May 10, 2016
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Backcountry Camping in Yellowstone National Park

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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.

Backcountry camping permit, Yellowstone National Park

Our backcountry camping permit

Our day

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.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

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.

Bear Spray Rentals in Yellowstone National Park

Bear Spray rental cabin

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.

Wilderness camping map Yellowstone National Park

Map of Backcountry camping in Yellowstone

During a month long national park hop, our airbed pump failed us and after one night on the rocky floors of the Western US, we vowed to never sleep without the bed again. We kept the bed partially inflated to minimise reflating effort in the harsh heat of the West.
Items in the car for camping in Yellowstone

An adventurous decision

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.
Trail to wilderness camping spot in Yellowstone National Park

The Sentinel Meadows Trail

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.
Hot Springs in wild Yellowstone

Hot springs steaming on our way to the camp spot

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.

Wilderness camping spot OG1 in Yellowstone National Park

Sleeping right beside typical volcanic terrain

We decided to barricade the tent with volcanic boulders and large logs whilst donating blood to the number of mosquitoes that suddenly decided to join us for supper.
Tent in the middle of the Yellowstone Wilderness

Pitching up

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.
Camping food in Yellowstone National Park

A high calorie supper

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.
Backcountry camping in Yellowstone - Smores and marshmallows on the camp fire in Yellowstone National Park

S’mores to keep the bears away!

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.
Hanging bags in Yellowstone National Parks to protect from bears

Bear deterrent hanging methods

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.

Backcountry camping in Yellowstone - Climbing a tree to hide belongings from bears in Yellowstone National Park

Hiding everything from bears

As the sun started to set, the creatures of the night appeared by magic. Then there it was. A brown figure moving in the trees. Everything we had learned from the video was forgotten in a flash. Do we run? Do we make noise? Do we climb a tree?
Then it showed it’s big scary face, peering around a tree, as startled by us as we were by them.
Wild deer in Yellowstone National Park

You never know what you’ll find in the wilderness

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?

Sunset in Yellowstone National Park

No going back as the sky dimmed into darkness

Nobody knew where we were, the ranger station had a record but they wouldn’t be able to help us if we encountered a problem in the night. Bison had already gored 10 people in Yellowstone that year and it was only July. What about the wolves and lions?
Backcountry camping in Yellowstone - Wild wolf, Yellowstone National Park, USA

A wolf we saw in the park earlier on

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.
Petrified in tent at Yellowstone National Park

Scared to the bones as darkness falls

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.

View of sunrise in Yellowstone through the window of the tent

Beautiful view of sunrise through the tent window

This was one of the most beautiful moments of our round the world trip.
View of Yellowstone National Park camping

Best view in Yellowstone National park

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.
Elk in Yellowstone National Park at sunrise

An unforgettable moment

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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Camping in Yellowstone

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Article Categories:
National Park · USA · Wyoming

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3 Comments on "Backcountry Camping in Yellowstone National Park"

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Hi! I just spent about an hour on my computer planning this exact trip to that exact camp site! What time of year did you go? Also – what was the distance hiking in from where you parked to OG1? We’re hoping to head there this weekend – we just moved to Montana from NC & are squeezing in all we can before winter comes. Any other suggestions / insights? Thanks!

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