Yellowstone Camping, Backpacking, and Hiking
As you can imagine, nature in Yellowstone is fantastic and amazing and beautiful. If you’re not already completely convinced of this, please browse my photos on this page! The Yellowstone volcano is massive and provides the vast thermal activity.
Yellowstone Camping in a Campground or RV Park
Click here for the best Yellowstone NP webpage for your Camping Planning, because it includes info on each campground, a link to details of each campground, and a map that shows what time each of the first-come, first-serve camping areas fills.
And, if you’re reserving your camping spot, definitely reserve as far in advance as possible. I stayed at Canyon Campground, which is just lovely with all the trees. Even with so many other campers and nearby flush toilets, it truly felt as though I was deep in nature.
There are several campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park. They allow both tents and RVs. however, there is only one solely Yellowstone RV park inside the park’s boundaries offering water, sewer, and electrical hookups.
Campgrounds have flush toilets and running water sinks within each campground loop. Showers are included in the camping fee. However, showers are extremely limited both in quantity and open hours. In fact, they were always closed when I left the campground each morning and closed again by the time I returned each night.
The only downfall of my camping spot was that my spot, A62, was entirely sloping! That’s ok if you’re sleeping in the parking spot in a van or RV, but not so good for my tent. All the other camping spots seem flat, so I just had some bad luck. Each night I moved my tent into a nearby camping spot of people who were sleeping in their RV. Then, each morning I moved my tent back to the sloping ground in my spot. No one seemed to notice!
Pro Tip: Free Showers
Showers are FREE on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the Old Faithful Inn. Just, bring your own towel and toiletries, apart from shampoo, conditioner, and soap, which are in each shower.
Yellowstone Backpacking in the Backcountry
The backcountry of Yellowstone is affordable at just $3 per night, plus the reservation fee. Obtain the proper permits, and arrive prepared with the proper gear for camping, river crossings, and traveling safely in bear country. You must also be prepared for current weather conditions, which can vary dramatically at all times of the year.
Reserve your permit and campsites as far in advance as possible. Submit by March 31, if at all possible, if you really want your first choice. However, you can still get in, even if you reserve later– you just might not get your first choice of campsites each night.
In the backcountry you must be totally self-reliant (unless a rescue is needed).
Pro Tip: Yellowstone Bear Interactions
Human-bear interaction is the main reason for bears being killed by the Yellowstone park officials, so don’t be the cause of their death. Carry your bear spray correctly and as required hang all your food, chapstick, lotion, and anything else scented from ‘bear hangs’ at night or whenever you’re not within arm’s reach of it.
In case you forget about taking care of the bears, signs are posted in every park restroom reminding you not to unwittingly attract bears. Plus, when receiving your permit, you’ll watch a video on bear safety.
Bechler River Trail in Yellowstone Backcountry
Only backcountry people come to Bechler River since the trail from Bechler Ranger Station is for hiking, horseback riding, and skiing (in winter) only. I recommend a minimum of 3 nights for Bechler River Trail. I could have stayed a week! The scenery is beautiful and there are so many viewpoints. The further in you hike the fewer other hikers you’ll see.
The trail forks in four directions, and I took the northwest route through four river crossings. The ranger at the ranger station advised of current river conditions and best spots for crossing each river to avoid deep spots.
4 Bechler River Crossings
For one of the river crossings, you must definitely be very experienced in fast-running thigh-deep water or have a guide who is. Learn techniques used for 2-3 people to cross a river together, including holding shoulders and doing a crab walk.
A knee-deep winding stream with a nice, soft bottom. Easy to cross in about 5 steps.
The shallow, but fast-moving wide river was only calf-deep in the deepest part, and mostly ankle-deep. However, the current could easily knock you off balance, so bring poles. Also, the water is really cold and the river bottom is fist-sized rocks. The combination of the cold water and rocky bottom was painful on my bare feet. Bring water shoes, or wear your regular shoes, but remember to remove your socks and the insole, to keep them dry.
As I prepared to cross, a woman ranger about my height came along solo. She crossed the fast-moving river while carrying her massive backpack and huge hatchet, on her way to a backcountry cabin (for researchers and rangers only) for a project. She made the crossing look easy, so I had no qualms about going after her.
