As the first National Park is the world, Yellowstone draws visitors from far and wide to take in its expansive landscape, incredible wildlife, geologic wonders, and serene beauty. Dedicated as a National Park in 1872, Yellowstone preserves over 2.2 million acres of land in northwest Wyoming, with small potions also in Idaho and Montana.
Most visitors will want to take several days to explore this vant landscape, and we think a dispersed camping trip is the perfect way to see all that Yellowstone has to offer.
We’ve compiled this guide to share some of our favorite dispersed camping spots just outside the park’s boundaries as well as key intel on how to plan a successful trip.
Keep reading to discover the BEST dispersed camping the Yellowstone area has to offer.
In this Post
- The Basics
- Dispersed Camping near Yellowstone
Find Your Next Dispersed Campsite
Learn how to find the best campsite locations BEFORE you head out. No more showing up to crowded sites with all the good spots taken!
Easily identify camping areas
Find free camping on public land
Use offline apps to locate sites
Learn through video tutorials
The following sections contain all the basic information you’ll want to familiarize yourself with before setting out to dispersed camp near Yellowstone.
What to Bring
Dispersed camping requires a certain level of preparedness to ensure you have a successful trip. You won’t have access to the amenities of a developed campground, so it is important to come prepared to be self-sufficient.
While we’re sure you’ll already have the essentials like a great tent, sleeping bags, and camp chairs, below are some of our favorite items specifically for dispersed camping near Yellowstone:
- Coleman Camping Stove – This classic piece of gear is perfect for cooking up deluxe campsite dinners.
- Portable water container – Most of the camping areas included in this guide do not have a potable water source. As such, a portable water container is essential.
- Cooler – Keeping food and drinks cool is critical when camping. We can’t recommend Yeti enough!
- Map – We prefer downloadable GPS maps via the Gaia GPS app. You can get 20% off your annual membership here. If you prefer paper maps, this map from National Geographic covers Yellowstone and the surrounding area.
Our dispersed camping checklist has everything you need.
Want to know the essentials for your next camping trip?
Our dispersed camping checklist has all the camping essentials plus specific items for dispersed camping.
Permits, Fees, and Campfires
Yellowstone National Park is surrounded on all sides by public land in the form of National Forests, all of which permit dispersed camping. To the south you have Bridger-Teton & Targhee National Forests along with Grand Teton National Park, to the east you have Shoshone National Forest, to the north and west Custer & Gallatin National Forest.
You can find additional details on dispersed camping in each of those National Forests below:
- Bridger-Teton National Forest Dispersed Camping
- Targhee National Forest Dispersed Camping
- Shoshone National Forest Dispersed Camping
- Custer-Gallatin National Forest Dispersed Camping
Learn more about dispersed camping in National Forests here.
In general, there aren’t any permits or fees to be paid when dispersed camping near Yellowstone, but there are a few key rules and regulations to keep in mind:
- Do not camp in areas near trailheads, picnic areas, or developed campgrounds.
- Keep your campsite small.
- Use existing sites and fire rings when available.
- Pick a site where vegetation is absent.
- Do not camp within 200 feet of a water source.
- Dispersed camping is generally limited to 14 days within any continuous 30 day period.
- Only have a campfire if it is permitted, and always be sure it is completely extinguished.
- Practice Leave No Trace principles – more on that below!
Download Our FREE Dispersed Camping Cheat Sheet
Our free printable cheat sheet outlines how to find the perfect dispersed campsite for your next trip.
Leave No Trace Dispersed Camping
One of the most important considerations when dispersed camping is to follow Leave No Trace principles. This will minimize your impact and ensure your campsite can be enjoyed by future visitors. Here are the seven principles of Leave No Trace camping:
- Plan Ahead & Prepare: Have an idea of where you’d like to camp and always be sure you are camping in an area that permits dispersed camping.
- Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces: Never camp on fragile ground or create a new campsite.
- Dispose of waste properly: Pack out all of your trash and bury human waste away from water sources. Ideally, carry out human waste or use a portable toilet.
