Backcountry Camping

A yellow tent sits in a shaded area at the Ely Creek Backcountry Campsite.
The Ely Creek Backcountry Campsite along Jones Hole Creek is so popular that it must be reserved in advance.

NPS / Molly Swindle

Free backcountry permits are required for overnight stays outside of established frontcountry campgrounds. For experienced backpackers, there are many opportunities for backcountry camping. The beauty and solitude are inspiring, but the terrain is isolated and rugged. It is also very difficult to find water in the backcountry. Good planning is essential. Please remember that despite its appearances, Dinosaur National Monument is home for black bears. Proper storage of food or any items that produce odors is required at all locations in the backcountry. Visit our bear information page for details.

You will need to have the following information ready when you call (435) 781-7700 (ext. 0) or stop by a visitor center to pick up a backcountry permit:

  • Your name and the number of people in your group
  • Contact information (include a phone number that can recieve potential safety messages, and an email address to send the permit to if not picking up in person at a visitor center)
  • Start and end dates of your trip
  • Location where vehicles will be parked, and vehicle descriptions including lincese plates
  • Approximate locations of campsites for each night in the backcountry

Designated Backcountry Campsites

ELY CREEK: The only designated backcountry campsites for hikers within the monument are located at the confluence of Jones Hole Creek and Ely Creek, along the Jones Hole Trail. There are two campsites here. This location is the only place where backcountry camping is allowed along the Jones Hole Trail. Ely Creek makes for an ideal first backpacking trip (or a nice ease back into it if it has been a while). Reservations are required for this popular location.

  • Maximum group size is 8 people at each site.
  • Treat water from creek before drinking.
  • Vault toilet available.
  • Pack out all trash.
  • No fires.
  • No soap discharge in creek.
  • Due to bear activity in the area, proper storage of all food and other items is required. Use the food storage locker provided.

RIVER SITES (LOW-USE RIVER SEASON ONLY): Additional designated backcountry campsites for boaters are located along the Green and Yampa Rivers. During the high-use river-running season, these sites are only available to boaters. Backpackers may use the river campsites on a first-come, first serve basis only during the low-use river-running season (see dates).

  • No food storage locker available. Hang scented items from a tree or use a bear canister.
  • No vault toilet available. Follow Leave No Trace principles for proper disposal of human waste.
  • Pack out all trash.

Dispersed Backcountry Camping

Backcountry campers are responsible for knowing and following all monument regulations, including how to select appropriate camping locations that align with Leave No Trace principles. Most of Dinosaur’s 211,000 acres are open for dispersed backcountry camping. It is the responsibility of the permit holder to select a route and campsite locations that fit their groups' abilities.

Backcountry Campsites must be:

  • At least 0.5 miles (0.8 km) from any roads, trails, or other developed areas (including trailheads, parking lots, overlooks, front country campgrounds, picnic areas, and buildings, including firetowers).
  • AND at least 100 feet (30.4 m) from any water source, such as a pond, seep, plunge pool, river, or stream. Individuals or groups with valid river permits may camp in designated river campsites.
  • AND at least 300 feet (91.4 m) from any archeological, historical, or paleontological site, including all rock shelters and alcoves.

Additionally, backcountry camping is NOT allowed on private property inholdings, along Jones Hole Trail (except the two reservation-only sites at Ely Creek), within Hog and Box Canyons, along the Green or Yampa rivers during the high-use river season, or along the Sound of Silence and Desert Voices trails. Check with park staff about temporary closures of some areas due to peregrine falcon activity.


Backcountry Regulations and Safety Tips

1. Be Bear Aware - Keep a Clean Camp
Dinosaur’s backcountry is home to black bears and other animals that may be attracted to the smell of food and trash. Keep all scented items together, away from your sleeping area. Use animal resistant metal or plastic containers or hang items at least 10 feet above the ground and 4 feet out from a post, tree trunk, or other object; Small animals are often a greater concern than bears for getting into food or trash. Pack out all leftover food and trash, do not bury them. At Ely Creek, use the provided food locker.

2. Fires and Firewood Collection
Fires are PROHIBITED in the monument backcountry with the exception of designated river campsites where the use of fire pans on fire blankets is required. Portable gas stoves are recommended for backcountry use.

Open wood and charcoal fires are allowed within fire rings and grills in front country developed campgrounds and picnic areas, and on elevated fire pans with fire blankets in designated river campsites. Woody debris, even dead and down, is not allowed to be collected from within the monument, except for boaters’ use of driftwood found along the Yampa River or downstream of the Yampa-Green confluence. All fires must be doused with water and ash should be cold to the touch when not attended.

3. Pets & Bicycles
Pets and bicycles may only go where cars go, which is along roadways or in front country campgrounds. Neither are allowed in the backcountry. See additional Pet Regulations for pet-friendly front country trails. Trained Service Animals are allowed anywhere their person goes.

4. Leave No Trace
Keep group size to 8 people or less. Pack out everything you bring with you, including all trash. Carry out human waste or bury it at least 100 ft from any water source or trail. View wildlife from a distance. Do not disturb or remove any natural or historical features or objects. Only collect small amounts of nuts or berries for personal consumption.

5. Be Ready for Adventure
Dinosaur’s rugged, open landscape offers many off-trail challenges for backcountry hikers. Hikers must be comfortable with map reading and route finding.

6. Bring Adequate Drinking Water
Water is scarce in Dinosaur’s backcountry. Most routes require water to be packed in. Water from streams, springs, and ponds must be treated. Drinking from the Yampa and Green rivers is not advised, even after treatment. Carry and drink at least 1 gallon of water
per person per day. Eat salty snacks as well as regular meals. As you exercise, you lose salt and water. You need both to survive. Consider the climate, weather forecast, the length and difficulty of your hike, the high elevation (5000’ to over 8000’), and your physical condition as you plan your trip. You may need to carry more water and travel fewer miles in Dinosaur than in other locations you’ve visited.

7. Know Backcountry Road Conditions
Some backcountry roads are infrequently traveled and may be in poor condition. Make sure your vehicle and tires (including a spare) are in good working order. Unpaved roads become hazardous when wet because of gooey clay, steep grades, and drop-offs.

8. Be Alert for Wildlife
Animals are a natural part of the environment; be prepared for the possibility of an encounter and enjoy their presence from a safe distance. Place your hands and feet carefully to avoid snakes; be prepared to cope with insect bites and stings. Report mountain lion or bear sightings to a ranger. Cattle are also unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

9. Wildfires Are A Risk When It Is Dry
Keep an eye on the skies and have an escape plan. Rangers may try to contact you using the phone number given for the permit.

10. Canyons Can Be Dangerous
Canyons can become steep and impassible without ropes. Technical rock climbing is subject to additional equipment and regulations. Any equipment or activity that damages vegetation or rock surfaces is not allowed.

11. Swimming Is Not Recommended
Sudden drop-offs and unpredictable currents make the Green and Yampa rivers potentially hazardous. Do not attempt to cross the Green or Yampa river without wearing a PFD.

12. Communications Devices May Be Unreliable
Mobile phones do not work in many places in the backcountry. Make alternative plans to communicate with family and friends before and after your trip.

Last updated: May 8, 2024

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Mailing Address:

4545 Hwy 40
Dinosaur, CO 81610


435 781-7700

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