Are you planning on camping during your trip to Yellowstone this summer? If so, plan to be in for a once-in-a lifetime adventure. Starry skies, fresh mountain air, and stories told ‘round a campfire create lasting memories for friends and families. Unfortunately, camping in and around the world’s first national park can be frustrating for those who don’t do their research and plan ahead, with too few campsites in and around Yellowstone to keep up with a recent surge in demand.
If you’re having difficulty finding a campsite, the North Entrance community of Gardiner offers a wide variety of lodging by advance reservation. If you are able to find a place to pitch a tent, here are some tips to help you maximize your experience, ensuring you camp in a way that’s safe, respectful, and protects the environment you are traveling so far to appreciate:
DO: Remember you are camping in bear country. Keep all food, toiletries, trash, and other attractants in an enclosed vehicle, widows up, or in an approved bearproof storage container.
DON’T: Keep a messy campsite and store food and other attractants improperly. This creates a safety hazard for both you and the bear you may draw to your tent and surrounding campsites.
DO: Plan ahead. Many campsites in Yellowstone require reservations and others are first come first served. Camping outside Yellowstone is subject to rules and restrictions you’ll need to research. RV parks outside Yellowstone are few and far between and tend to fill quite quickly.
DON’T: Arrive without a plan expecting to find a campsite. You will likely find yourself scrambling late for lodging, feeling stressed, or having to keep driving to find a place to sleep.
DO: Camp only in designated areas. The Custer-Gallatin National Forest provides information online for developed and dispersed camping outside Yellowstone. Yellowstone National Park provides campground information online and at all entrance stations.
DON’T: Camp in pullouts, parking lots, at Arch Park, on the streets of Gardiner, or at trailheads and fishing accesses. Camping is not permitted in these areas and will result in you getting moved along by landowners or law enforcement rangers and possibly being fined and ticketed.
DO: Pack out garbage and waste. Some developed campgrounds provide trash cans, but many don’t. Properly dispose of rubbish, food waste, septic fluids, and solid human waste to keep campsites safe and pristine for future visitors. To dispose of solid human waste properly, pack it out or bury it 8 inches in dirt and at least 200 feet away from any water source.
DON’T: Dump RV septic and grey water outside of designated dumping stations (it’s illegal). Don’t leave solid human waste above ground covered with a rock or toilet paper. Don’t burn food waste in campfire rings (it attracts bears) or leave garbage at your campsite.
DO: Enjoy a campfire. Campfires offer light, warmth, comradery, and a fun way to cook outside. For everyone’s safety, use an existing or designated campfire ring and be sure to extinguish the fire completely when done. Ashes should be fully drenched and cool to touch.
DON’T: Start a wildfire. Building new campfire rings is dangerous and damages soil and fragile plants. If you don’t completely extinguish ashes, you risk causing an out-of-control wildfire that can hurt you, residents, and wildlife. Keep in mind you can be held financially liable for the cost of fighting the wildfire and the cost of the property destroyed. Be sure to adhere to local fire restrictions.
DO: Enjoy your visit to Yellowstone and Gardiner, Montana, Nature’s Favorite Entrance. We hope you enjoy your stay with us—whether it’s indoors or out— and thank you for taking a moment to learn about sleeping outside. We hope you find this guide useful while you’re planning your summer adventure. Happy Camping!
For information on camping on the national forest visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/activity/custergallatin/recreation/camping-cabins
For information on camping within Yellowstone National Park visit: https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/campgrounds.htm
Chelsea DeWeese is a freelance writer who pens from her hometown of Gardiner, Montana, the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park.