northern road which is open all year and is plowed regularly.
For more about the weather and roads, watch the video below. You’ll be amazed by the snow-plowing operation!
Does wildlife enter the Yellowstone campgrounds?
Yes! It’s quite possible your campground could be visited by Elk, depending on your location.
Fox and coyotes are also possible.
Bison rarely visit the campgrounds because the campgrounds are in wooded areas and the bison hang out in the plains.
Bears can also visit the campgrounds, which is why you must put all your food and drink in a bear box. But don’t let that scare you — it’s extremely rare because bears prefer to avoid people.
- Watch our video about the best places to find wildlife in Yellowstone.
- Want a game plan to get to the best spots to find wildlife? Check out our travel guide.
Campground rules you need to know
There are a few basic rules you need to know if you’re camping in the park.
- Quiet hours are 8 PM to 8 AM. Don’t run generators during that time and try to limit the noise coming from your campground.
- BEAR BOXES. It’s bear country, so you don’t want to be luring them into your campground by leaving your food out. All campgrounds have bear boxes for you to keep your food in at night. You can also keep the food in your vehicle or trailer. But don’t keep it in your tent! Don’t leave food OR water out on the table or make a habit of throwing discarded food (for example, soup) on the ground. Rangers WILL give you a ticket, which is better than bears giving you a nibble.
- You can camp in your vehicle, but you must be in a campsite. You cannot simply sleep in your car in a parking lot, picnic area, or along the side of the road.
- Campfires are allowed in all campgrounds except Fishing Bridge RV Park. Sometimes campfires are prohibited during periods of drought, however.
- Campsite occupancy is limited to six people per site.
- My understanding is they don’t want you bringing firewood from another area because it may contain pests that damage the forest. Every campsite sells affordable firewood. You can also buy some from cities near the park or general stores in the park.
One of the things we enjoy most about camping in the park is the Campfire Ranger Programs!
Some campgrounds have an amphitheater. Just walk to the amphitheater at night and take in a polished and professional presentation about some aspect of the park.
Anyone can enjoy a campfire program; you do NOT have to stay at the campground. Just pull into the campground parking lot and make your way to the amphitheater.
You can also catch Ranger Programs in different places all over the park during the day, such as at Old Faithful.
All ranger programs were canceled during COVID, so for updated status, check the park ranger program website.
Campgrounds near Yellowstone
There are SO MANY campgrounds outside of Yellowstone that it would be impossible to discuss each one or make a chart. But, here are some important things to know.
- More options. If you stay outside the park, you’ll have a much greater selection of campgrounds, amenities, and hook ups. Obviously there will be a cost difference as well. Forest service campgrounds often start at $20, while private sites with lots of amenities will cost much more.
- Longer camping season. Parks inside Yellowstone are generally open mid-June to mid-September, while campgrounds outside the park have a longer season. I did a recent search and I found many sites available in October.
- Forest Service campgrounds. Most campgrounds near Yellowstone are administered by the Forest Service. This link shows you which campgrounds are near which entrance to the park. Go to recreation.gov or use the recreation.gov app to search for availability and to book your sites.
- Free camping (boondocking). The Forest Service has some free sites. See below.
- Private campgrounds. There are also many private campgrounds and KOAs all around the park. My suggestion here would be to use Google Maps to search for camping in the area you’re interested in. Speaking of which…
- Consider your area. If you’re thinking about camping outside the park, consider that it will take some time to drive to the park, and then even more time to drive to the Grand Loop Road. If you camp in Cody, Wyoming, for example, it will take you 2.5 hours to drive to Old Faithful. Generally, you’re closer to the action if you stay in West Yellowstone or north of the park near Gardiner, MT. If you stay on the east or south sides of the park, the drive to the Grand Loop Road is longer. If you’re planning on visiting Grand Teton, maybe you’ll want to camp in between the parks. If you need a game plan to structure your days, check out our travel guide for a super-simple and clear guide to get the see the best of Yellowstone. You’ll also get our amazing audio guide full of history about the park.
- Consider the trade offs. Generally, staying outside the park is a trade-off. You’ll have more options, more space, and fewer crowds. But you’ll drive more. On a recent trip, I stayed near Hebgen Lake. It was a beautiful campsite, and the drive was really pretty. But I didn’t spend much time in the campground because I had to drive a lot (and site-seeing in Yellowstone takes most of the day anyway).
Here are some areas to consider camping:
West Yellowstone/Island Park/Hebgen Lake
Rainbow Point is on the south side of Hebgen Lake so it’s closer to the entrance to Yellowstone.
- Watch my video about the tragic 1959 earthquake that formed Earthquake Lake.
I’ve stayed at the Absaroka Inn in Gardiner, but I haven’t camped in that area. But the entrance is close to the park, so that makes it a place you should consider if you can’t get camping inside the park.
Pelican Valley is an absolutely gorgeous valley located between Yellowstone’s East Entrance and Cody, Wyoming.
