What You Need To Know About Camping In Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is an outdoor wonderland, and Aaron and I have always wanted to go on a camping trip together. This year, the pieces seemed to fall into place for one of our bucket list destinations; Yellowstone. We often plan a trip for September or October because it’s the off-season for many popular travel destinations. So, we booked our flights, and I prayed I would remember the camping knowledge I learned in girl scouts. 

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Where To Make Camping Reservations

Summer is the peak season for camping activity in all of the 12 campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park. Reserving a campsite can be competitive, so make sure to plan ahead. Reservations for Bridge Bay, Canyon, Fishing Bridge, Grant Village, or Madison are managed by Yellowstone National Park Lodges. Reservations open in May, for the following year. That means on the 1st of May, 2022, you will be making reservations for the summer of 2023. Since we were camping during a non-peak season, I was able to book the Madison Campground for an October date, in August. 

Campgrounds in Mammoth, Pebble Creek, Slough Creek are managed by the National Park service. Reservations are made through Recreation.gov up to six months before the date you would like to camp. You’ll want to create an account, have your ideal campsite in mind, and have your coffee poured to make your reservation at 8 am MST. 

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Entrance to the Madison campground

Not All Campsites Are Created Equal

As we arrived at our assigned campsite, we jumped from the car and almost simultaneously said, “this will not do.” Our campsite was on a hill right next to the path to the restrooms, covered in three inches of snow, and we hadn’t thought to bring a shovel.  If we were camping in the summer, we likely would have sucked it up and made the best of it. However, we were camping in Yellowstone in late fall. The surrounding campsites were empty. I guess not many people are keen on sleeping in below-freezing temperatures during this time of year.

With so many vacancies, I was sure we could get reassigned to a different location. I politely asked the check-in office if we could be reassigned to a campsite with a designated gravel tent square and preferably not on a hill. They were able to reassign us without much protest.

Campsite at the Madison Campground in Yellowstone
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Check The Fire Restrictions 

Just like Smokey the Bear says, “only you can prevent forest fires.” Checking the fire danger indicator daily is important for the safety of not only your campsite but the entire National Park. Dry conditions during the Summer months are a hazardous time for fires. If you plan to enjoy a campfire at your site, ask about the current fire restrictions at the check-in office or check the color-coded Fire Danger Indicator located outside of the campground commissary. 

In the Madison Campground, wood and charcoal fires are permitted within the designated fire rings only, located at each campsite. Propane grills and stoves are usually not restricted. I highly recommend investing in a propane stove for any camping trip. They are compact, heat water in just a few minutes, and you won’t have to worry about setting the forest on fire. 

*In case you missed it, I did an entire blog post covering the Essential Yellowstone Packing List for Fall. There you can find everything needed for a successful camping and hiking trip in Yellowstone National Park. 

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Prepare To Buy A Lot Of Fire Wood

We bought a box of firewood from the camp commissary each night. Aaron would build a fire while I prepared dinner. Honestly, I think I had an easier job. Any time he took his eye off the fire, it seemed to just wither and die. We weren’t the only people desperately trying to keep the fire alive though. Part of our entertainment at night was watching other campers frantically fan their fire to keep a steady flow of oxygen feeding the fading embers.

We picked up fire starters at a camping supply store before we drove into the National Park. These were a must for getting the fire to start and burn consistently. For the three days of camping, we built five or six fires. Each fire required a fire starter log, kindling, half a box of wood, a piece of cardboard to fan the flames, and a lot of patience. 

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Prepping dinner over the campfire at the Madison Campground in Yellowstone

Prepare For A Range Of Temperatures 

Yellowstone’s weather can fluctuate significantly within a day. Even during the warm summer months, snow can unexpectedly fall. Summer highs reach 70–80°F (25–30°C) during the day, but nights can be cool. Daytime highs in the spring and fall range from 30–60°F (0–20°C), with overnight lows below freezing. 

We were prepared for the cold temperatures forecasted throughout the week. Layering our clothes helped keep us comfortable during the day as we hiked. It was easy to adjust the amount of clothing to stay warm as the temperatures changed.  

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Campground Amenities

Not all campgrounds are created equal; some have more accommodations than others. Depending on the location within Yellowstone, some campgrounds feature laundry facilities, showers, and cell phone reception. 

The Madison campground is just a shade above primitive camping when it comes to campground amenities. The tent campsites offer a bear box, picnic table, and a fire pit. The few amenities that resemble the comforts of home are the restrooms and the small kitchen area, which is just a closet-sized room with a sink for rinsing dishes. 

In the fall and winter months, the restrooms are heated, almost to the point of feeling like a sauna if you hang out for too long. But I was grateful to have a place of refuge to change and get ready for the day without feeling cold. 

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Use The Bear Box

This was my first time camping in bear country. In preparation for this trip, I was advised by other seasoned campers to put everything in the bear box, including bathroom toiletries and cookware. Other than the safety aspect of mitigating bears from ripping through your tent, I really liked the organization these metal boxes provided. Rather than keeping things scattered in the car or tent, I could rest easy knowing everything was neatly packed away. During the day, while we explored the sights, we didn’t have to carry around the entire campsite in the trunk of the car.

I feel like bear boxes should be an added amenity for any campsite, even in places that don’t have bears. In Florida, we could call them squirrel boxes. Not only to keep scavenging squirrels from ripping through my snacks, but like a squirrel, I could hide my food until I needed it later. 

I hope these suggestions were helpful if you’re planning on camping in Yellowstone in the future. If you have camped in Yellowstone before, did you feel prepared? Share your experiences in the comments!


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