Backcountry Permit Frequently Asked Questions






Application Seasons

When can I apply for backpacking reservations?

You can apply for the Early Access Lottery March 1-20. To apply you only need to provide basic contact information, not an itinerary. Successful applicants will be notified on March 25 and have an opportunity to make a reservation in the Early Access Period (April 1-April 25). On April 26, all remaining inventory will open to the public for the general on-sale period.

How many permits will be issued in advance, how many will be left for last minute walkups?

Up to 75% of the backcountry campsites may be reserved in advance and at least 25% will be left for walk-up permits daily.

What is the typical backpacking season?

The prime backpacking season is late-June through the end of September. Backcountry access is limited during May and June due to deep snow and streams swollen from snow melt. Snow and dangerous stream crossing may persist in some areas well into July. September can bring snow to the higher elevations, so pay attention to the weather forecast and stay updated on current trail conditions. Hiking earlier or later in the season may require expert navigation skills including map/compass and GPS, camping on snow or in mud, fording of deep rivers, and contingency planning. It is not recommended. Overnight camping with stock is not permitted until July 1. View current trail conditions before your trip.

Early Access Period

How do I participate in the early-access period?

Applications to participate in the lottery are accepted from March 1 8:00 am MT to March 20 at 11:59 pm MT. To apply you will need to provide basic contact information, not an itinerary. Using a fair and randomized approach, up to 2500 participants will be awarded a specific date and time when they will be able to log-on and secure a reservation. Participants are limited to a single reservation* during the early access period but may create additional reservations during the general on-sale period beginning April 26.

*A separate reservation is required anytime you return to your vehicle and travel to a new trailhead.

What are my chances of being awarded an early-access timeslot?

As this is the first year of the Yellowstone Early Access Lottery, we don’t know what to expect. However, in recent years we have received approximately 2,000 applications for our lottery and were able to successfully fill around 75% of the lottery applications. We expect the number of Early Access lottery applications will significantly increase on this new platform.

Does winning an early-access timeslot guarantee that I will get the trip I want?

No. Although successful applicants will be assigned an access timeslot for a chance at a reservation, they will be competing with others who have been assigned that same access timeslot and those individuals with an earlier assigned timeslot.

Successful applicants are provided a date and time that their early access timeslot opens to make a reservation, with the earliest access timeslot offering the most options to secure permits for the most desirable dates and locations. Lottery participants with later access might not have access to their preferred itinerary but can create an alternate trip. Applicants may create a reservation at any time after their access timeslot opens.

Large groups, needing more than one campsite per night, will want each group leader to apply for the Early Access Lottery since only one trip can be booked per leader during the assigned early lottery time slot. To best coordinate trips, group leaders may want to wait to book until the later of the awarded timeslots in order to coordinate campsites and dates.

I was awarded an early-access timeslot. What are my chances of getting a permit?

Your chances of getting a permit are high, but not necessarily for your first choice. Popular areas such as Slough Creek, Bechler, Shoshone Lake, and Heart Lake can be difficult to get. However, with almost 300 campsites there are a lot of options.

I was awarded an early-access timeslot. Can I reserve more than one itinerary?

Participants are limited to a single reservation during the early access period but may create additional reservations during the general on-sale period beginning April 26.


You may reserve multiple campsites if they are part of one contiguous trip. A separate reservation is required anytime you return to your vehicle and travel to a new trailhead. If you wish to reserve multiple campsites in different areas of the park you would need to make additional reservations during the General On-Sale Period.

What are my chances of getting a reservation after the early-access period?

During the general permit season, you can make a reservation based on remaining permit availability. The most popular locations during their prime season will likely be taken. However, Yellowstone’s backcountry is known for its wide-open spaces and abundant wildlife and you can get that experience from practically all of our campsites, so there are lots of great options!

What tips do you have for securing the trip I want?

