Tent camping in Yellowstone is an experience like no other. Cooking under the stars, a little worrying about Bears, and sleeping in the cool night air, all adds to the experience. This topped our list of must-dos in America.
Having camped in our RV, stayed in a lodge during winter and tent camped, I can honestly say that tent camping is the most authentic of the experiences. It is also the closest you can get to nature and just sleeping under the stars at night is incredible. This is one place not to miss.
Driving to Yellowstone
After flying to Montana and renting an SUV, we traveled the Beartooth Highway. The Beartooth Highway, a national scenic byway, runs 68 miles in the southwest of Montana and northwest Wyoming into Yellowstone’s northeast entrance.
Beartooth is a destination unto itself and in 68 miles you experience higher alpine plateaus, with glacier lakes, forested valleys, waterfalls and wildlife. Feeling our adventure began, our anticipation of arriving in the park was palpable.
When traveling the Beartooth Highway, leave yourself enough time to enjoy the ride. In this case, the journey is truly the destination. Stop and enjoy the mountains and forests. Play in the snow. Be a kid again.
Entering the park mid-afternoon and checking the campsite boards posted, we discovered that we were too late. No campgrounds available. No reservation for a hotel. Not knowing exactly what to do, we drove through the park and checked out some of the more popular campsites. We honestly did not really care for them much and were a bit disappointed. The camp sites were very close to each other with not much privacy and even though the settings were beautiful, it is not how we like to camp.
We decided to leave the park and head to Gardiner, Montana, just outside the north entrance. Gardiner is a small town with hotels, B&B’s, rafting companies, and restaurants. As we were heading out, we passed a campground that was not listed in any brochure and was not on the board. We decided to pull in and check it out.
Indian Creek Campground
Unlike other campgrounds and lodges in Yellowstone, Indian Creek Campground is not run by Xanterra, but rather owned and operated by the National Park. Indian Creek is located about eight miles south of Mammoth Hot Springs on the road to Norris and sits at an elevation 7,300 feet (2225 m), away from the main road and provides a quieter experience compared to the larger campsite. This was exactly what we were looking for, and we loved the location. We planned on being there in the morning to get a site.
Because it is an unadvertised campsite, it doesn’t fill up so quickly, even on extremely busy days. There are 70 sites and all are primitive with vaulted toilets, food storage lockers and firewood. The cost is $15 night.
Feeling lucky that we got a larger wooded area site, and in a perfect location for exploring the park, we checked in for four nights. This was how we pictured tent camping in Yellowstone.
Remember, when you are going for a first come first serve campsite, be flexible. Get there early and if possible the day before. Find out how many people will be checking out and how many spots will be available. Also, have a back up location just in case your first location doesn’t work out. I would recommend arriving at the camp site at around 6AM and taking any spot that is available.
Indian Creek allows tent camping and RV camping up to 30 feet. It is nestled in the woods and you truly feel that you are there alone at night. It was quiet and well run.
While in Yellowstone those 4 days we saw 11 bears, more Bison that you could count, wolves, Elk, big horn sheep and coyotes. There is so much to do and see that 4 days is the bare minimum you need.
What not to miss in Yellowstone
1, The Grand Prismatic – This is the largest hot spring in the US and the 3rd largest in the World. We climbed the mountain behind it to see it better and take photos.
2, Old Faithful – Visit the Old Faithful Inn or the visitors center. Get a seat early and be patient. This is a good place to come to just take a break and relax. There are many other geysers around old faithful that were going off as well making this a very surreal experience.
3. Camp – Stay inside Yellowstone. Whether you tent camp, RV camp, or stay in a lodge, try to stay inside the park. It allows you to explore the park earlier and stay out later and there are some outstanding night programs that are put on.
4. Take the road less traveled – There are many little roads inside the park. ALWAYS take those. We saw more animals up close on these roads than the main highways. There is typically a surprise waiting.
5. Mammoth Hot Springs – The Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces are close to the north entrance and well worth you time. Hike behind them where there is an overlook.
6. Firehole Canyon Drive and Lamar Valley Drive – If you are driving you will enjoy these areas. A lot of wildlife and some extraordinary scenery.
7. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone – This is a highlight of our adventure in Yellowstone. Don’t miss the Yellowstone River falling over the canyon, it is a must-see.
8. Book a trip to Yellowstone in the Winter – It wasn’t until we went in winter did we fully appreciate how many thermal features are in the park. And with the bears hibernating, the wolves run the park. It gets cold but so many great activities from snow shoeing to photography groups.
There are many other activities in Yellowstone, but these are the main ones not to miss. We have been there in almost all the seasons and they all have something special to offer.
With Yellowstone, you can never go wrong.
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