Backcountry Camping in Yellowstone National Park
Planning a backcountry trip can be just as exciting as the journey itself. There is a growing sense of anticipation and excitement as the idea becomes a reality. You've decided on the location, you've been studying topo maps, reading guide books, and scrutinizing your pile of camping gear trying to imagine how it will all fit into your backpack. Once all of the initial preparation is complete it's time to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations for backcountry travel inside Yellowstone. Because the park is still a very wild place understanding the rules that govern wilderness travel is essential. If you're new to backpacking it's important to review the information below before heading into the backcountry.
Download a PDF of the Trail Guides Backcountry Trip Planner
This handy printout contains a hiking checklist, park phone numbers, backcountry permit information, a list of bear management areas, a general map of the park and a copy of the advanced mail-in backcountry permit form.
Yellowstone Backcountry Camping
All overnight trips within Yellowstone require a backcountry use permit. These permits can be obtained at any ranger station or visitor center no more than 2 days before your trip. You must apply in-person for all backcountry permits. Advanced registration is also available by mail for a $25.00 non-refundable fee. Keep in mind that the Park Service sets aside only a portion of the 300 backcountry campsites for advanced registration and some sites may not be available.
Click here to download the Advanced Backcountry Mail-in Registration Form
Click here to read more about the Yellowstone backcountry permit process.
You can mail your advanced registration permits to:
P.O. Box 168 (Mail) or
Canteen Bldg. Room A, Mammoth (FedEx, UPS)
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190
Tel: (307) 344-2160
Camping within the Yellowstone is restricted to the 300 designated backcountry campsites located throughout the park. This helps the Park Service manage the delicate ecosystem and it protects both wildlife and people. Each backcountry campsite contains a fire pit and a food-storage pole so you can safely store your food and other valuables away from bears/wildlife. Campsites are marked with small metal signs that display the campsite number (e.g. WA1). These are small enough and can often be overlooked so keep track of where you are on the map and be on the lookout as you get closer to your destination.
Not all campsites allow campfires and during drier conditions campfires may be prohibited altogether. Check with park rangers for current restrictions. Cutting standing trees for firewood is prohibited. Gather wood from fallen trees and keep campfires a manageable size. Do NOT burn food or food scraps in the fire pits. This will only attract animals and could present a possible danger for hikers who occupy the campsite after your stay. At night or before departing camp make sure the campfire is completely out. Stray or smoldering embers can ignite surrounding brush or debris creating a forest fire.
Length of Stay and Occupancy
You can stay for a maximum of 3 days at any given backcountry campsite and there are also limits on the number of people that can occupy any given campsite. Park rangers can inform you of these restrictions when you apply for the backcountry permit. It's always advisable to have a backup plan in place just in case your original itinerary is unavailable.
Place your tent at least 100 yards from the food-storage area and away from all water sources such as rivers, streams and lakes. Avoid placing your tent near standing dead trees or other potential hazards. If possible locate your tent on a well established site or on barren ground to protect the native plant life. Camp on hard surfaces or snow if there is no obvious tent site available. When walking from your tent site to the food-storage area stay on existing trails to help avoid creating new trail systems.
Human Waste Disposal
As more people enjoy the backcountry the disposal of human waste becomes an important consideration for any overnight camping. You should always dig a cat-hole for solid waste that is at least 200 feet from the campsite and any water sources. A small plastic trowel works great for this but a large dead stick will work just as well. Dig a hole that is about 6-8 inches deep and cover the hole with the excavated dirt. All toilet paper should be buried as well or packed out if you have the proper means. It takes a long time for these products to break down. Remember, other backpackers will be using the same area so be considerate and please keep a clean camp.
Campsites are usually located near natural water sources so you'll have access to drinking water during your stay. Be sure to boil, filter or treat all drinking water not matter how clear/clean the water may appear. Click here to read more about backcountry water purification techniques.
In the backcountry of Yellowstone most campsites have a food-storage pole located near the fire pit. This is where you should set up your camp kitchen during your stay. Never store food, toiletries, sunscreen or lip balm inside your tent. Water bottles containing energy drinks or other flavored liquids should be hung with your food.
• Carry 35-50 feet of paracord to hang your food.
• Two small carabiners make hanging food bags and backpacks much easier.
• Hang all food and packs at least 10 feet above the ground.
• Do not store food, toiletries or other odoriferous items in or near your tent.
• Pack out all scraps and disperse dishwater 100 yards from the campsite/tent area.
• Keep your tent at least 100 yards from the cooking area.
• Small rodents love salt and it's a good idea to hang packs that are soaked in sweat.
• Use a stove to cook your food rather than a campfire.
Use biodegradable soap for cleaning yourself and for washing camp dishes. As tempting as it may be, do not wash food, clothing or yourself directly in streams, rivers or lakes. Find a spot well away from camp to wash dishes and dispose of the water over a wide area.
Leave No Trace
Always practice a Leave No Trace ethic and keep the camp clean for your own safety and the safety of others. Food items left behind will attract animals to the campsite and could lead to future encounters for other campers. You are responsible for packing out all garbage during your backcountry stay. As the saying goes; if you pack it in, pack it out.