May 10, 2016
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Wilderness camping: Yellowstone National Park

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After inhaling the steamy depths of the earth’s core, blinded by the colourful microorganisms living on top of the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, it was time to go to bed. Bed tonight was smack bang in the middle of the most violent and dangerous volcano on earth. And it was also in the wilderness.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

Turning up to the more conventional camping sites of Yellowstone National Park in the late afternoon wasn’t the brightest idea in the height of summer, camp sites throughout the park fill up before 10 am or even months in advance at this time of year. We were faced with the option of leaving the park and finding a camp spot in the outside world or camp in the wilderness above a super volcano. We had two hours until the sun set and, of course, we opted for adventure.

The Old Faithful Ranger Station was our final stop of our first day in the park where we had to acquire our wilderness permits. The Ranger in the station decides on whether you are fit enough to camp in the wilderness or not. They also show you a video of the dangers you may encounter being completely alone in the wild.

Once you are deemed fit to camp and have been further educated on dangers you didn’t realise existed, you are good to go with your $6 permit.

Wilderness camping permit, Yellowstone National Park

Our $6 wilderness camping permit

We bypassed the opportunity to hire the park’s ‘Bear Spray’ which acts as a ‘pepper spray’ should a bear or other big scary animal approach you.

Bear Spray Rentals in Yellowstone National Park

Bear Spray rental cabin

Parking up the car at a dead-end as near to the wilderness as you could be, we folded out our creased up map of our home for the night, modestly named ‘OG1’. We had a mile and a half to walk and the sun would set in a couple of hours.

Wilderness camping map Yellowstone National Park

Wilderness camping map of 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 efforts from the lungs in the harsh heat of the West.

Items in the car for camping in Yellowstone

An adventurous decision

So there we were, packed up with essential items heading into the wilderness of Yellowstone carrying a half blown up air bed. We headed onto the trail banging pots and pans together as well as blowing a safety whistle so the bears would know the humans had arrived and that 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 out here in the unique Wyoming wilderness, we passed a number of hot steam vents and bubbling waters reminding us of the angry earth that sits just a few miles beneath.

Hot Springs in wild Yellowstone

Hot springs steaming on our way to the camp spot

With numb arms from beating pans and carrying our inflated rubber bed for the night, we finally saw the signpost for our night’s accommodation, a perfect spot by the 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

We had a fire pit, an unlimited supply of deadwood and our prepacked supper, a high calorie 4 bean chilli with rice and a Satna 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 purchased!

Smores and marshmallows on the camp fire in Yellowstone National Park

S’mores to keep the bears away!

After washing our dishes, we had the challenge of making ourselves as less smelly as possible. The video briefing we watched earlier at the Ranger Station advised us to hang anything we wouldn’t need in the tent high above ground. Yellowstone provided 10 foot poles by each wilderness camping spot allowing adventurers to hang up their belonging beyond the reach of wildlife. We brought our own rope and managed to successfully throw it over the hanging spot.

Hanging bags in Yellowstone National Parks to protect from bears

Bear deterrent hanging methods

The smelly clothes we worn cooking would also need to be left away from the tent, as far and as high as possible away from the tent. We used all of our rope on the bag that contained the likes of the really smelly stuff such as toothpaste and marshmallows so we had to climb a tree and hide the remainder of our stuff.

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

Hiding everything from bears

As the sun starting to set, the creatures of the night appeared by magic. Then there it was. A brown figure moving in the trees. Do I tell Nicola who has her back to it? Do we run? Do we make noise? Do we climb a tree. Everything from the video disappeared from my mind.
Then it showed it’s big scary wild face, squaring up to us probably looking for a bite of marshmallow.

Wild deer in Yellowstone National Park

Do you have a spare marshmallow?

It’s ok, it’s just a dear. Nicola sang and it ran away.

As the sky turned a beautiful dark blue, we retreated to the tent. Then it hit us. What were we doing in the middle of the wild in Yellowstone National Park? We have never even done this at home in the UK.

Sunset in Yellowstone National Park

No going back as the sky dimmed into darkness

Nobody knew where we were, but I bet the bears and bison did. Bison had already gored 10 people that year and it was only July. And what about the wolves and lions? Or eerie alien mammals who thrive on the angry earth and volcanic microorganisms which give them super human tracking powers? 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 living 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 our phone. Because that would really scare everything. Sleeping with earplugs made us believe nothing was happening and they would surely help morning arrive quicker, if we made it through the night.

The temperature dropped during the night, we idn’t anticipate how cold it would be out in the Wyoming wild. The only warmth came to us at 5am where the tent lit up with a glorious pink glow.
We peeked through the small tent to make sure there were no living surprises waiting for us.

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. Emerging from our tent at 5am into a completely still Yellowstone National Park, the largest super volcano on earth.

View of Yellowstone National Park camping

Best view in the 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

This is why we did it, this is why we made the decision to go into the wilderness. The whole experience gave us a lifelong memory that will stay in our hearts forever and now we’re a little bit addicted to camping in the wild.

Article Categories:
National Park · North America · The Americas · USA · Wildlife · Wyoming

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