The Five Best Places to Camp in Yellowstone

  |  Gorp.com
Tent camping in Yellowstone National Park
Tent camping in Yellowstone National Park  (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

Summer's here, and it's time to start plotting your next excursion to Yellowstone National Park. Whether it's for a quick wolf-watching visit, a backpacking trip, or a class at the excellent Yellowstone Association Institute, you can go back time and time again and never feel that you've seen it all. The best places to camp in Yellowstone are in the backcountry (reservations required; for more information check out the park's Backcountry Trip Planner) and at the smaller campgrounds (reservations not available). Get to the latter early—some are full by 8 a.m. in peak summer season.

Slough Creek Campground
Tucked away in the park’s northwest corner, off of the Lamar River Valley, Slough Creek Campground is a great wildlife-watching spot as well as one of the park’s best fly-fishing tributaries. Centered on a creek-side, forest-fringed meadow, the 29 sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis and aren’t designed for big-rig RVs; you'll see mostly tents. The campground is right next to the trailhead for the Slough Creek Trail, which runs 11 miles north to the park boundary, where it connects with trails in the Gallatin National Forest. Another perk: The campground is 2.5 miles from the main park road, so you get a sense of privacy sorely lacking in some of the bigger campgrounds in the park. Facilities are basic (hand-pumped water, vault toilets), and generators aren’t allowed.

Norris Campground
If you're looking for a more central location in good proximity to the park’s legendary sightseeing loop drives, look no farther than Norris Campground. It offers easy access to the Norris Geyser Basin (one of the park's most active geothermal areas, accessible on foot via a ten-minute walk) as well as the Gibbon River near its confluence with Solfatara Creek. The creek is paralleled by a trail of the same name that meanders through the forest to Lemonade Creek (aptly named for its looks, not its taste—it's undrinkable). The first-come, first-served campground has a few walk-in sites as well as a few for RVs; most of the 100 sites are for tents. The Museum of the National Park Ranger, at the campground's entrance, has exhibits on ranger uniforms, ranger duties, and other ranger topics.

Lewis Lake Campground
A base that's great for exploring both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, the nicely treed Lewis Lake Campground provides a base that's not as busy as the campgrounds on the Grand Loop, but one that's still very convenient for hikers and anglers. Like Norris and Slough Creek, it's first-come, first-served (but it's traditionally the last to hang the "no vacancy" sign), and generators aren’t allowed. Just a short walk away, Lewis Lake is the third-largest in Yellowstone and attracts fishermen in the spring, when most rivers and creeks are too cloudy to fish. The campground also is close to a great hiking route in the Lewis Channel Trail, which leads 3.5 miles to the north side of Lewis Lake, then another 3.5 miles to Shoshone Lake. You can come back the way you came, or shave off a few miles returning on the less scenic but more direct Dogshead Trail.

Shoshone Lake (Backcountry)
The largest backcountry lake in the lower 48, Shoshone Lake is a time-tested backcountry destination with something for everyone. It's a popular canoeing destination; indeed, some of the campsites are accessible only via the lake. There's also a notably active geyser basin on the lake’s west side. The area is accessible on the Lonestar Geyser Trail and the DeLacy Creek Trail, and there are a number of other possible loops and routes to choose from—even more if you're willing to hitch a ride or leave a second vehicle at your point of exit. In wet years, the Lewis Channel can prove formidable to cross, but that's the main obstacle on the lake’s 18-mile loop (plus at least six miles to and from the lake and the trailhead), which has 26 campsites in all.

Thorofare (Backcountry)
If you're looking for solitude, you'll find it in the park's southeast corner. Thorofare Country is one of the wildest addresses in the Rockies. The Thorofare Trail starts on the east shore of Yellowstone Lake, and follows the Yellowstone River. If you take it all the way to Bridger Lake in the sublime valley known as Hawk's Rest, you've hiked 35 miles, which means you most likely have to hike 35 miles back to your car. You can opt for smaller, bite-sized hikes, or else take a shuttle across the lake's southeast arm (saving about nine miles each way at a cost of $300 round-trip for up to six people).

Published: 23 May 2012 | Last Updated: 19 Jun 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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