Camping in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
We talk to a lot of customers about camping in Yellowstone, and there is quite a bit of confusion and misconception about Yellowstone campgrounds. I will try to give you a guide on the real story.
First, we sometimes hear that ‘tent campers are not allowed in Yellowstone’. This is completely incorrect. Of the twelve campgrounds in Yellowstone, eleven allow tent campers. We have sent thousands of customers with our tent campers to Yellowstone over the years.
Next you should understand that essentially none of the campgrounds in Yellowstone have electric or water hookups ups at your site. Technically FishingBridge campground does have hookups, but they only allow hard sided travel trailers in that ONE campground. If you are camping in a tent trailer, there are no sites in Yellowstone which have utility hookups. All of the campgrounds have toilets and central water spigots, some have showers, etc. If having these hookups is important to you, I would recommend looking at some of the private campgrounds in West Yellowstone, MT. West Yellowstone sits right on the border of the Park, you literally cross the street and you are in the Park. They have hundreds of campsites with hookups available, and this town is the closest access to the Park. Other gateway towns with full hookup campgrounds are Jackson Hole (where Adventure Camper Rental is located), Cody, WY and Gardiner, MT.
There are twelve campgrounds in Yellowstone. Of the twelve, seven are first-come, first-first served; the other five allow you to make advance reservations. Only one, Fishing Bridge, has electrical and water hookups; but this campground is for hard sided units only.
Although many of our customers prefer the security of a reserved camp site, please understand that most of the campgrounds in Yellowstone do not take reservations, and many of these campgrounds are some of the nicest in the park. Checkout time in Yellowstone is 11 AM, if you are planning on camping at a first-come, first-serve campground, we recommend planning your trip to arrive at the campground between 8 to 10 AM. The National Park Service can also provide information as to which campgrounds tends to fill by what times of the day.
Reserveable vs First Come-First Serve
The five reserveable campgrounds in Yellowstone are run by Xanterra Resorts, the National Park Service runs the other seven. In my opinion the NPS campgrounds are some of the best campgrounds in the Park, but all of them are first-come first serve. Plan your trip so that you are arriving at the campground early, 8-10AM, if you are camping during peak season, late June to late August.
The next thing to understand is that the reserveable campgrounds are large, 300-400 campsites in each. If you are looking for a quieter experience with more privacy and solitude, these may not be for you. Because they are such large campgrounds, the campground managers can be very ‘exuberant’ in enforcing rules regarding drain water treatment, camp cleanliness, etc. These rules are made to help keep campers and bears separate and safe, but just know that if you break any of the rules you will likely be ticketed for even seemingly small infractions.
Below is my review of Yellowstone campgrounds, ranked in my opinion from best to worst.
- Norris- First-come, first-serve, very centrally located. A great place to use as a hub location to explore the rest of the Park. Very scenic, in the valley where the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers form the Madison. Located close to the Norris Geyser Basin, one of the geo-thermal areas in the park, and also Firehole Canyon, a great swimming spot.
- Indian Creek- First-come, first-serve, one of the best campgrounds in the Park. On the way to Mammoth Hot Springs, near dramatic Obsidian Cliffs.
- Flagg Ranch- Reserveable- Technically this campground is in Grand Teton NP, but sits right on the Yellowstone border next to the Snake River and has lots of sites with hookups. Great if you want one centrally located campground to be able to explore both Parks from. Also offers best access to north end of Grand Teton NP and Winegar Hole Wilderness.
- Pebble Creek and Slough Creek- First-come, first-serve, two of the smaller, more private campgrounds in the Park, located in the Lamar Valley, one of the prime wildlife viewing areas of the Park. The Lamar Valley is sometimes called the Serengeti of North America. Two of the best campgrounds in the Park.
- Madison-A reservable campground in a fantastic setting. This campground sits alongside the Madison River in Madison Canyon, one of the most scenic areas in the park. Close to Old Faithful and much of the geo-thermal areas in the Park.
- Canyon Village- A reservable campground also centrally located for easy exploring to the rest of the Park. Near the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone; one of the most photographed areas in the Park. Also located near Hayden Valley a very scenic area, and one of the prime wildlife viewing areas for buffalo, elk and grizzly bear.
- Tower Fall- First- come, first-serve, small, private campground near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, one of the most photographed areas in the Park.
- Mammoth Hot Springs- First- come, first-serve, Mammoth Hot Springs is the Park Headquarters, and one of the most historic areas of the Park. The Hot Springs themselves are one of the most unusual and interesting areas in the Park. Home to many of the thermal prismatic springs which have fantastic colors in the water.
- Grant Village- Reservable site in a shady, spacious, well treed area, close to Yellowstone Lake, Old Faithful and much of the geo-thermal activity in Yellowstone. Also close for day-tripping into Grand Teton NP.
- Bridge Bay- Reservable campground on Yellowstone Lake. Large campground but not much shade.
- Lewis Lake- First- come, first-serve, the first campground in the Park coming from the South Entrance (Jackson Hole). Beautiful lake, near the scenic Lewis River Canyon and the abundant hiking trails on the Pitchstone Plateau.
- Fishing Bridge- Reservable, limited to hard side units only due to heavy grizzly activity, and the only campground in the Park with electric and water hookups. Campground is an asphalt parking lot, with packed in campsites right next to your neighbor and no shade. The only campground in Yellowstone I personally would not stay at.
Grand Teton Campgrounds
None of the campgrounds in Grand Teton accept advance reservations. The National park Service can give information as to what time the grounds usually fill up. Here is my list best to worst.
- Colter Bay- Some sites with electrical hookups. Beautiful campground with spectacular views of the Tetons, particularly Grand Teton across Jackson Lake. One of the most scenic campgrounds you will ever visit.
- Signal Mountain- located close to Jenny Lake, the traditional heart of the Park. Fantastic views with great access to all of Grand Teton National Park.
- Gros Ventre- located just minutes from our shop in Jackson Hole, nestled alongside the Gros Ventre River, well shaded, pretty campground with easy access to the town of Jackson and the nightlife, restaurants and shopping it offers. Great place to spot moose. This campground rarely fills and is a great first night destination after picking up one of our campers, even if you are late in the day.
- Flagg Ranch- right on the Yellowstone border and has lots of sites with hookups. Great if you want one centrally located campground to be able to explore both Parks from. Also offers best access to north end of Grand Teton NP and Winegar Hole Wilderness.
- Lizard Creek- a shame to list this one last, very pretty campground, smaller and more private than the others with great views across Jackson Lake to the Tetons.
Please feel free to call us and ask questions about any of the campgrounds, we are happy to help plan your trip.