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Camping Guide to Yellowstone

Camping Guide to Yellowstone

Written by: , May 16th, 2024
Categories: Tips


Exploring Yellowstone National Park is a one-of-a-kind experience. Sleeping under our stars allows you to take in the beauty of Yellowstone and experience it in a whole new way. It’s one of the most popular camping destinations in America. Whether you choose one campground as your home base or explore several different sites to cover more ground, there’s no better way to discover America’s first National Park.

Follow these tips to maximize the indescribable wow and minimize the anxiety of your next camping trip.


Plan ahead and book campsites as early as possible.

Xanterra operates four campgrounds and an RV park totaling approximately 1,700 sites that accept reservations, while the National Park Service operates seven campgrounds with more than 450 sites that are first-come, first-served and usually fill by early morning during peak season.

Park campgrounds are mostly seasonal and their opening dates can vary from year to year. Most campgrounds begin opening in May and close sometime in September. The Mammoth Hot Springs campground, usually open year-round, has currently closed due to the flood of 2022 but is scheduled to reopen this year – TBA. Being flexible with dates or sites gives you a better chance of securing a reservation.

Consider buying an annual pass to the national parks for $80 (free to military).

The America the Beautiful passes cover entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands. Fourth graders and their families are eligible for the “Every Kid in a Park” pass which grants them free access throughout the year.

Pack smartly by understanding the weather at your destination.

The temperature and conditions can vary greatly, depending on the park. At Yellowstone, day temperatures may be in the 70s, then may dip to freezing at night, even in summer. Pack rain gear, sturdy hiking shoes, hats, and sunscreen. Check the National Park Service website for seasonal weather.

Hang on to that map the ranger hands you when you enter the park.

We’re accustomed to using our phones for navigation, but cell coverage is spotty at best in many parks. So rely on that old-fashioned piece of paper.

Build in unscheduled time to explore the options at your park.

Whether it’s a guided ranger tour, an art class, or a hike on a less-traveled trail recommended by a camper nearby, leave time for serendipity.

Yellowstone Tour stopping to watch wildlife

Let someone else do the driving and check out guided tours in the park. 

There is a dizzying array of opportunities for exploration-on land, on water, on horseback, and more.

Embrace the retreat from civilization.

National parks are rare places in the modern world that are quiet and dark. And camping provides the perfect way to enjoy that. Find a spot where you can listen to the silence and watch the Milky Way emerge from the blackest of night skies. Turn your cell phone off for some real peace and quiet.


Camp outside the prescribed area.

Limit the impact on the park’s natural areas by sticking to your designated site.

Bear box in the Tower Campground

Leave your food out.

Store it in your vehicle or in a designated animal-proof container, often provided at the campground. Keeping your food protected keeps you safe from an up-close-and-personal meeting with wildlife.

Engage the wildlife.

It’s their turf; you’re just a temporary resident. Take sensible precautions and remember that wildlife means “wild.”

Leave a mess.

When you pack, reduce your litter even in a campsite. Trash attracts wildlife and insects. Leave no trace.

Forget first aid.

Pack a small kit of essentials you may need so you don’t have to go out looking for a Band-Aid when you injure yourself with the s’mores stick at midnight.

From woodsy sites to open meadows, here is your guide to reserving the right Yellowstone Campground.

Campsite at Bridge Bay Campground

1. Bridge Bay Campground

Setting: Scenic, with wooded areas, open meadows, and some distant views of the lake
Sites: Open sites with few trees. Upper loops are more wooded with a combination of sunny and shaded sites
Known for: Fishing and boating
Perfect if you want to be near the marina, boat tours and rentals: fishing trips, gear, and supplies

Sunset on the Madison River

2. Madison Campground

Setting: Lush mountain setting rich in wildlife
Sites: Partly wooded area, with a variety of mostly sunny to mostly shaded sites
Known for: Great fly-fishing and convenient location
Perfect if you want to be near Old Faithful and the Upper, Midway, and Lower Geyser Basins

3. Canyon Campground

Setting: Thick, wooded site, relatively central within the park
Sites: Range from partly shady to more sunny
Known for: Central location with easy access to many services and amenities
Perfect if you want to be near: Yellowstone’s breathtaking Grand Canyon

Visitor at Black Pool at West Thumb Geyser Basin

4. Grant Village

Setting: Woodsy campground near the southwest shore of Yellowstone Lake
Sites: Partly shady or sunny sites
Known for: Relaxing lake setting with fishing and boating opportunities
Perfect if you want to be near: The enchanting West Thumb Geyser Basin

5. Fishing Bridge RV Park

Setting: Surrounded by pine forest
Sites: Open with back-in access
Known for: For hard-sided recreational vehicles only
Perfect if you want to be near: Hayden Valley for prime wildlife watching

All sites offer:
Access to water, public restrooms with flush toilets, faucets with cold running water, dishwashing stations, picnic table*, and fire grate*, with pay showers and coin laundry onsite or nearby.

Once you have your campsite the adventure begins!

Check out this infographic guide to camping in Yellowstone National Park.

*Not available at Fishing Bridge

Additional first come, first served campsites are operated by the NPS in Yellowstone.

Contributors to this article include Jim Morrison. Jim has flown barrel rolls with the Navy’s Blue Angels (he didn’t barf), climbed and slept overnight in a 243-foot-tall redwood (he didn’t fall), and gone one-on-one with Muhammad Ali (he didn’t flinch). His award-winning stories have appeared in Smithsonian, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, Private Clubs, This Old House, National Wildlife, and numerous other publications.

For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from Xanterra Travel Collection® and its affiliated properties, visit

Want to experience Yellowstone in-depth? See what makes Yellowstone National Park a great place to work for a season or longer!