If you’ve always wanted to camp near Yellowstone National Park, we have fantastic news: there’s never been a better time to experience it. More specifically, there’s never been a better time to camp near Yellowstone’s north or northeast entrances in Gardiner and Cooke City, Montana, respectively.
These communities were devastated by the historic June 2022 flooding, but have since fully reopened. Shortly after the flooding, many people quickly canceled summer plans to visit Yellowstone, so it’s been a quiet summer in both Gardiner and Cooke City. That means campers have the unprecedented opportunity to enjoy this spectacular region largely to themselves — without the typical crowds, traffic, and nearly-impossible-to-get campsites.
Intrigued? Let’s dive into everything you need to know about camping near Yellowstone, including the best Yellowstone campsites!
4 Reasons to Camp Near Yellowstone This Year
The region of southwestern Montana where Gardiner and Yellowstone’s north entrance are located is affectionately — and appropriately — known as Paradise Valley. With numerous mountain ranges, the pristine Yellowstone River (one of just a handful of Blue Ribbon trout designations in the entire country!), wildlife galore, and significantly milder weather than other parts of Montana, this is indeed paradise.
Camping is one of the best ways to enjoy this particular paradise, so you can fully immerse yourself in nature. In fact, camping near Yellowstone means you don’t ever really have to stop being in nature! That’s especially true during the spectacular fall season, and even more so this year, when things are much quieter than normal. Need more convincing? Here are four good reasons to camp near Yellowstone!
1. Enjoy an unprecedentedly quiet corner of Yellowstone National Park
Because you can’t simply drive into Yellowstone’s north or northeastern entrances, many people have chosen to visit one of the park’s three other entrances, or even other destinations altogether. However, those willing to put in a bit of effort and advance planning will benefit tremendously from this. Here are all the things you can do from Yellowstone’s northern entrances (remember, you’ll be doing them almost entirely to yourself!):
- Walk under the Roosevelt Arch. This iconic symbol of the park is usually swarmed with people and bumper-to-bumper traffic. Currently, you can walk right up to it and take photos without another soul in sight!
- Fish the Gardner River. Walk about half a mile into the north entrance for easy river access and excellent late-season fly fishing. This year, it’s said to be even better, as fewer anglers = more abundant fish.
- Take a wildlife tour. One way you can access otherwise off-limits parts of Yellowstone is to book a tour with a licensed outfitter. Wildlife and photography tours are especially intriguing now, because similar to the fish, animals are out and about more as a result of there being less park traffic. As an added bonus, tours aren’t as crowded, so you get a more VIP-style experience! Just picture having Mammoth Hot Springs practically to yourself! Check out options from Yellowstone Wild and Yellowstone Wonders.
- Experience the ease and thrill of e-biking. One of the most unique ways to experience Yellowstone is on an e-bike! Big Sky E-bike Tours takes you on some of the park’s backcountry roads and to other destinations, including Yellowstone Hot Springs.
2. Have a front-row seat for epic wildlife watching
Yellowstone and even Gardiner itself has a large population of big game, including elk, deer, bison, moose, and bears. As we head into fall, many of these animals go into their annual “rut,” or mating season. They come out into plain view more often and put on elaborate displays as they attempt to attract mates. You may see males fighting or rubbing their antlers against trees, chasing females around, or hear elk bugling. And when you camp near Yellowstone, you have the incredible opportunity to witness much of this up-close!
3. Go leaf-peeping on leisurely scenic drives
Paradise Valley and other areas around Gardiner have incredible fall foliage starting in late September. Wherever you decide to camp near Yellowstone, set time aside to drive up Jardine Road and take some of the side roads in town!
4. Take advantage of prime camping season
We may be just a tad bit biased, but this is our favorite reason to visit Yellowstone this year! Fall weather in this part of Montana is fantastic, with an abundance of mostly-sunny days and the real chill not setting in until November. Gardiner, in particular, is well-sheltered from extreme weather and gets little snowfall in town because it sits in a basin surrounded by mountains.
Pair that with the fact that you have your pick of awesome campsites, along with epic opportunities for leaf-peeping, wildlife watching, and hiking, and there’s really no reason not to camp near Yellowstone!
Tips for Camping Near Yellowstone
- Yellowstone Country = bear country. It’s extremely important that you keep this in mind when you camp near Yellowstone. Store food in bear-proof food boxes (many campsites in this area provide them) or safely in your camper, and always be “bear aware.” Keep your eyes and ears open at all times, keep a safe distance from bears (or any wildlife, for that matter!), and never, ever feed bears! Not only is this dangerous for humans, but it’s also dangerous for bears, teaching them to associate humans with food.
- Prepare for any and all weather. Montana’s mountainous regions can have wildly unpredictable weather, especially in transitional seasons like fall. You may see snow in September and have 80-degree days in November. Always pack and dress accordingly.
- Obey local fire restrictions. Many people don’t realize it, but fire danger is a very real concern in southwestern Montana. With frequent dry, windy conditions, it’s not at all uncommon for fire bans to be enforced. Check with camp hosts or Forest Service rangers to inquire about whether it’s safe to have a fire.
Campsites Near Yellowstone’s Northern Range
Whether you prefer boondocking or like a bit more luxury at camp, Yellowstone campsites offer something for every type of camper.
Dispersed Camping Near Yellowstone
Gardiner and Paradise Valley are surrounded by vast forest land. There’s no shortage of places to camp near Yellowstone, especially for folks looking to get away from it all (literally!). Interestingly, many of the national forest campsites near Yellowstone are literally always occupied. Again, this is a fantastic time to camp near Yellowstone to take advantage of that. You may never again be able to simply pull up and claim a campsite so close to the park!
One thing to note is that many national forest campgrounds require hard-sided vehicles. This is a bear safety measure, and it means no tents, rooftop tents, or even pop-up campers with slideouts are permitted.
- Eagle Creek Campground – 16-site campground 2 miles north of Gardiner that can accommodate RVs up to 48 feet. No hookups available; vault toilets; accessible year-round but reservable from Memorial Day through October 1.
- Colter Campground – 18-site campground open from July 15 through September 30, 2 miles east of Cooke City. Hard-sided camping only.
- Soda Butte Campground – First-come, first-served campsite with 27 sites 1 mile east of Cooke City. Hard-sided camping only, open July 1-September 30.
Yellowstone RV Parks
- Yellowstone RV Park – Situated just one mile north of the park entrance, this 46-site campground sits right along the Yellowstone River and offers full hookups.
- Yellowstone Hot Springs RV Park & Campground – Just 10 minutes north of Gardiner, overlooking the river and adjacent to the hot springs resort (which we highly recommend you visit!).
Harvest Hosts Locations Near Yellowstone
As an alternative, if you’re a Harvest Hosts member, maybe you’d prefer to stay at a unique host location (which we think is a great idea!). While there aren’t any super close to the park entrance due to the abundance of national forest land, there are several host locations within easy day-tripping distance.
- Greycliff Mill – A historic 1760s mill open year-round, with the exception of Christmas through early January
- Sentinel Ranch Alpacas – Near the highly underrated town of Red Lodge, this alpaca farm provides an opportunity to camp near Yellowstone and tour the facilities
- Pick and Peck – Large gardens in a location directly on the banks of the river
Not a Harvest Hosts member yet? What are you waiting for? Join today for access to these amazing Yellowstone campsites, plus thousands of others!
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