Yellowstone National Park has a designated backcountry campsite system. Backcountry Use Permit is required for all overnight stays. You can not camp anywhere you want in Yellowstone Park.
Frontcountry campsites (the ones you drive into) may be reserved in advance in some cases and do not require a “Use Permit”—-see my yellowstone camping and hotels page for more detailed information on Yellowstone Park campgrounds and other lodging.
Backpack Camping in Yellowstone Park
Each designated backcountry campsite has a maximum limit for the number of people and stock allowed per night. The maximum stay per campsite varies from 1 to 3 nights per trip.
Campfires are permitted only in established fire pits, and may not be allowed at some campsites when conditions are dry.
A food storage pole is provided at most designated campsites so that food and attractants may be secured from bears. Firearms are not allowed in Yellowstone’s Park.
Backcountry camping permits in Yellowstone may be obtained only in person and no more than 48 hours in advance of your trip. Call (307) 344-2160 for more information. Permits are available at most ranger stations and visitor centers. In order to obtain the best information on trail conditions, permits should be obtained from the ranger station or visitor center nearest to the area where your trip is to begin. The Backcountry Use Permit is valid only for the itinerary and dates specified. Backcountry travelers must have their permits in possession while in the backcountry.
Backcountry Food Storage
Camping in bear country, especially with grizzly bears in the area, requires certain precautions. In areas of North America where grizzly bears are common, federal regulations require campers to suspend food from trees or to use bear proof food box’s.
Hiking and camping restrictions in Yellowstone National Park are occasionally in effect as a result of bear activity. Never camp in an area that has obvious evidence of bear activity such as digging, tracks, or scat.
Odors attract bears, so avoid carrying or cooking odorous foods. Keep a clean camp; do not cook or store food in your tent. All food, garbage, or other odorous items used for preparing or cooking food must be secured from bears.
Never spray “bear spray” on your tent or surrounding area. In testing, bears were attracted to items sprayed with “bear spray”.
Most backcountry campsites in Yellowstone National Park have food poles from which all food, cooking gear, and scented articles must be suspended when not being used. Treat all odorous products such as soap, deodorant, or other toiletries in the same manner as food. Do not leave packs containing food unattended, even for a few minutes.
Allowing a bear to obtain human food even once often results in the bear becoming aggressive about obtaining such food in the future. Aggressive bears present a threat to human safety and eventually must be destroyed or removed from the park. Please obey the law and do not allow bears or other wildlife to obtain human food.
#1: Sleep a minimum of 100 yards (91 meters) from where you hang, cook, and eat your food. Keep your sleeping gear clean and free of food odor. Don’t sleep in the same clothes worn while cooking and eating; hang clothing worn while cooking and eating in plastic bags.
#2-3: Food bags should be hung a minimum of 10 feet from the ground and a minimum of 4 feet horizontally from any post or tree. Garbage should also be treated the same as all other food items, and suspended or secured in a bear proof container. Deposit human waste at least 200 yards from camp.
Check your campsite out carefully before spending the first night. If you do find garbage or other food items on the ground left by the previous campers, it would be recommended that you increase the distance you set your tent from the cooking area at least double. Remove and secure any garbage left behind by the previous irresponsible campers and report the incident to the nearest Yellowstone Park Ranger Station on your return.
Dealing With Bears in Camp
If you are involved in a conflict with a bear, regardless of how minor, report it to a park ranger, or local fish and game agency if outside a national park, as soon as possible. The next campers safety may depend on it.
Exceptional combinations of food, shelter, and space draw grizzlies to some parts of Yellowstone more than others. In these Bear Management Areas, human access is restricted to reduce impacts on the bears and their habitat. Ask at ranger stations or visitor centers for more information.
Having a bad encounter with a bear in Yellowstone is extremely rare, but it has happened. So with that in mind, lets talk about what to do if you have a bear come into camp.
If you have a bear come into camp late at night keep in mind that this is different from a surprise encounter during the day while hiking. If a bear comes into camp, you must treat this encounter seriously and react aggressively. Bears that come into camp have more than likely obtained a “reward”…… food, in the past and have lost all fear of humans, and could possibly be looking at you as a potential food source, or could be a young bear out on its own for the first time.
“Grizzly bears usually enter camping areas at a walk and at night. Before an attack, a person seldom sees any signs of aggression.” Writes, Dr. Stephen Herrero in his book “Bear Attacks, Their Causes and Avoidance”. Individuals who have aggressively yelled at the bear, banged pots and pans, or thrown rocks or other objects to distract the bear generally have then had time to move away to safety or, they drove the bear away with the first yell, and aggressive action.
Stay together in a group. Bears are more reluctant to attack a group of people than they are one lone person.
For more information on how to react if you encounter a bear while hiking and camping, see our Bear Attacks, Bear Spray page.
How to Minimize the Dangers Associated with a Bear Encounter in Camp
All refuse must be carried out of the bac-country, regardless of whether you are in a National Park or not. Human waste must be buried 6 to 8 inches ( 15 – 20 centimeters) below the ground and a minimum of 100 feet (30 meters) from a watercourse. Waste water should be disposed of at least 100 feet (30 meters) from a watercourse or campsite. Do not pollute lakes, ponds, rivers, or streams by washing yourself, clothing, or dishes in them.
Considering bears’ highly developed sense of smell, it may seem logical that they could be attracted to odors associated with menstruation. Studies on this subject are few and inconclusive. Read the data HERE, and make an informed decision.
Firearms and Bear Spray:
As of 2010 firearms are allowed within Yellowstone National Park, but must be in compliance with applicable federal and state law. Firearms are not allowed in any Federal Building—Visitor Centers, Post Office, etc……..The way I understand it is, Yellowstone Park is within the boundaries of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. If you happen to be within the Montana section of Yellowstone you must comply with Montana state laws regarding the holding, possession and transport of firearms as well as the permits for each state. The same is true if you happen to be in Idaho or the Wyoming sections.
Boat Air Horns are not allowed in the backcountry, or on hiking trails inside Yellowstone Park but can be used while boating on Yellowstone Lake.
Bear Spray or Pepper Spray is allowed within Yellowstone Park.
General Safety Concerns
Should you drink the water? Intestinal infections from drinking untreated water are increasingly common. Waters may be polluted by animal and/or human wastes. When possible, carry a supply of water from a domestic source. If you drink water from lakes and streams, bring it to a boil first, or filter it with one of many portable water filters that are available on the market to reduce the chance of infection.
All natural water sources in Yellowstone Park should be considered contaminated with giardia, which is transmitted via fecal-oral. Mountain men called it “beaver fever”. Basically, giardia is a microscopic organism which lays dormant in cold water until a warm blooded mammal drinks or ingests it. The organism then attaches itself to the lower intestine and feeds off of you (the mammal) and produces eggs, which are then deposited by wild mammals, or you in or near cold mountain streams or rivers. Only 6-8% of humans receive the worst symptoms with extreme cramps, diarrhea, sweating, etc…….The remainder of the human population end with little or no effects and are just carriers of the organism. Boiling or filtering water prior to drinking will reduce the chances of infection.
Don’t take chances in back-country thermal areas. Scalding water underlies thin, breakable crusts; pools are near or above boiling temperatures. Each year, visitors traveling off trail have been seriously burned, and people have died from the scalding water. No swimming or bathing is allowed in thermal pools, except at the natural hotspring located between Mammoth and Gardiner, Montana.
Removing, defacing or destroying any plant, animal, or mineral is prohibited. Leave historical and archeological items in place.