Pre- Plan your route before you get on the website! With 1,000 miles of trail it is necessary to have a basic framework of where it is you want to go. Visit the park’s website to review maps and campsite locations. Don't focus only on availability! While there are safeguards in place to prevent users from booking sites that are too far away, we also want to allow users that can travel longer than average miles, or atypical itineraries the opportunity to book their desired trips. For that reason, it is important to know the range of sites and mileages that are acceptable for your itinerary so that you do not inadvertently book a trip that is beyond your skill level. It is your responsibility to plan a safe and realistic itinerary.


Some of Yellowstone’s backcountry campsites only allow for a subset of user types - only foot, others for only stock (horses), others just llamas and other sites are boat specific (motorized or non-motorized). Pay attention to the use type of the campsite which will be displayed alongside the campsite code. If you choose the wrong type of site for your travel method, you will not be able to complete your booking and will cause yourself unnecessary delays.

During the early-access period, all award recipients can view availability starting April 1. If you have a later access timeslot, pay attention to availability as it changes, and adapt your intended dates and route if necessary. Use the hours prior to your access timeslot to plan out a good itinerary based on the most current availability. Because you are competing with a small number of other applicants with the same timeslot, be prepared with alternate dates and campsites in case your preferred itinerary becomes unavailable.

Can I submit multiple reservations?

Individual may submit only one application for the early access lottery (no multiple email address are allowed for the same person). Other group members can submit an application for the early access lottery as well. Succesfull lottery applications can only reserve a single reservation during the early-access period. Additional trips can be booked once the general season starts on April 26.

Can I make a change to my reservation during the early access period?

You cannot make changes during the early access period. You can make changes starting April 26.

Can I cancel my early access reservation and make a new reservation during early access?

No, you have used up your early access reservation. If you cancel your reservation, you will need to wait until the General On-Sale Period opens on April 26 to book a new reservation.

I have canceled my early access reservation, can you please un-cancel that reservation?

Reservations canceled during the Early Access Period cannot be recalled. You will have to wait until April 26, when the General On-Sale Period opens, to book a new reservation.

Building a trip in Recreation.gov

Do I have to wait for a Ranger to review and modify my request before it is confirmed?

No (if traveling by foot or boat). Campsite availability is displayed in real time, but availability can change between the time you add a camp to your itinerary and when you complete the itinerary by clicking “book now.” You will have immediate feedback on whether or not your requested trip is available, or if you need to make a modification. Please pay attention the type of use the campsite you have chosen allows.


A ranger will still review your permit before it is issued and resolve any necessary modifications. It is possible to create an unrealistic or non-sensical itinerary in Recreation.gov. It is your responsibility to plan your trip according to your capabilities.

Trips involving travel by stock (horse, mule, llama) must be reviewed before being fully confirmed. Campsites allowing stock have limits on the total amount of stock allowed per year and although it may appear available, it may not be available if the stock use limit has been reached. Unfortunately, the system is unable to calculate the stock use at this time. We recommend contacting the Central Backcountry Office prior to booking a trip with stock to confirm campsite availability.

Why does a camp that I know is available show zero quota once I begin building my itinerary?

Working with park managers, Recreation.gov has put a number of safeguards in place to help make sure you are reserving a reasonable trip. Once you have selected your first night, Recreation.gov will preform several back end calculations which from that point on will only provide you one day of availability at a time. If you are trying to work around the availability of a particular campsite, we recommend that you select the option to clear dates, and view availability on an long range perspective. Once you have the availability "mapped out" start selecting your desired campsites for the first night stay and selecting the campsites consecutively. Otherwise, if the campsite is showing a quota of zero, it means the campsite has either been reserved, or is closed and is unavailable.

I can’t find the campsite that I want on Recreation.gov.

