Backcountry Camping & Hiking
With 2.2 million acres to explore, Yellowstone is a premiere destination for vacationers looking to get in touch with their wild side. The park’s extensive backcountry provides ample opportunity for campers and hikers to experience the majesty of Yellowstone with minimal ties to civilization. Explore the abundant waterfalls of Cascade Corner, or trek through the bizarre volcanic “hoodoos” at the head of Lamar Valley. Naturally, such sojourns come with an accompanying level of risk; travelers should prepare for sudden changes in weather, and respect the park’s policies, particularly where bears are concerned.
Restrictions are occasionally applied to areas based on bear activity. Visitors should use food poles when setting up camp, and should never camp anywhere where bears have left their mark, such as digging, tracks and scat. When hiking, hike in groups, and make your presence known — singing and shouting are an easy way to ward off chance encounters with wildlife. Never hike at night.
Permits are required for overnight stays in Yellowstone’s wilderness, and backpackers must use the park’s system of designated backcountry campsites, which can be reserved in advance. Prospective backpackers should download and review Yellowstone’s backcountry trip planner. Certain tour companies also lead guided backcountry expeditions.
Biking on Yellowstone’s more than 300 miles of roadway can be a very rewarding experience, but cyclists are subject to more than a few conditions that can make it a challenge. Biking is not permitted in the backcountry or on boardwalks, and is limited to parking areas, paved roads and specially designated paths. Depending on conditions, there is usually a time in early April when the park’s roads are open to bike traffic but closed to automobiles (with the exception of administrative vehicles) between West Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs. This is a great time to ride, but visitors should be aware of potential obstructions in the road — including bears!
High snowbanks in April, May and June can make riding treacherous during those months, and motorists — with whom cyclers must share paved roads — aren’t always generous with passing clearance or right of way. Camping options for bicyclists are also limited, since they must stick to developed campgrounds in the park, which can fill up quickly. A good piece of advice to follow in planning a bike trip is to plan in advance — know your route and reserve a campsite ahead of time.
That being said, the bright side of biking in Yellowstone is that there are many paths exclusively reserved for cyclists and foot traffic. Ride the five-mile stretch along the abandoned railroad bed adjacent to Yellowstone Creek in the Mammoth Area, or grab your mountain bike and head to Fountain Freight Road, six miles north of Old Faithful. Some gravel roads, like Old Gardiner Road and Blacktail Plateau Drive have two-way bike traffic and one-way automobile traffic.
Fishing in Yellowstone is an important part of the park’s history. The park’s second superintendent, Philetus Norris, once advocated fishing as an alternative to hunting big game in Yellowstone. By 1894, the introduction of non-native trout to the park was so successful that a later superintendent noted that “the general verdict of all who have ﬁshed here that no better ﬁshing can be found anywhere in the world.” Today, fishing continues at Yellowstone, but is tightly regulated. Different habitat areas have distinct sets of rules for fishermen, and the park has adopted a barbless hook policy for all fishing in the park.
While most of Yellowstone becomes inaccessible to hikers and bikers during winter, there are a host of winter activities that take advantage of the park’s abundant snowfall. Though its introduction to the park was controversial, motorized over-snow transportation via snowmobile and snowcoach have enabled visitors to explore Yellowstone’s interior during winter months. Less invasive but also quite popular, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in Yellowstone are facilitated by third-party companies, who rent gear and provide guided tours of the park’s five major ski areas. Ranger-led programs, such as snowshoeing at Mammoth Hot Springs, are also popular options.