Yellowstone Backcountry Camping: A Quick Introduction

Yellowstone National Park

If you prefer to avoid the crowds and really enjoy the true beauty of Yellowstone National Park, consider spending at least a few days camping in Yellowstone's backcountry.

Backcountry Camping Yellowstone Style

Depending on your interest and skill level, the backcountry of Yellowstone is somewhat restricted. Most trails are socked in with snow and ice during the winter, although some remain open to snowshoes and cross-country skiing. The ideal time to visit the backcountry at Yellowstone is usually from late spring (May) to late fall (November).Backcountry camping opportunities are almost unlimited in Yellowstone as 98% of the park's land is actually inaccessible by road. With 1,200 miles of trails, you are sure to find one that suits your interests. For most, the reasons to hike and pack the trails of Yellowstone are to escape the crowds, and there is no better way then backcountry camping.

Ways to Travel

If you are relatively new to backpacking, you can still explore the backcountry of Yellowstone Park with a guide. Private outfitters are available to help lead you through the terrain and offer advice to keep you safe in the backcountry. Examples include Beartooth Plateau Outfitters, Rockin' HK Outfitters and Yellowstone Backcountry Outfitters. Before you hire any outfitter, be sure they have a current permit on file from the National Park Service. Hiking is not the only way to explore backcountry camping in Yellowstone. Travel by saddle horse, mountain bike or even canoe to your camping destination.

Types of Backcountry Campsites

Yellowstone National Park does provide a well-planned system of designated backcountry campsites. There are approximately 300 sites and backpackers are required to camp only in these specific locations. The sites are simple and private, most with a fire ring and food pole, and they can be reserved. If you will be traveling during the busy season, it is important to plan in advance and reserve a spot. Campfires are allowed in the backcountry as long as you use an established fire pit and only select dead downed wood. To ensure the ability to cook food, a backpacker's stove is ideal. Purify all water before drinking.

There are no bathrooms or garbage cans in the outback. So, plan to bury all human waste away from water sources and carry out all trash.


Yellowstone is known for bears and geysers. In the backlands of the park, you will see the wilds up close and it is important to know all the necessary precautions. Even with all the people who visit the park every year, bear attacks are relatively rare. As long as you follow important procedures, you should have nothing to fear. Food is the main concern with bear protection, so be sure to learn how to keep food scraps away from your camp. If you are unfamiliar with bear behavior, spend some time at a Ranger Station before you head out. The park staff can easily fill you in on all the specifics of how to protect yourself and your food.

Central Backcountry Office

For all backcountry trips in Yellowstone, you will want to contact the Central Backcountry Office at 307-344-2160. They will provide you with a trip planner, maps, forms and permits. It is required to have this information completed before you can begin your trek.

Important Steps

Before setting foot to trail at Yellowstone, you must follow these important steps:

  1. Always register with the nearest Visitor Center or Ranger Station immediately before you begin your hike. This is true for day hikes as well as long backpacks.
  2. Research your trail and terrain. The hikes at Yellowstone are not a walk in the park. Make sure you know your true abilities and plan accordingly.
  3. Double-check the weather forecasts and trail conditions, as these can often change quickly in the Yellowstone climate.
  4. Pack appropriately. Be prepared for anything: ticks, mosquitoes, rain, cold, snow are all common in the backcountry.
  5. Always carry a topography map and compass and make sure you know how to use them.

More Information About Backcountry Camping in Yellowstone

If you are planning to take a true wilderness adventure, then certainly backcountry camping in Yellowstone is for you. If you need further information, including details regarding how to obtain permits, make reservations and more, visit the Backcountry Camping & Hiking section of the official Yellowstone National Park website provided by the National Park Service.

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Yellowstone Backcountry Camping: A Quick Introduction