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Car camp/day hike in Yellowstone?
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Ben F
(tekhna) - F
Car camp/day hike in Yellowstone? on 06/03/2012 12:43:05 MDT Print View

So I'm going to be roadtripping this summer, and my trip will bring me in the vicinity of Yellowstone, and I'd love to spend a few days there. Unfortunately I'll have a lot of stuff in my car so I can't leave it at a trailhead, but I do want to try to do a day or two of hiking. Any suggestions as to where to car camp and hike? Or is it going to suck not getting into the backcountry?

Gary Dunckel
(Zia-Grill-Guy) - MLife

Locale: Boulder
Car camp/day hike in Yellowstone on 06/03/2012 14:11:38 MDT Print View

Ben, I'm trying to set up something myself in YNP in Aug-Sept--a series of backpack trips in the far north of the Park. The Roosevelt Lodge, the only lodging in the area, is almost fully booked. There are two campgrounds (Slough Cr. and Pebble CR.), which usually fill up by noon every day. So...lodging/camping will be your biggest problem. I don't worry much about leaving my loaded truck anywhere in that Park (at trailheads). There aren't many thieves around, just families with packed vehicles of their own. They wouldn't have a place to put any stolen goods.

One thing you could do is score a motel in West Yellowstone, then drive into the Park to do some fairly accessible day hikes. I don't know how much hiking you want to do, but there are many 4-6 mile hikes that are fairly appealing (Lone Star Geyser near Old Faithful, Grebe Lake between Norris and Canyon, and Slough Creek in the far north). The backcountry office near where you will stay can suggest scads of hikes. There are a lot of interesting geysers and thermal areas that would be unique short hikes, but of course they will be crowded with other tourists. But be sure to check with the rangers, as you must learn if there are any bear problem areas to avoid.

If I was to suggest anything to a first-time visitor, it would be to score lodging at a place like Canyon for a few nights, and spend your days driving around and checking out the whole Park. There are all sorts of short day hikes easily accessible from the roads, and the parking lots, like I mentioned, seem quite secure.

Yellowstone is pretty amazing, and there's a reason why so many people flock to it every summer.

Richard Lyon
(richardglyon) - MLife

Locale: Bridger Mountains
Car camping in Yellowstone on 06/04/2012 07:28:37 MDT Print View

Gary is right - the greatest challenge will be finding lodging. All the front country camping areas are the toughest tickets in the Park. I'd stay in West Yellowstone (Sleepy Hollow is fun and inexpensive) and get up early to explore. Slough Creek, the Blacktail trail, Hellroaring, and Soda Butte Creek are all easy and accessible (and all have terrific fishing). In the south of the Park Shoshone Lake and the Heart Lake trail offer wonderful scenery; Lone Star geyser, just south of Old Faithful, is a pleasant day hike too. You might check Colter Bay, in Grand Teton National Park, for car camping and a base for day trips.

Ben F
(tekhna) - F
Re: Car camping in Yellowstone on 06/04/2012 13:55:01 MDT Print View

Thanks for all the advice guys! I've got a lot more reading to do, it sounds like. I might try GTNP, less crowded I would think?

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Car camp/day hike in Grant Teton on 06/04/2012 15:03:26 MDT Print View

If you want to car camp in Grand Teton, get there early in the day! If you're lucky, you might score a place at Gros Ventre (out in the middle of the valley). It's a pretty place, rushing stream and quivering aspen trees, but you'll have to drive a few miles to hike. You may luck out for a reservation cancellation at Coulter Bay, where you'll also have to drive out to hike. Chances are non-existent for a place at Jenny Lake, the only campground close to several trailheads.

Last time I was there, two years ago, I actually had to stand in line about 10 minutes just to take a picture of Jenny Lake and Mt. Teewinot!

Edited by hikinggranny on 06/04/2012 15:04:58 MDT.

Craig Burton

Locale: Smoky Mountains
Re: Car camp/day hike in Yellowstone? on 06/07/2012 06:22:28 MDT Print View

As mentioned, camping in Yellowstone in the summer is tough. My best luck has been heading out of the Northeast Entrance and going up Beartooth Pass - there are several campgrounds along the way - most with great Alpine trailheads.

Diana Nevins
(artemis) - MLife

Locale: Great Plains
Booking Yellowstone Accommodations on 06/08/2012 16:47:05 MDT Print View

One other tip: if you want lodging in Yellowstone National Park itself, CALL Xanterra directly daily, don't rely on their website to look for lodging! Room reservations get cancelled and rebooked so fast, the openings often never make it onto the website's booking engine. But if you're persistent about calling Xanterra frequently and are not too picky about where in the park you stay, you can often get some very nice accommodations even during the most crowded part of the tourist season.

