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The Bad News About Yellowstone Camping This Year

Are you hoping to see Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic Spring, or any of the thousands of bison at Yellowstone? If you’re planning to snag a campsite in the park, we have some unfortunate news for you.

Due to record-breaking visitation numbers, park officials are making adjustments that will affect camping at Yellowstone.

Let’s see why!

America’s First National Park

Yellowstone National Park has two million acres of land that inspired the first visitors to protect it. President Ulysses S. Grant designated the park in 1872 as the first national park in American history. Other countries followed the National Park System structure and created parks to protect delicate and unique lands.

The park is 3,500 square miles of some of the most incredible landscapes you’ll ever encounter. From volcano hotspots to an abundance of wildlife, visiting this national park can be overwhelming. It seems like there’s a new adventure waiting around every bend.

Happy Anniversary, Yellowstone!

Yellowstone will celebrate a birthday milestone on March 1st, 2022, as it turns 150 years old. 

While it is a big year for the park, the anniversary is not why the park will likely break another attendance record in 2022. The large crowds are mainly due to the massive boom in those looking to visit due to travel restrictions lifting worldwide. While you may not see people wearing party hats and noisemakers to celebrate the anniversary, many visitors will be in the park.

Woman camping in Yellowstone.
Camp in the first national park in American history.

Bad News for Yellowstone Campers in 2022

There may be some challenging changes for those looking to camp in the park. The significant recent changes made by the park directly affect camping in Yellowstone.

Reservations Needed

There once was a day when you could stroll in without a reservation and snag a campsite at many of the Yellowstone National Park campgrounds. They even had some campgrounds that were first-come, first-served. However, the demand for campsites has far exceeded the number of locations, creating a chaotic situation for those looking to camp. As a result, the park has moved many campgrounds to a reservation system to help control the demand.

In March 2021, the park moved three campgrounds to a new reservation system, but it wasn’t enough. Effective February 2022, the park has moved two more campgrounds (Indian Creek and Lewis Lake) to the new reservation system.

The reservation system makes 80% of the campsites in these campgrounds reservable up to six months in advance. The remaining 20% will open up two weeks in advance. The park hopes to limit guests showing up to discover the campgrounds are full and they do not have a place to stay.

Pro Tip: Now more than ever before parks are using a reservation system to control crowd size. We took a deeper look at What’s the Point of the New National Park Reservation System?

The Crowds Will Increase

Over the past several years, Yellowstone and many other national parks have experienced record-breaking numbers of visitors. With the continued growth in the RV market and campground reservations filling up, there’s no end in sight regarding when crowds will return to normal.

This summer looks much like the past two years, and park officials are preparing for another chaotic, busy season. If you’re planning to visit the park, you should prepare for long lines of traffic, congested hiking trails, and parking lots with limited amounts of space.

Bison walking in Yellowstone
If you want to see the famous Yellowstone bison, make sure to pre-book your camping reservation.

Tips for Camping in Yellowstone National Park

Larger crowds don’t mean you can’t have an epic trip. Here are a handful of tips if you’re heading to Yellowstone National Park soon.

Plan Ahead

Campsites fill up months in advance, so you’ll need to plan your trip many months ahead. Snagging a campsite at any of the park’s campgrounds will feel like winning the lottery. However, by securing a reservation, you can know that you’ll have a spot to camp when you arrive.

You’re likely going to need to plan several days in the park to see all of the main attractions the park has to offer. Intense crowds will make you feel like you’re waiting in a line everywhere you go. Try not to cram too much into a day so you can ensure you’re able to do all that you want to in that day.

Camp in the Off Season

The best way to deal with crowds is by avoiding them. You can prevent them by camping in the off-season, typically at the start of May and part of September. This is usually before schools get out for the summer or slightly after most of the country has returned to school.

You’ll appreciate having the park to yourself, not having to fight the crowds, and not dealing with noise on trails and in the campgrounds. Fewer crowds mean better chances of spotting wildlife and enjoying the trails in silence.

Be Flexible

Flexibility is essential. The weather and crowd levels aren’t always going to go in your favor, which means you may have to rearrange your plan on the fly to make sure you see and do all that you want to at Yellowstone.

A little bit of flexibility will go a very long way to ensure that you and your traveling companions have a memorable time. Not being adaptable is a great way to ruin your trip and those around you. You don’t want your attitude to be what people remember most about Yellowstone.

Pro Tip: Use these 5 Yellowstone Camping Hacks on your next adventure!

Woman posing in front of tent while camping.
Patience is key when trying to camp in and explore Yellowstone.

Be Patient

One of the most important things you need to pack when visiting Yellowstone is your patience. No one enjoys waiting in lines or battling traffic, so being patient with other drivers, rangers, and campers will be vital when visiting Yellowstone.

You must be patient with park rangers and staff as they may deal with impatient guests all day long. You don’t want to be one of the unpleasant guests they have to deal with during your trip. Make sure you are polite, patient, and follow instructions when asked.

Consider Camping Outside the Park

While camping inside Yellowstone National Park is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many, it’s not always possible. There are some phenomenal boondocking opportunities in the area and several fantastic local campgrounds to consider. Just because you can’t snag a campsite at the national park doesn’t mean you can’t camp in the area.

The entire surrounding area is gorgeous and full of stunning landscapes. Some of the boondocking locations may require a drive, but this allows you to see the national park and the surrounding area. You’ll also likely have more space and privacy in these locations than you would by camping at one of the park campgrounds.

The best free camping at Yellowstone (access it here).

Plan Ahead Before Visiting Yellowstone National Park

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re going to show up and snag a campsite. The likelihood of that happening is nearly impossible. You don’t want to wait until you arrive at the park to discover no sites available. If you are trying to boondock, make sure you do your research and have several backup options if any of your preferred locations aren’t available. The key to having a memorable trip to Yellowstone will begin months before you even start packing.

Are you planning to visit Yellowstone National Park soon? Tell us your plans in the comments!

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

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