The world’s first national park is also one of it’s most famous camping destinations. Play the licence plate game, and you’ll collect cars from almost every US state and Canadian province. They have all come to enjoy Yellowstone’s natural beauty and abundant wildlife.
Yellowstone’s 12 campgrounds vary in terms of whether they can be booked in advance , whether they have hook-ups, flush toilets, and even whether you can stay there in a canvas-sided pop-up (due to all the bears.) There are also plenty of private campgrounds just outside the park boundaries. Be sure to research before you go.
Also research how cold Yellowstone gets; our mid-summer night-time temperatures were close to freezing. Bring blankets.
We stayed in Madison Campground for 3 nights. Here is my advice for that particular location.
- We stayed in site 182 in Loop E because it looked to be off the main street of the campground. It was on the semi-main road to Loop F, but that traffic wasn’t very noticeable.
- None of the campsites jumped out as looking particularly better or worse than the others. You’re probably safe with whatever you can find.
- Centrally located within the park.
- Although Madison is possibly Yellowstone’s most popular campground, we found it pretty quiet and peaceful. Everyone is out driving all day.
- The sites were level and well maintained. Flush toilets were kept clean.
- A ranger came by a few times to ensure we were being bear aware. One day they left a note saying our empty dog water (not food) bowl was enough to attract wildlife to our canvas sided pop-up.
- Cold, and you don’t have electricity to run a furnace or heater for long.
- There isn’t much privacy in any site because there isn’t eye-level foliage to block views. The sites are a decent size though, so we didn’t feel squeezed in.
- Its not a relaxing ‘set-up and camp’ trip. You use Madison as base-camp for day trips around Yellowstone. A truck & trailer set-up would work better than driving a big motor-home around all the time. There is a lot of park traffic.
Things to do
- Go site-seeing.
- Hiking trails and guides.
The granddaddy of parks warranted our most epic camping trip ever: an 18 day odyssey of over 5,000 km! We took our 12 and 13 year old kids, and 2 dogs:
1. to the Oregon Coast for 5 days because we had friends going then. We spent the 5th day tax-free shopping in Portland because: 1) our daughter bought a then-fairly-new iPad to help occupy the long drive times, and 2) it was a closer “starting point” than Vancouver.
3. a visit to Craters Of the Moon national monument
4. a couple of days at Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
5. 4 days at Yellowstone (see below)
6. Finishing off with a few days at Farragut State Park near Coeur d’Alene Idaho
Yellowstone is almost 9,000 sq km! You need to drive to see the things you want. Driving around is actually fun because from the road you can see hundreds of bison and elk. They’re everywhere. Just pull over when safe to take some photos. When you hit a traffic jam, that’s a clue that some grizzlies are visible from the road.
Yellowstone attracts “grizzly groupies”: middle aged men from around the country who spend their annual vacation sitting in lawn chairs at look-out points with kick-ass cameras and telescopes seeking the perfect grizzly sighting. Our son, then 12, loves wild animals and enjoyed learning from these guys while patiently waiting for an appearance. They made him “honorary bear bait” by hanging pork chops around his neck.
Being from British Columbia I asked why they don’t come up to view the western grizzlies which seam to me to be twice the size of these golden Yellowstone grizzlies. There is now an entire BC park to provide sanctuary for these giant bears. The bear experts just nervously giggled at the thought. I had to research that when we came home: check out this YouTube!! I now understand.
While driving around Yellowstone, stop to see it’s famous landmarks.
While parked at these sites, take advantage of Yellowstone’s great hiking trails.
And check out the wild animals
Our favorite animal encounter was actually at Yellowstone Bear World , a drive-through zoo just north of Idaho Falls. Your truck windows get super close to all sorts of bears, wolves, elk, etc. We were towing our trailer and didn’t realize that we still had bacon grease cooling in a frying pan that had been tucked into the back. While we were inadvertently chumming for carnivores, a grey wolf took our bacon-scented spare tire cover! An employee was happy to return it to us, but it came back with a lot of holes chewed through. We kept that tire cover for as long as we kept our trailer. It looked shabby, but it was a great memento of our camping pilgrimage to Yellowstone.