Backcountry Camping & Hiking
Notice: Yellowstone is proposing to implement a fee for overnight backcountry permits starting in May 2015. For more information you may visit http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=55589
After reading this page, use our Online Backcountry Trip Planner to plan your outing.
Yellowstone has a designated backcountry campsite system, and a Backcountry Use Permit is required for all overnight stays. Each designated campsite has a maximum limit for the number of people and stock allowed per night. The maximum stay per campsite varies from 1 to 3 nights per trip. Campfires are permitted only in established fire pits. Wood fires are not allowed in some backcountry campsites. A food storage pole is provided at most designated campsites so that food and attractants may be secured from bears.
Permits may be obtained only in person and no more than 48 hours in advance of your trip. Permits are available from backcountry offices located in most ranger stations or visitor centers. In order to obtain the best information on trail conditions, permits should be obtained from the ranger station or visitor center nearest to the area where your trip is to begin. The Backcountry Use Permit is valid only for the itinerary and dates specified. Backcountry travelers must have their permits in possession while in the backcountry.
Advance Reservations for Backcountry Campsites
Although permits must be obtained in person no more than 48 hours in advance, backcountry campsites may be reserved in advance. Reservation applications for backcountry permits are accepted from January 1 to October 31 of each calendar year. Reservations received by March 31 will be processed in random order starting April 1. Reservations received April 1 and later will be processed in the order received.
Requests for reservations must be submitted by mail, fax, or in person. They cannot be made over the phone or by email. A confirmation notice, not a permit, is given or emailed to the camper. This confirmation notice must then be converted to the actual permit not more than 48 hours in advance of the first camping date. Details are provided on the confirmation notice. The reservation fee is $25.00 regardless of the number of nights out or the number of people involved. The fee is not refundable. Forms for making an advance reservation are available to download online at: Backcountry Trip Planner, or by writing to:
Email: e-mail us
Because only a portion of the approximately 300 backcountry campsites are available for advance reservations, you may choose to wait until you arrive in the park to reserve your site(s) and obtain your permit. Backcountry permits are available for free if obtained within two days of the start of your trip.
Where to Get Your Permit
During the summer season (June - August), permits are available 7 days a week between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at the following locations:
During the spring, fall, and winter seasons, ranger stations and visitor centers do not have set hours. Contact the Central Backcountry Office for information on where to obtain a Backcountry Use Permit during these seasons.
Several commercial businesses are permitted to offer guided overnight backpacking trips into Yellowstone's backcountry. These businesses would obtain the Backcountry Use Permits for trips that they provide.
Safety in Bear Country
Hiking and camping restrictions are occasionally in effect as a result of bear activity. Never camp in an area that has obvious evidence of bear activity such as digging, tracks, or scat. Odors attract bears, so avoid carrying or cooking odorous foods. Keep a clean camp; do not cook or store food in your tent. All food, garbage, or other odorous items used for preparing or cooking food must be secured from bears. Most backcountry campsites have food poles from which all food, cooking gear, and scented articles must be suspended when not being used. Treat all odorous products such as soap, deodorant, or other toiletries in the same manner as food. Do not leave packs containing food unattended, even for a few minutes. Allowing a bear to obtain human food even once often results in the bear becoming aggressive about obtaining such food in the future. Aggressive bears present a threat to human safety and eventually must be destroyed or removed from the park. Please obey the law and do not allow bears or other wildlife to obtain human food.
Sleep a minimum of 100 yards (91 meters) from where you hang, cook, and eat your food. Keep your sleeping gear clean and free of food odor. Don't sleep in the same clothes worn while cooking and eating; hang clothing worn while cooking and eating in plastic bags.
Considering bears' highly developed sense of smell, it may seem logical that they could be attracted to odors associated with menstruation. Studies on this subject are few and inconclusive. If a woman chooses to hike or camp in bear country during menstruation, a basic precaution should be to wear internal tampons, not external pads. Used tampons should be double-bagged in a zip-lock type bag and stored the same as garbage.
If you are involved in a conflict with a bear, regardless of how minor, report it to a park ranger as soon as possible. Another's safety may depend on it. Exceptional combinations of food, shelter, and space draw grizzlies to some parts of Yellowstone more than others. In these Bear Management Areas, human access is restricted to reduce impacts on the bears and their habitat. Ask at ranger stations or visitor centers for more information.
All refuse must be carried out of the backcountry. Do not wash yourself, clothing, or dishes in lakes, ponds, rivers, or streams. Bury human waste six to eight inches (15-20 cm) below ground at least 200 feet (60 m) from water sources or campsites. (A minimum distance of 100 feet is required). Similar distance standards should be used for the disposal of wastewater.
General Safety Concerns
Should you drink the water? Intestinal infections from drinking untreated water are increasingly common. Waters may be polluted by animal and/or human wastes. When possible, carry a supply of water from a domestic source. If you drink water from lakes and streams, bring it to a boil to reduce the chance of infection.
Don't take chances in backcountry thermal areas. Scalding water underlies thin, breakable crusts; pools are near or above boiling temperatures. Each year, visitors traveling off trail have been seriously burned, and people have died from the scalding water. No swimming or bathing is allowed in thermal pools.
Removing, defacing or destroying any plant, animal, or mineral is prohibited. Leave historical and archeological items in place.
For information about the "firearms in parks" law that went in to effect Feb. 22, 2010, see Laws and Policies.