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How Early Do We Need To Get To A Campground In Yellowstone To Get A Campsite


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Dasya Reid



Yellowstone National Park is a remarkable destination, known for its breathtaking natural landscapes, unique geothermal features, and an abundance of wildlife. Camping in Yellowstone allows visitors to immerse themselves in the park’s beauty and truly experience all that it has to offer. However, securing a campsite in Yellowstone can be a challenge due to its immense popularity and limited availability.


The campground reservation system in Yellowstone is designed to provide fairness and equal access to campsites for all visitors. While advance reservations are recommended, a portion of the campsites is kept aside for first-come, first-served visitors. Understanding the factors that influence campsite availability and knowing the best strategies to secure a spot can greatly increase your chances of enjoying a camping experience in Yellowstone.


In this article, we will explore the various factors affecting campsite availability in Yellowstone, as well as provide tips and alternatives for securing accommodation within the park. Whether you are a seasoned camper or planning your first adventure to Yellowstone, this guide will help you navigate the campground reservation system and enhance your overall experience.


Understanding the Campground Reservation System

The campground reservation system in Yellowstone is managed by the National Park Service (NPS) and is designed to ensure fair and equitable access to campsites for all visitors. There are several campground options throughout the park, each with its own reservation process and availability. Yellowstone campgrounds fall into two main categories: reservation campgrounds and first-come, first-served campgrounds. Reservation campgrounds allow visitors to book a campsite in advance, ensuring a guaranteed spot on their chosen dates. These campsites can be reserved up to six months in advance through the official Yellowstone National Park website or by calling the reservation hotline. On the other hand, first-come, first-served campgrounds do not accept reservations. These campsites are available on a “first-come, first-served” basis, meaning that visitors need to arrive at the campground early in the day to secure a spot for that night. These campsites can fill up quickly, especially during peak tourist season, so it is important to plan accordingly. It is essential to note that campground availability is subject to change at any time. Factors such as weather conditions, maintenance, and wildlife activity can impact campsite availability. Therefore, it is advisable to check the official NPS website or contact the park directly for the most up-to-date information on campground status and availability. To ensure a smooth camping experience, it is crucial to familiarize yourself with the specific rules and regulations of each campground. These guidelines may differ from campground to campground and can include restrictions on RVs or specific camping equipment, quiet hours, and bear safety protocols. By understanding the reservation system and the different campground options available within Yellowstone, you can better plan and strategize your camping adventure. Whether you choose the convenience of a reservation campground or the excitement of a first-come, first-served campground, there are plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Yellowstone National Park.


Factors Affecting Campsite Availability

Several factors contribute to the availability of campsites in Yellowstone National Park. Understanding these factors can help you plan your trip and increase your chances of securing a campsite.

  1. Seasonal Demand: Campsite availability in Yellowstone is greatly influenced by the time of year. The park’s peak tourist season is during the summer months, from June to August, when demand for campsites is at its highest. During this time, it is crucial to make reservations well in advance or arrive early at first-come, first-served campgrounds to secure a spot. Off-peak seasons such as spring (April to May) and fall (September to October) offer more availability, but weather conditions can be unpredictable.
  2. Weekend vs. Weekday: Campsite availability can also vary depending on whether you plan to camp on a weekend or a weekday. Weekends are typically busier, with more visitors looking for campsites, while weekdays tend to be quieter and offer a better chance of finding available spots.
  3. Campground Amenities: Different campgrounds within Yellowstone offer varying amenities and facilities that can affect availability. Campgrounds with popular amenities like flush toilets, showers, and RV hookups tend to fill up quickly. Consider your specific camping needs and be flexible with your campground choice to increase the likelihood of securing a spot.
  4. Campground Size: Each campground in Yellowstone has a limited number of campsites available. Some campgrounds, like Madison and Grant Village, have a larger capacity and thus offer more availability. Others, like Pebble Creek and Slough Creek, have fewer campsites and tend to fill up faster.
  5. Duration of Stay: The length of your stay can also impact campsite availability. If you are flexible with your dates and can stay for multiple nights, you may have a better chance of finding available campsites. Additionally, consider arriving early in the day if you plan to switch campsites within the park, as this can increase your options.

It’s important to note that campsite availability can change rapidly, so it’s wise to have alternative options in mind. Being prepared, flexible, and proactive in your planning will greatly increase your chances of securing a campsite in Yellowstone.


