Our experience – Backcountry Camping in Yellowstone
Backcountry Camping in Yellowstone National Park had always been a dream for us. When we arrived at the park and all of the developed campsites were fully booked, we forced ourselves to get a backcountry camping permit and decided it was time to partake in our first ever wilderness camping experience.
Only on our entry to the park were we told that the camp sites in Yellowstone fill up before 10am and some become fully booked months in advance at the height of summer (June/July/August). There are campsites outside of Yellowstone but we didn’t want to waste any time driving in and out.
Yellowstone offers a diverse landscape with hundreds of miles of trails and over 300 spots for backcountry campers. A permit is required for visitors who head off into the wilderness.
Back Country Camping Permit
The Old Faithful Ranger Station was our chosen office in the park to obtain our Yellowstone backcountry camping permit. The Ranger at the station decides whether campers are fit enough to take on the wilderness challenge. Once you pass the initial test, you will be shown a video on ‘Backcountry Camping in Yellowstone’ that points out the dangers you may encounter while alone in the wild.
Once you have signed a few forms and waivers, and have been further educated on the potential dangers, you are good to go with a $3 Backcountry Camping Permit.
With our permit in hand, we set off on for the start of our 3 days in Yellowstone National Park adventure.
After spending the day inhaling the steamy depths of the earth’s core and being blinded by the colourful microorganisms, it was time to go to bed, smack bang in the middle of the wilderness on top of the most violent and dangerous volcano on earth.
On a number of occasions, we bypassed the opportunity to take advantage of Yellowstone’s ‘Bear Spray’ rental. Bear spray acts as a type of ‘pepper spray’ which should be used in case of conflict with a bear or another big animal.
Our Backcountry camping spot
We were allocated a backcountry camping spot at the Ranger station in an area of our choice. The first question we asked was ‘where do bears hang out most often?’, we were shown a recent sightings map and decided to camp well away from it (mostly Rain Lake and the East of the park known as Black Bear Alley).
We parked our rental car at a dead-end on Fountain Flat Drive, as near to the wilderness as possible.
Then, with all of our equipment, we headed out onto the Sentinel Meadows trail to find our modestly named backcountry camping spot ‘OG1‘. The wonderful sight of hot water sizzling into the cool Firehole river from the nearby hot springs made us optimistic that we’d made the right decision to enjoy camping in Yellowstone completely alone. It gave us unspoiled views of our surroundings and intimate experiences with wildlife and geological features that we probably wouldn’t get elsewhere. After an approximate mile and a half trek, we were there, just in time for the sun setting.
So there we were, carrying a half blown air bed into the backcountry. We banged pots and pans as well as blowing a safety whistle so the bears would know the humans had arrived and we meant business.
It soon became evident that it wasn’t just the wildlife we had to be cautious of in the unique Wyoming wilderness, we passed a number of hot steam vents and bubbling waters, reminding us of the hostile earth that sits just a few miles beneath.
Arriving at our wilderness camping spot
With numb arms from beating pans and carrying our bed for the night, we finally saw the signpost for our night’s accommodation, a perfect spot by the Firehole river with an incredible view of steaming geyser fields in the background.
The OG1 backcountry camping spot had a fire pit, a decent supply of deadwood and a tall pole to hang up our bags. We enjoyed our prepacked supper, a high calorie 4 bean chilli with rice and a Santa Fe Black beans and rice.
Of course we didn’t miss out on desert, marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate, overall probably the smelliest bear-magnet food we could have brought with us.
After washing our dishes thoroughly to reduce the scent, we had the challenge of making ourselves less smelly. Bears and other wild animals in the park can smell food hundreds of metres away. The video briefing from the Ranger Station advised on hanging anything we wouldn’t need high above ground and away from the tent.
All sites that offer Backcountry camping in Yellowstone provid 10 foot poles that allow adventurers to hang up their belongings beyond the reach of wildlife. You must take your own rope and throw it over the pole with a heavy object attached, which wasn’t as easy as it looks.
We hung up our smelly clothes, toothpaste and cooking utensils just to be safe. If bears smell something near the tent, they’ll probably try and get inside. All part of the potential dangers when backcountry camping in Yellowstone.
Then it showed it’s big scary face, peering around a tree, as startled by us as we were by them.
Just a dear, that almost instantly ran away.
As the sky turned a beautiful dark blue, we retreated to the tent. When the sky was pitch black, the situation came to light. What were we doing in the middle of wild Yellowstone? We had never done this anywhere else in the world, so why did we start on top of a super volcano with a dense population of dangerous wild animals?
If animals don’t find us, what happens if the ground starts to shake? We’re not going to lie, we were petrified!
Our only defense mechanism from any form of attack was a 3-inch flip knife and a heavy duty flashlight.
We decided to watch a movie on the loudest possible setting on a mobile phone and sleeping with earplugs made us believe nothing was happening and they would surely help us through the night.
The temperature dropped during the night, we hadn’t anticipated how cold it would be in the wilderness of Yellowstone. The only warmth came at 5am when the tent lit up with a glorious pink glow.
We peeked through our small window to make sure there were no surprises waiting for us before getting out of bed.
The only visible motion was elegant waves of steam from the distant hot springs and one living creature, a beautiful elk enjoying the moment just as much as we were. He ate his breakfast in peace as we stood in awe.
After a lot of anxiety and worry during our first effort at wilderness camping, we realised why we did it. We threw ourselves in the deep end by backcountry camping in Yellowstone and we will never look back. We have since camped in the wilderness many times because there is no comparable experience. We have a lifelong memory from our Yellowstone wilderness experience that will stay in our hearts forever and we’ve been a little addicted to camping in the wild ever since.
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