The current is very fast, swooping around my legs with each step, and the river bottom has large rounded and unstable rocks. I can’t see the rocky surface very well in the middle since it is thigh-deep water. Using hiking poles for balance and poking the ground in front of me for depth, I slowly moved forward.
Then, in the middle of the river, the rocks underfoot are slippery. My legs red from the frigid water, I got scared, feeling I couldn’t safely take another step without slipping and getting washed away. I froze in the deepest part, watching my upriver hiking pole vibrate in the water pressure, my brain went into tunnel-vision mode. I wondered how long I could stand there before my legs froze through and I’d get hypothermia.
I thought if I lifted my pole, it might whack me in the leg and I’d fall. I also didn’t feel I could lift either foot since both were on slippery rocks, and if I lifted one foot, the other would slip. I got really scared and just waited in the middle of the river. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. Luckily my hiking partner is very experienced in the backcountry and helped me get to the other side.
On my return crossing, my partner and I crossed in a shallower section and did it holding shoulders while taking turns taking each step, so 3 of our feet were on the ground at all times. This was a lot easier and I didn’t get scared. There were also 2 other groups crossing. One was a very experienced couple, while the other was a guided tour group was setting up a rope to help with their crossing.
The couple told me that they’ve hiked the trail many times, and once saw a solo hiker at this crossing lose their balance and get washed down the river some distance. Luckily another hiker rescued the person before reaching the big waterfall. However, the solo hiker sustained injuries and made their way out of the backcountry, abandoning their plans for a longer trek.
I did not like this crossing at all, and I had to cross it twice since this was the portion of the out-and-back trail. However, the hot springs on the other side were a wonderful reward for my effort and fear.
When I ran into the ranger woman again later, I asked how she crossed alone– did she have a technique or trick she could share with me? She explained, that she has crossed that river many times, and the first few times she actually required a lot of assistance getting across.
Moral of the story: There’s no trick or secret technique for beginners at dangerous river crossings. You need experience and assistance. If you are inexperienced with river crossings, cross with experienced people who are aware of your experience level and can help you with advice, and possibly even physical support. And, bring useful items, like rope, hiking poles, and proper footwear.
This was my favorite crossing, I camped near it one night, and in the morning I photographed a river otter! It is a wide river with a slow current and lovely sandy bottom. The water was a little deep in one section, so I made sure the bottom of my backpack didn’t get wet.
Bechler Trail Waterfalls and Hot Springs
This trail has numerous waterfalls– I got waterfall’d out after so many! There are also two hot springs areas, both beside very cold flowing rivers. Both were amazingly picturesque, and a welcome reward for the effort (and fear) of the river crossing #3 (see above).
Dunanda Hot Spring at Dunanda Falls
Dunanda hot springs are accessed by a short steep downhill trail from the main trail down to the river at the base of Dunanda Falls. I hadn’t realized how high above the river the trail was at this point. There was a bit of a muddy section, which required some hopping from one dry spot to another. As I kept walking, I wanted to finally arrive at the hot springs and have a nice bath and get clean of the trail dirt.
Arriving at the springs alongside the river, I dipped my fingers into a few lukewarm pools that did not appear to be scalding hot, based on the amount of steam rising up. I tested a few before finding one I liked. It was close enough to the waterfall to enjoy the sounds and a light, cool mist on my face.
I hopped in for some rest and relaxation. It’s very relaxing listening to the sound of the pounding water rushing down the falls. These pools are relatively private, in case you forgot your swimsuit.
Mr. Bubbles Hot Spring
The second hot springs are well-known to backpackers since they’re deep in the backcountry. You’ll love the amazing scenery, with the hottest springs steaming even at high noon on a summer day, the colorful thermophiles adapted to the scalding water.
Find the perfect camera for your trip using this Camera Comparison Chart for everything from compact cameras through professional level DSLRs.
Yellowstone Overview – Ensure you check out all the top things to see in Yellowstone. Before I went, I thought most of them sounded a bit cheesy. However, they really are all unbelievably interesting, beautiful, and amazing!! I could have stayed a month! Plenty of Pro Tips, too!
Yellowstone Hotels – There are various hotels within the park as well as outside the park. And, cabins, too!