Popular Campgrounds and Their Capacity

Yellowstone National Park offers a variety of campgrounds, each with its own unique features and capacity. Here are some of the popular campgrounds in the park and their respective capacities:

  1. Madison Campground: Located near the west entrance of the park, Madison Campground is one of the largest campgrounds in Yellowstone with 278 sites. It can accommodate both tents and RVs, and offers quiet and scenic surroundings.
  2. Grant Village Campground: Situated near the southwestern shores of Yellowstone Lake, Grant Village Campground has 430 sites and is open from mid-June to early October. It offers a range of amenities, including flush toilets and showers, and provides easy access to fishing and boating opportunities.
  3. Bridge Bay Campground: Located near the eastern shore of Yellowstone Lake, Bridge Bay Campground has 432 sites and offers a picturesque landscape. It is open from mid-June to late September and provides access to boat rentals and fishing.
  4. Canyon Campground: Nestled in the heart of the park, Canyon Campground has 273 sites and is open from late May to late September. It offers a serene wooded setting with easy access to popular attractions like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
  5. Mammoth Campground: Situated near the park’s North Entrance, Mammoth Campground has 85 sites and remains open year-round. It offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and is an excellent base for exploring the Mammoth Hot Springs area.

These popular campgrounds tend to fill up quickly, especially during the peak summer season. It is advisable to make reservations well in advance or arrive early in the day to secure a first-come, first-served site. Additionally, smaller campgrounds within the park, such as Pebble Creek, Slough Creek, and Norris, offer a more rustic experience and tend to have fewer available sites.


It’s important to note that each campground has specific regulations and facilities, including rules regarding generators, quiet hours, food storage, and more. Familiarize yourself with these guidelines before your trip to ensure a smooth and enjoyable camping experience.


Keep in mind that campground capacities are subject to change, so it’s crucial to check the official Yellowstone National Park website or contact the park directly for the most up-to-date information on campground availability and reservations.


Peak Season Vs. Off-Season Campsite Availability

When planning a camping trip to Yellowstone National Park, it’s essential to consider the difference in campsite availability between the peak season and off-season. Understanding these variations can help you make informed decisions and improve your chances of securing a campsite.


Peak Season: Yellowstone’s peak season runs from June to August when the park experiences the highest number of visitors. During this time, campsite availability can be extremely limited, and it is crucial to make reservations well in advance. The most popular campgrounds, such as Madison, Grant Village, and Bridge Bay, tend to fill up quickly, sometimes months ahead of time.


If you’re planning to visit during the peak season and haven’t made reservations, you can still try to secure a campsite on a first-come, first-served basis. However, competition for these spots can be fierce, and it is recommended to arrive early in the day to increase your chances.


Off-Season: The off-season in Yellowstone includes spring (April to May) and fall (September to October). During these months, the number of visitors decreases, and campsite availability improves. While some campgrounds may still close earlier in the season due to weather conditions, there are still plenty of opportunities to secure a campsite.


Off-season camping in Yellowstone offers a different experience, with quieter surroundings, cooler temperatures, and potentially stunning fall colors or blooming wildflowers. However, it’s important to remember that weather can be unpredictable during this time, and some amenities may not be available.


Additionally, if you choose to camp during the off-season, certain services within the park, such as visitor centers, ranger programs, or concessions, might have reduced hours or limited operations. It is advisable to check the park’s website or contact the park directly for the most up-to-date information on available services and facilities.


Whether you opt for the peak season or the off-season, planning ahead is crucial. For peak season camping, secure your reservations as early as possible, while for off-season camping, be prepared for changing weather conditions and potential facility closures.


With careful consideration and flexibility, you can find a suitable campsite in Yellowstone, regardless of the season, and enjoy a memorable outdoor experience in this iconic national park.


Tips for Securing a Campsite in Yellowstone

Securing a campsite in Yellowstone National Park can be a competitive endeavor, especially during the peak season. However, with some strategic planning and flexibility, you can increase your chances of finding a campsite that suits your needs. Here are some helpful tips to assist you in securing a campsite in Yellowstone:

  1. Make Reservations in Advance: If you’re planning to visit during the peak season, it’s highly recommended to make campground reservations well in advance, as popular campgrounds fill up quickly. The official Yellowstone National Park website is the best resource for making online reservations.
  2. Arrive Early for First-Come, First-Served Campgrounds: If you prefer first-come, first-served campgrounds, arriving early in the day will greatly improve your chances of securing a campsite. Plan to arrive in the morning to increase your options and be prepared for competition.
  3. Consider Weekday Stays: Weekends tend to be busier in Yellowstone, so if you have flexibility in your travel plans, consider camping on weekdays. This will give you a better chance of finding available campsites and a more peaceful experience.
  4. Be Flexible with Campground Choice: Instead of focusing solely on popular campgrounds, be open to alternative options. Smaller, less-frequented campgrounds like Pebble Creek or Slough Creek can provide a more intimate and serene camping experience.
  5. Plan for Off-Season Camping: Consider visiting Yellowstone during the off-season, such as spring or fall, when campsite availability improves. While weather conditions may be less predictable, you can enjoy quieter surroundings and a more laid-back atmosphere.
  6. Be Prepared with Alternative Accommodations: In case campsite availability becomes extremely limited or you’re unable to secure a spot, have backup options in mind. Nearby private campgrounds, RV parks, or lodging outside the park can provide alternative accommodation options.
  7. Monitor Campground Status: Keep an eye on campground status and availability through the official Yellowstone National Park website or by contacting the park directly. Campsite availability can change due to weather conditions, maintenance, or wildlife activity.
  8. Check for Last-Minute Cancellations: Occasionally, last-minute cancellations happen, which can open up previously booked campsites. Check for any last-minute availability or consider checking with the campground office upon arrival for any cancellations or no-shows.

