Camping will take a little more advanced planning this year

Posted 3/4/21

As outdoor recreation exploded in popularity in the past year, many state and federal campsites in the area were at full capacity, making impromptu trips difficult. Waiting to see a forecast for the …

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Camping will take a little more advanced planning this year


As outdoor recreation exploded in popularity in the past year, many state and federal campsites in the area were at full capacity, making impromptu trips difficult. Waiting to see a forecast for the weekend may become a thing of the past if you want to ensure getting a spot. 

Instead, reservations are now moving online and fewer spots will be available on a first come, first served basis in area campgrounds. Beginning March 24, visitors heading to campsites in Yellowstone National Park are advised to make advance reservations at three additional park-managed campgrounds: Mammoth, Slough Creek and a portion of Pebble Creek.

Yellowstone campsites will also become more expensive. Park officials are raising the daily price by $5 to offset the expense of the new reservation system. Visitors will be able to book sites up to six months in advance, according to a Tuesday press release. 

The reservation system “will enrich the visitor experience by reducing traffic congestion at campgrounds, improving safety, and eliminate uncertainty and frustration,” according to the release.

For visitors who arrive without reservations, the park will have two and a half campgrounds operating on a first come, first served basis. However, reservations are “highly encouraged since campgrounds fill each day, often before noon.”

Campgrounds in the park have always been popular, said Linda Veress, Yellowstone public information specialist.

“Even before COVID, our campgrounds were always full,” she said.

Veress suggests that, if you want a site without using the reservation system, get to the campground early and start scouting for open sites.

“It’s a bit of luck and planning,” she said. “The earlier you get there the better chance you have.”

Once a spot is secured, campers can stay for up to 14 days and checkout time isn’t until 10 a.m., so those looking for groups packing up may have a long morning of waiting. Checkout in a reserved site is 11 a.m.

Advance reservations are already available at sites managed by Yellowstone National Park Lodges, including Bridge Bay, Madison, Canyon and Grant Village campgrounds, along with the Fishing Bridge RV Park. Yellowstone offers 12 campgrounds with more than 2,100 sites.

After the park got off to a slow start last year due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, Yellowstone’s summer season finished with record visitation in both September and October. Officials were unwilling to speculate about this coming season, but those hoping to camp outside of the park in North Fork campgrounds should also plan ahead. Last year, Buffalo Bill State Park was sold out for camping spots from early summer through fall.

“As summer progresses, especially when Yellowstone opens up the first weekend in May, our visitation really increases for non-residents,” said Dan Marty, superintendent of Buffalo Bill State Park.

Marty suggests campers start planning earlier if they want to be sure to get a spot. Reservations may be made up to four months in advance. Buffalo Bill State Park will be trying a pilot program, holding 16 of the 98 spots open until two weeks in advance, in an attempt to help locals find a camping spot during the busy season.

“A lot of us don’t know when we can go camping until two weeks prior. So we wanted to set some spots aside for folks who decided to go camping at the last minute,” Marty said.

The price to camp in the state park has also increased. For Wyoming residents, daily use fees at state parks, recreation areas and archaeological sites have moved to one rate year-round (with no more discount for off-season rates) increasing to $7 per day. The largest increase is for annual camping passes, which are now $80 instead of $50.

Non-resident visitors will now pay a $12 daily use fee at parks and recreation areas and $8 per day at historic sites, with an annual pass now $96 — an increase of $26.

Fox Creek is the only campground closed this year in the Shoshone National Forest, said public affairs officer Kristie Salzmann. The forest plans to update its website later this week to announce opening dates for the many sites along the North Fork and between Powell and the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone. The Shoshone uses the same reservation system as Yellowstone and other national park properties for advance reservations.

Salzmann suggests planning early.

“Last year we had a very busy season with a large number of visitors on overnight stays,” she said.

Forest campgrounds still have some first-come, first-served sites, but a reservation is a much safer alternative, she said. Salzmann also wants campers to know that overnight stays in pullouts along the highway are forbidden. Last year, with the number of sites unavailable due to the pandemic, visitors took to camping in their vehicles along the road. Litter became a problem, including human feces and toiletries.

“Leave no trace. Pack it in and pack it out,” Salzmann said.

Reservations can be made for federal campsites in National Park Service properties — including Yellowstone National Park, the Shoshone and Gallatin National Forests and the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area — at