- Leave what you find: Never take anything from your campsite. Other than trash of course!
- Minimize campfire impacts: Never create new fire rings and only have fires if permitted.
- Respect Wildlife: Properly store food at all times and be aware of the area’s wildlife.
- Be considerate of Other Visitors: Pack out your trash, don’t be loud, and leave your campsite in better condition than you found it.
You can read more about the seven principles of Leave No Trace camping here.
Dispersed Camping near Yellowstone National Park
The following section contains our top eight dispersed campsites near Yellowstone National Park. Since Yellowstone covers such a vast area we’ve done our best to include campsites near all the main entrances in hopes you find a spot convenient for your next visit.
In addition, our Yellowstone dispersed camping map below gives an overview of each site’s location with a full description included in the following section. Enjoy!
If you’re looking for other dispersed camping in the region, we have several helpful guides below:
Find Your Next Dispersed Campsite
Our online video course will teach you everything you need to know to find your next free, dispersed campsite.
Learn how to find the best campsite locations BEFORE you head out. No more showing up to crowded sites with all the spots taken!
In this course, we’ll show you how to research free, public campsites, read USFS maps, locate public land, and plan your next dispersed camping trip.
- How to find areas that allow free, dispersed camping
- How to use public maps to narrow down your search
- How to use online apps to identify where camping is permitted and view the surrounding terrain
- How to view your exact location in relation to camping opportunities when you’re out looking for a site – even without cell phone service!
- Confidently plan your next camping trip
Grassy Lake Road & Reservoir Dispersed
Restrooms: Vault toilets available at some sites
The Grassy Lake Road dispersed camping area is located just south of Yellowstone between the Park and nearby Grand Teton National Park. Grassy Lake Road cuts through the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway and features approximately 20 dispersed campsites just off the road. Additionally, if you continue west along the road from Highway 191 you’ll reach the Grassy Lake Reservoir which has additional campsites.
The campsites along the road are already established, so you’ll find good parking areas, simple fire rings, and even a few vault toilets scattered about. This is a spectacular place to camp with the Snake River winding its way past most of the sites. You’re also just 10 minutes from both the South Entrance to Yellowstone as well as the northern entrance to Grand Teton.
The road is unpaved, but very passable for most vehicles. Sedans will be fine and there is room for camper vans as well as smaller RVs and trailers along Grassy Lake Road.
This is our top pick for dispersed camping near Yellowstone.
National Forest Road 3243 (Gardiner)
The town of Gardiner is the northern gateway to Yellowstone National Park and just outside of town you’ll find National Forest Road 3243 which is a great spot to find a free, dispersed campsite. This Forest Service Road starts just past the developed Eagle Creek Campground and continues back into Custer-Gallatin National Forest for several miles.
Along the road there are several pull outs that make for great campsites, some with incredible views out over the valley. The best campsites are a bit further back, just past Casey Lake. The road should be passable for most vehicles as long as you take your time.
Unfortunately this is a dry campsite so you’ll need to bring your own water. There are also no restrooms, so please dispose of human waste properly. A great benefit of camping of FSR 3243 is how close you are to Gardiner, which has restaurants, gas stations, and an outdoor store. The perfect jumping off point for a visit to Yellowstone!
Denny Creek Road
Restrooms: Vault toilets available at campground
Heading to the west side of Yellowstone you’re most convenient dispersed camping option is up Denny Creek Road, which is just a 10 minutes drive from the town of West Yellowstone. This is a forest service road that begins just west of the Yellowstone KOA and heads back several miles. There are a few good pull outs that are suitable for RVs, as well as some excellent tent sites the further back you head.
You may get lucky and be able to snag a site on Denny Creek, which can provide a nice water source for your camping trip (just be sure to filter it). As you head further back the road leaves the creek and gains in altitude while also getting much rougher. While there are some good sites, we only recommend this area for those with a high clearance vehicle.