Remember, successfully securing a campsite in Yellowstone requires a combination of preparedness, flexibility, and a touch of luck. By following these tips and being proactive in your planning, you can enhance your chances of finding a campsite and enjoy a memorable camping experience in one of America’s most iconic national parks.


Alternative Accommodation Options

While camping in Yellowstone is a popular choice, securing a campsite can be challenging, especially during peak season. Fortunately, there are alternative accommodation options available both inside and outside the park. Here are some alternatives to consider:

  1. Lodges and Cabins: Yellowstone National Park offers a variety of lodges and cabins that provide a comfortable and convenient accommodation option. These accommodations range from rustic cabins to more luxurious lodges, offering amenities such as private bathrooms, dining facilities, and organized activities.
  2. RV Parks and Campgrounds: If you have an RV or prefer a more serviced camping experience, there are RV parks and campgrounds located near the park’s entrances. These facilities typically offer full hook-ups, showers, and other amenities to ensure a comfortable stay.
  3. Backcountry Camping: For those seeking a more wilderness-oriented experience, backcountry camping is an option in Yellowstone. Permits are required, and specific regulations apply to ensure safety and minimize environmental impact. Be prepared for a more rugged experience, as backcountry camping does not offer amenities or designated campsites.
  4. Nearby Forest Service Campgrounds: Outside of the park, there are Forest Service campgrounds that offer a great alternative to camping within Yellowstone. These campgrounds are often less crowded and can provide a more secluded experience. It’s important to note that these campgrounds may have different reservation systems and regulations, so be sure to check in advance.
  5. Hotels and Motels: If you prefer a more traditional lodging experience, there are hotels and motels available in nearby towns such as West Yellowstone, Gardiner, and Cody. Staying outside the park allows for easier access to amenities, restaurants, and additional attractions.

When considering alternative accommodation options, it’s important to weigh factors such as convenience, proximity to attractions, and personal preferences. Keep in mind that while staying within Yellowstone provides a close connection with nature, venturing outside the park can offer additional amenities and affordability.


Regardless of the alternative accommodation option you choose, be sure to make reservations well in advance, particularly during peak season. Additionally, always check for any specific regulations or restrictions that may apply to your chosen accommodation, and plan your activities accordingly.


Remember, the goal is to enhance your Yellowstone experience and make the most of your visit, whether you’re camping, staying in a lodge, or exploring other options. Embrace the adventure and enjoy the natural wonders of this incredible national park!



Securing a campsite in Yellowstone National Park requires planning, flexibility, and a bit of luck. Understanding the campground reservation system, considering the factors affecting campsite availability, and implementing effective strategies can greatly improve your chances of finding a suitable campsite. From making advance reservations to arriving early at first-come, first-served campgrounds, there are various approaches you can take.


It’s important to note that campsite availability can vary depending on the season, with the peak summer months being the busiest. However, off-season camping can provide a quieter and more serene experience with improved availability. Additionally, being open to alternative accommodation options such as lodges, cabins, RV parks, or nearby Forest Service campgrounds can expand your possibilities.


Remember to stay informed about campground status and check for last-minute cancellations. Being flexible with your campground choice and considering weekday stays can also increase your chances of finding an available campsite. If all else fails, have a backup plan and explore the nearby towns for hotels, motels, or other lodging options.


Whether you’re exploring the geysers at Old Faithful, marveling at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, or observing the park’s diverse wildlife, Yellowstone National Park offers an unforgettable experience. By carefully planning your camping trip and embracing the adventure, you can fully immerse yourself in the natural wonders of this iconic destination.


Remember to respect the park’s rules and regulations, practice Leave No Trace principles, and be mindful of wildlife safety. Enjoy your time in Yellowstone, create lasting memories, and leave with a deep appreciation for the incredible beauty and grandeur of America’s first national park.