To reduce the potential for unrealistic itineraries, park managers have ensured Recreation.gov will not allow users to book sites that are typically more than twenty miles away or cannot be reached in a sensible way. Yellowstone is Bear Country! It is very important that parties reserve trips that are achievable so that they can make it to their destination. Camping off-itinerary can create ruined vacations for others in already booked sites, natural resource impacts from camping in undesignated areas, as well as dangers both to yourself and wildlife. Many factors can affect how far a group might hike in a day: fatigue, injury, river crossings, rough trails, elevation changes, interactions with wildlife, etc. Make sure to plan accordingly.

If the campsite you are looking for is within 20 miles it might mean that you have chosen a campsite that has a specific use type (foot, boat, horse) and the next site you have chosen is not for the same use type. For example, if you choose a campsite that only allows for stock(horses), then for your next night you will only be offered a site that allows for stock. Otherwise, you are likely not seeing your campsite because you are trying to book several nights in different areas, A separate reservation is required anytime you return to your vehicle and travel to a new trailhead. Lastly, the site you are looking for may be categorized in a different start area.

If you are interested in an itinerary that is atypical and Recreation.gov does not display an option that suits your needs, you can call the Central Backcountry office to assist you. Please note if there is no availability in an area or campsite that you want to reserve is already booked, this is not something we can help you with.

Overnight backcountry camping is restricted to designated campsites, the number of parties that may stay overnight in the backcountry is limited by the number of campsites and capacity of individual campsites. Each campsite is limited to one group and has limits on group size, length of stay, and method of travel permitted.If you cannot get a campsite in the area that you had wanted to travel, we do leave some campsites available for walk up permits which you can arrange in person at one of the backcountry offices, 48 hours or less, prior to your trip.

Do I have to book a separate reservation for each night of my trip?

No. You may book up to 14 nights on one permit if you are hiking from one campsite to the next. If you are planning on hiking back to your car and then driving to another trailhead then that requires a separate reservation. There is a maximum of three consecutive nights at any one site. Some campsites have a 1 night, or 2 night limit. Attempting to extend a trip by purchasing an additional reservation is not allowed and may cause you to lose your reservation.


Modifications can be made during the General On Sale Period (after the Early Access Period ends) before the permit is issued based on availability. You will not be able to change your start date. To change a start date of a trip you will need to cancel and then rebook your permit with the new start date.

Walk-up Permits

What is a walk-up permit?

These permits cannot be reserved in advance, online nor through the Recreation.gov Contact Center. Instead, these permits are claimed in person, once you are physically in the park at one of the Central Backcountry Offices. Permits are granted to visitors in the order that they arrive.

How many days in advance can I attempt a walk-up permit?

Up to 2-days in advance. For example, if you want to start backpacking on July 31, you may attempt a walk-up permit on July 29, July 30, or July 31.

When attempting to get a walk-up permit what should I come to the ranger station prepared with?

Before leaving home, check availability on Recreation.gov. Campsites that still have walk-up quota available will display a "W" or a number in the availability field. Unavailable campsites will display a 0.If you are attempting to obtain a walk-up permit then you will want to come with an itinerary in mind.

How can I increase my chances of obtaining a walk-up permit?

  • Come to any Backcountry Office when they first open 2-days before you want to start your hike.

  • Be flexible, including which trailhead you start at, alternate campsites (staying within your distance comfort level), hiking direction (either clockwise or counterclockwise).

  • Be open to starting your trip on the same day or the next day.

Activating a Reservation

How many days in advance can I pick up a permit that I have a reservation for?

Up to 2-days in advance. For example, if your reservation starts on July 31, you may pick up your permit on July 29, July 30, or July 31.

Do I need to go to a Backcountry Office to acquire my permit or can I do it over the phone or online?

For trips departing May 15 through November 5, you need to pick up your permit at a Backcountry Office. Backcountry Permit Offices are located at Mammoth, Tower, Bridge Bay, Grant Village, South Entrance, Old Faithful, West Yellowstone, and Bechler.

Return to the Camp in the Backcountry page

Last updated: April 20, 2022

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