When planning a backcountry trip, remember that many of Yellowstone’s trails are more than 7,000 feet above sea level. Most areas retain snow until late May or early June, and some (especially mountain passes) are snow-covered until late July. Also, many routes require fording rivers that can be 25 feet wide, 3 to 5 feet deep, extremely cold, and swiftly running during our late spring runoff.
Yellowstone maintains 293 designated backcountry campsites. 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. Group size limits range from 4 to 12 people. With the exception of four campsites, we allow only one group at each campsite. If your group size exceeds the campsite limit, you’ll need to obtain a second permit and cook and sleep as separate groups. A food storage pole or box is provided at every campsite so that food and attractants may be secured from bears. You will need to provide your own rope (35 feet in length or greater) at sites with food poles. A list and map of campsites can be found Backcountry Trails and Campsites map.
Permits are required year-round for all overnight stays in Yellowstone's backcountry. A backcountry permit allows the permit holder and group members to camp in a designated location. Permits are not required for day hiking.
For a list of Backcountry Office locations and hours refer to the Backcountry Situation Report.
Reservations are encouraged but not required. Approximately three quarters of backcountry campsites are made available for advance reservation. Reservations must be made at least 3 days in advance of the trip start date. Remaining campsites are available in-person at a park Backcountry Office on a first-come, first-serve basis and can be requested a maximum of two days before the trip start date. Permits are date specific, so if you dates are not set, we do not recommend making a reservation.
Early Access Lottery
Because demand for backcountry campsites in many areas of the park exceeds capacity during peak periods, an optional early access lottery is available. This lottery is based on a fair and randomized process to provide an equal opportunity for each applicant to be selected. Successful applicants are granted early access to reservations, with the earliest access having more options to secure a reservation for popular areas. Lottery participants with later access may not have access to their preferred itinerary but can create an alternate trip using available campsites.
On April 26, remaining permits for open campsites will be available on Recreation.gov. Reservations must be made at least 3-days prior to the start date of a trip.
Walk-up backcountry permits are available on a first-come, first-served basis in person at a Yellowstone Backcountry Office and are payable by debit or credit card. Hikers can obtain these permits up to 2 days prior to the start date of your trip. Walk-up Permits cannot be issued over the phone or online through Recreation.gov.
Backcountry Permit Fees
Early Access Lottery Application Fee: $10 non-refundable. The application fee is charged for all applications to the Early Access Lottery regardless of success.
Several commercial businesses are permitted to offer guided overnight backpacking, boating, llama packing, and horseback trips into Yellowstone's backcountry. These businesses obtain the necessary permits for trips they provide.
Central Backcountry Office staff is available to assist with trip planning and answer questions at:
Last updated: May 22, 2023