Commune with nature on these lesser-known backcountry camping trips
You might be surprised to learn Yellowstone is more than the Big Three: Old Faithful, Mammoth and the Norris Geyser Basin. Sure, each of these is marvelously cool, but there are some 2.2 million more acres to be seen – the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined! Most visitors don’t realize this. Yellowstone entertains nearly three million guests annually, but some 99-percent of them never venture more than 200 feet away from a road. Much less deep into the backcountry.
To separate you from the tender-for-the-tarmac masses, here is a peek into some of the best backcountry campsites in this country’s (and world’s too, if we’re getting technical) first national park. We promise there won’t be a car in sight.
Yellowstone Lake Area
What better place to try your hand at canoe or kayak camping than one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes above 7,000 feet? Dozens of backcountry campsites, most with space for up to 12, dot Yellowstone Lake’s 110 miles of shoreline and many of them are accessible only by boat. There are two hiking trails near the lake’s shore – the Thorofare Trail along the east and the southern Trail Creek Trail – but why waddle when you can paddle? From Grant Village, it’s eight leisurely miles along shoreline dotted with grizzly bears and moose to the nearest campsite. There are several backcountry sites even closer to the Sedge Bay dock (the closest being a mere 3.8 miles).
Canyon Village Area
Hanging atop the Solfatara Plateau at an average elevation of 8,000 feet, Cascade, Grebe, Wolf, and Ice lakes are straight out of National Geographic. Between the four lakes (scattered between three different trailheads) there are one dozen different campsites. Our pick: campsite 4P1 (Yellowstone certainly didn’t waste any creativity in naming its backcountry sites). If you can grunt the three miles and 1,400 vertical feet to the top of Observation Peak, 4P1, right on the summit, offers superb views of three states. Site 4D3 (really, we weren’t kidding about the lackluster campsite names), on the shore of Ice Lake, is set aside specifically for campers with special needs. Only one-half mile from the trailhead, it can be reached by wheelchair (with assistance) and has an accessible pit toilet.
Yellowstone River/Hellroaring Creek Area
In an area that sees average annual snowfall in the hundreds of inches, summer hiking trails and campsites aren’t always snow-free as early as you would like. But, Hellroaring Creek is one of the first areas in the park to dry out (usually by mid-May). Not all of the area’s 25 campsites will be camper-ready by then (there’s a joke that Yellowstone doesn’t get spring, but rather mud season), but enough of them will be to keep you busy for more nights than you have vacation days. And every campsite in this area comes with waterfront (either on the Yellowstone River or the smaller Hellroaring Creek). If you’ve ever dreamed of fishing from your tent, here’s your chance.