I haven’t camped here, but you can’t really go wrong — the entire place is quite breathtaking.
Cooke City-Silver Gate
I didn’t circle this on the map above because it’s really far away from most of the action in Yellowstone.
But I listed it here because it is a good place to stay to visit Lamar Valley. I’ve stayed here twice so I could spend more time in Lamar Valley and get up early to see the wolves.
But then I changed camping locations to see other places in the park.
The area is really pretty and you’ll certainly feel far removed from the crowds. Also, the Beartooth Highway is on the east side of the park so try to work that into your schedule as you’re arriving or leaving the park because it’s an experience you won’t forget!
Are there free campgrounds (boondocking) near Yellowstone?
The Forest Service has some free sites. These obviously have very few amenities — oftentimes they just have water. I’ve put together a little map of some free sites around the area. This is by no means a comprehensive list.
Should you camp inside or outside the park?
If it’s your first time seeing Yellowstone, I highly recommend camping inside the park because:
- You’ll avoid lines to enter the park each day
- You’ll be closer to the action and drive less
- You’ll get that Yellowstone experience by being immersed in the park.
- You can attend a Campfire Ranger Program
However, some benefits to camping outside the park include:
- Your trailer/RV is too big for the NPS campgrounds
- You prefer larger campsites and more secluded areas
- You don’t mind driving long distances to get to the park and around the park
- The campgrounds in the park are booked up
In reality, you can’t go wrong either way.
Should you camp or stay in a hotel?
Here again, you can’t go wrong either way. Hotels in the park (and even near the park) can be a great part of the experience and can certainly provide a rustic feel as well.
- For hotel lodging, we recommend using booking.com.
But here are a few great reasons to camp:
It’s cheap. The sites range from about $20-$80 per night. This is far cheaper than staying in a hotel, lodge, or cabin within the park, which costs anywhere between $177 and $400 per night (during peak season), or hotels outside the park, which cost around $200 per night.
Of course, this is assuming you’ve already spent the money on a trailer/RV/tent
Wildlife. Many of the campgrounds (inside and outside of the park) get 4-legged visitors, like bison, elk, and yes, bears.
Don’t let that scare you. Remember, you don’t have to outrun the animal, just the person next to you. LOL. No really, there have only been 8 bear-related deaths in Yellowstone ever, and only 44 injuries since 1979. So it’s not very dangerous. We stayed at Grant campground once and had a huge bull elk visit us and bugle. It was fantastic.
We’ve also seen wildlife while camping outside the park. We once had coyotes howling in our campground, and recently we saw a fox just outside our campground.
Yellowstone doesn’t have fences, so it’s not like wildlife know about the boundaries. The national park sits inside of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, which has wildlife all over the place.
Ranger programs. I covered this above, but we have enjoyed these so much over the years. The most recent program we attended was at Madison, where the ranger used a slideshow of incredible images, walking us through the four seasons at Yellowstone.
After a long day of experiencing the park, it’s nice to just take a little walk to the amphitheater to listen to a program.
Campfires. It’s a great American tradition: cooking s’mores around the campfire. Campfires are great places for connecting because people talk to each other when they sit around a campfire. Recently all our kids and their cousins were dancing around the campfire in our campsite. It was fantastic.
Morning Mountain Air. One of the things I like most about camping is waking up to beautiful mountain mornings. I don’t want to go all John Denver on you, but hey, I love the mountain air, the trees, the birds, etc.
I hope this helps you plan your next camping trip to Yellowstone. We’ve enjoyed it so much over the years that I hope this will make it a little easier for you to enjoy your next camping trip to Yellowstone.
Let us show you around the park and tell you about it with our must-have travel guide. This includes a very detailed itinerary to see the best of Yellowstone, as well as an audio guide to tell you all about it! And if you’re also planning on visiting Grand Teton, we have a travel guide to there as well.
- Don’t forget to sign up for our free newsletter and get a free Yellowstone campground chart!
- Yellowstone’s official camping page, which has all the most up to date information.
- Xanterra’s website to book the campgrounds they administer.
- Recreation.gov, which manages the reservations for the NPS-administered campgrounds.
Resources to Read
- Our Yellowstone trip-planner page with many tips, maps, and resources.
- Our Yellowstone step-by-step travel guide and audio guide, which is like hiring a private tour guide, only much cheaper (and without the B.O.)!
- 11 Things to do Outside Yellowstone National Park
- 21 Tips for Visiting Yellowstone
- Driving in Yellowstone: 8 things you need to know
- Flying to Yellowstone and Grand Teton? What to know
- Your guide to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Resources to Watch
- Our Yellowstone Trip Planner
- Yellowstone’s Best Campsites + 10 things you need to know
- 20 blunders to avoid when visiting Yellowstone
- 20 things to know about Bear Spray
- How to plan a trip to the National Parks in 2022: 10 Tips
- More GREAT things to see at Yellowstone
- The Beartooth Highway: Driving to the sky on the orphaned road
- Top 12 National Parks in the West