Richard Scruggs
(JRScruggs) - MLife

Locale: Oregon
Re: Car camp/day hike in Yellowstone? on 06/08/2012 18:07:35 MDT Print View

Here are a few "secret" tips for Yellowstone lodging, or a campsite at Jenny Lake in GTNP (top secret, so shhhhh, don't tell anyone!>) ---

Tips for lodging in Yellowstone (not a campsite, but a place with a real bed):

Tip #1, as mentioned above (so not really a secret), is that people constantly cancel their reservations for YNP lodging (after all, no penalty if cancelled at least 24 -- or maybe it's 48 -- hours in advance). Hence, repeated calls to Xanterra can (i.e., definitely will) eventually get you one of those cancelled reservations.

Important corollary to Tip #1: those cancellations will happen even on the day that you arrive at the park, as we've found to be true by calling Xanterra as late as the day we drive into the park with no reservation having been made (one time, this "last-minute" tactic rewarded us with a cabin at Old Faithful Snow Lodge; yet another time it turned up a nifty room in the old wing of Old Faithful Inn);

Tip #2, once you have a reservation through Xanterra in YNP, even if it's not your first choice for location, that reservation can be transferred at any time for no charge to another location in YNP lodging if you want to keep trying to get your first choice. But it would be wise to verify, when you make your initial reservation, that this option is available if you intend to keep checking back for your first choice.

So long as the option to transfer is available, IF (actually, when) there's a cancellation at your preferred location, you have a good chance of getting it if you keep trying and trying and trying and . . . .

Illustration of Tip #1 & #2 at their optimal level of success -- Last fall, toward the end of an "extended stay" at a tent site in Madison Campground, temps got very, very cold and bad weather was coming. So we decided to bail out of the campground a few days early -- before our "extended" reservation period ended. Rather than just get up and leave, we called Xanterra to ask if there were any lodging cancellations "as of that very same night" at Old Faithful. Yep, someone had just cancelled, and we slept that night (and the next couple of nights) in a bed at Old Faithful.

Bonus: Xanterra transferred the remainder of our reservation at Madison campground to our last-minute lodging reservation and adjusted the lodging price to credit what we had already paid for those last few days at Madison campground.

Moral for lodging reservations at YNP -- get your foot in the door by making a reservation, then keep on checking with Xanterra for a cancellation of YNP lodging at the location where you really want to stay, right up to when you arrive to check-in.

Tip for Jenny Lake Campground in GTNP -- Jenny Lake Campground has several walk-in sites set aside for foot or bike travelers. If you check those sites in the late evening, may find a couple of them that aren't going to be used. If so, you're set for night #1.

Before turning in for the night, though, take a walk through the car-camping loops to see which ones will be vacated the next morning (that info will be on a piece of paper clipped to a little post at each site). Pick the soon-to-vacated site that you like best; go ahead and get a registration form at the campground entry; and early the next morning, go the campsite to confirm it'll be vacated soon; if it is, fill out your registration form and clip it on the post (underneath the form belonging to the soon-to-leave campers at the site, but checking with them first to be sure that's ok with them). Then go back to the walk-in area, strike your tent, and go get a hot cup of coffee at the Jenny Lake store while you wait for your campsite to get vacated.

If all else fails in GTNP, and its getting dark, there's the Gros Ventre Campground to check out. Seems like there's always an empty spot there.

For Yellowstone, the "last-ditch-end-of-the-day" option probably requires driving outside the park. For sure, though, try for one of those very-last-minute cancellations, and start calling early in the morning of the day you need a place to stay. Keep calling, too. Xanterra reservation operators are real nice, and also patient. They must be used to it.

If you just want to avoid leaving your "extra" gear in your car at a trailhead while you spend several days backpacking, one option would be a nearby short-term storage unit.

For backpacking in GTNP, or in the Winds, there's the Storage Stables (reasonable rates and flexible short-term rental periods) on the southern outskirts of Jackson, along Hwy 89 (the highway to Pinedale and trailheads for the Winds). Here's the link to its website --

The above storage facility is real convenient for the Tetons, and also works well for the Winds so long as a return to Jackson Hole is part of the plan after backpacking.

Edited by JRScruggs on 06/08/2012 18:39:04 MDT.