Denny Creek does not have any facilities, so it is important to practice Leave No Trace camping. Also, this is bear country so it is essential to properly store food!
Spirit Mountain Road
On the east side of Yellowstone outside of Cody, WY you’ll find Spirit Mountain Road dispersed camping. This isn’t a remote national forest camping area, but rather is perfect for those looking to have easy access to a town as well as a clear route into the park. The road climbs up away from the highway here and there are campsites starting almost immediately.
If you’re looking to avoid the highway noise, we recommend heading a bit further back where you’ll enjoy some solitude and quiet. Keep in mind that the road does get rougher, so a high-clearance vehicle is recommended if that’s your plan.
There are no services and no water along Spirit Mountain Road, although it is easy to stock up on camping supplies in Cody. Regardless, please try to limit your impact here and leave your campsite in better shape than you found it.
Lily Lake Campground
Restrooms: Vault toilet available
The Lily Lake dispersed camping area is located in northwest Wyoming along the Beartooth Scenic Byway as it heads towards Yellowstone’s northeast entrance station. One of the most spectacular drives in the United States, the Beartooth area is an incredible place to dispersed camp near Yellowstone, especially if you’re approaching the park from Red Lodge, MT.
There are several dispersed camping opportunities here, with the first being the eight designated sites at Lily Lake. These all have access to a vault toilet, but no other services. In addition, there are several dispersed sites along the road that leads to Lily Lake as well as further into the forest.
Finally, a popular site just off the Highway sits a bit further north and has a stunning location above the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River.
This is a great place to camp if you plan to explore Yellowstone’s less visited northeastern section!
Taylor Fork Designated Dispersed
Northwest of Yellowstone you’ll find the Taylor Fork Designated Dispersed camping area in Custer-Gallatin National Forest. Taylor Fork Road intersects Highway 191 as its heads south toward west Yellowstone, and you’ll find approximately 20 campsites beautifully situated along the Gallatin River.
Although these are designated sites, you won’t find a water source or restroom facilities, but you will enjoy a dedicated campsite that permits free camping close to Yellowstone.
This is a beautiful and secluded area, but you’ll need to arrive early during the summer months to secure a site here. Those that do will be rewarded with a tranquil camping experience, as the designated sites are well spread out.
As with most of the dispersed campsites near Yellowstone you need to be on high alert for bears here. This is grizzly country!
Fish Creek Road
West of Yellowstone in Caribou-Targhee National Forest is the Fish Creek Road dispersed camping area. This is a well-located dispersed campsite as you’re close to both Yellowstone as well as the small town of Island Park. The camping area is tucked back just off of Fish Creek Road and adjacent to Moose Creek.
There is a larger camping area as soon as you turn on Fish Creek Road that can accommodate bigger vehicles as well as many smaller sites located on forest service road offshoots further back.
Although you may be able to pull and treat water from Moose Creek, we recommend you consider this a dry campsite and pack in everything you’ll need.
There are some basic services located in Island Park along the main highway, including a very helpful USFS Ranger Station that can provide great intel on camping in the area.
Deer Creek Primitive Campground
Restrooms: Vault toilet
Our final recommendation for free camping near Yellowstone isn’t a dispersed campsite, but rather a primitive USFS campground in Shoshone National Forest. The Deer Creek Primitive Campground has six campsites situated deep within the forest to the east of Yellowstone.
Accessed via the town of Cody, WY there are certainly more convenient spots to spend the night if close proximity to Yellowstone is your top priority. However, this is a secluded and free campground with some basic services, making it a good choice for many campers.
Deer Creek runs adjacent to the campground and flows into the South Fork of the Shoshone River just downstream. This makes for great fishing in the area and a hike to Deer Creek Falls is also easily accessed from the campground.
All things considered, Deep Creek Campground is a good option near Yellowstone for those looking for a basic, but established, campsite.
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The Dyrt PRO
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Have a great trip!
That’s it! We hope we’ve provided all of the information you need to plan a great dispersed camping trip.
Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions and be sure to tell us about your trip!