Dispersed Camping Near Yellowstone National Park

Dispersed camping isn’t allowed within Yellowstone itself. Fortunately, this stunning National Park is surrounded by equally gorgeous wilderness areas where this kind of camping is permitted. 

These places feature serene natural beauty, geological wonders, incredible wildlife, and expansive landscape. Here’s everything you need to know about the best ones:  

Best Dispersed Camping Areas Near Yellowstone 

Gardiner (National Forest Road 3243) 

Gardiner, Montana
  • Map 
  • Crowds: Moderate 
  • Water: No 
  • Restrooms: No 

Situated in southwest Montana, the small town of Gardiner has served as the main entrance to the park ever since the late 19th century. It got its name after Johnson Gardner, the region’s most famous fur trapper. 

One of the best dispersed camping locations in the area is National Forest Road 3243, located just north of town. Once you leave Gardiner via Jardine Road, drive north and take a left after passing Eagle Creek Campsite. 

By doing so, you’ll find yourself on the National Forest Road mentioned above. It stretches deep into Custer-Gallatin National Forest and is filled with excellent dispersed camping spots, some of which provide stunning views of the valley. 

The best camping spots can be found past Casey Lake, i.e., a bit further back on the road. You should have no trouble reaching them with your regular passenger vehicle – be careful and take it slow. 

Although very scenic, National Forest Road 3243 is completely “dry,” i.e., it features no drinkable water sources of any kind. Those wishing to camp here must be self-sufficient and bring plenty of water. 

On the bright side, you’ll always be close to Gardiner while camping here. You’ll have access to outdoor stores, gas stations, and restaurants there. After all, this town is an ideal jumping-off point for visiting the National Park and has everything the lovers of the Great Outdoors might need. 

 Grassy Lake Road & Reservoir

Grassy Lake Reservoir
  • Map 
  • Crowds: Busy 
  • Water: No 
  • Restrooms: Some sites have vault toilets 

The next dispersed camping area is situated between Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. As such, it’s a perfect destination for anyone wishing to experience the natural beauty of this part of the United States. 

Cutting through the Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, Grassy Lake Road has a plethora of amazing dispersed camping spots on both sides. There are also additional campsites at Grassy Lake Reservoir, which you can reach by driving west along the road from Highway 191. 

The roadside camping spots aren’t primitive at all – some feature vault toilets, simple fire rings, and good parking areas.

The beautiful Snake River winding past most of them gives these camping spots a very specific atmosphere. Also, those staying here will be just minutes from the northern entrance to Grand Teton and the southern entrance to Yellowstone. 

Although unpaved, Grassy Lake Road can be easily traversed by most passenger vehicles. Also, there’s more than enough room for motorhomes, campervans, and trailers along the road. 

Due to its prime location, Grassy Lake Road is the best dispersed camping area near Yellowstone. It’s a spectacular place to set up camp and explore the magnificent wilderness everywhere around. 

Spirit Mountain Road 

Cody, Wyoming
  • Map
  • Crowds: Light 
  • Water: No 
  • Restrooms: No 

Spirit Mountain Road is located outside of the town of Cody, on the east side of Yellowstone. To get there, head west outside Cody via U.S. Highway 14 and take a left just before you reach Cedar Mountain Trail Rides. 

Spirit Mountain Road isn’t as remote as other dispersed camping areas in this guide. As such, it’s an ideal destination for campers who want a clear route into the National Park and those who’d like to stay close to town. 

After getting off Highway 14, you’ll notice that Spirit Mountain Road is long and full of twists and bends. It climbs up from the highway and has plenty of dispersed camping spots on both sides immediately in its first section. 

You’ll want to head further back to avoid the highway noise. There’s a catch, though – the section of the road that leads to these more peaceful camping spots is much rougher. 

For that matter, make sure to come here with a high-clearance vehicle. You will also want to bring all the water and provisions you might need, as there are no drinkable water sources or camping facilities along Spirit Mountain Road. 

However, regardless of where you set up camp on this road, you’ll only be a few miles from downtown Cody. In other words, stocking up on camping supplies while staying here is as easy as it gets. 

Denny Creek Road 

Yellowstone River
  • Map 
  • Crowds: Light 
  • Water: No, but you filter some from the creek  
  • Restrooms: Vault toilets are available at the campsite

One of the most convenient dispersed camping areas on the west side of Yellowstone is Denny Creek Road. Managed by the US Forest Service, this scenic road is only a few minutes from the popular Yellowstone KOA Campsite. 

The first section of the road features a few excellent pull-outs for motorhomes, campervans, and trailers. If you head further north, you will also find a number of great tent-camping sites. 

If you’re planning on walking there from the highway and don’t want to carry heavy water containers, try snagging a camping spot on Denny Creek. Those with camping water filters can use the creek as a water source.

The northern section of the road gains altitude, becomes much rougher, and leaves the creek.

However, that is not to say that this part of Denny Creek Road doesn’t have amazing dispersed camping spots. It’s just that you’re going to need a high-clearance vehicle, some experience in navigating rugged roads, and plenty of water. 

The last important thing to mention here is that this part of Montana is a bear country. Make sure to bring a couple of bear canisters and adequately store your provisions. 

Taylor Fork Road 

Custer-Gallatin National Forest
  • Map 
  • Crowds: Busy 
  • Water: No 
  • Restrooms: No 

The next dispersed camping area on my list can be found in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest, northwest of the National Park. Intersecting Highway 191, Taylor Fork Road is among Montana’s most picturesque backcountry roads. 

There are about 20 designated camping spots here, all located along the lovely Gallatin River. However, the fact that they’re designated doesn’t mean that much – don’t expect any restroom facilities. 

The entire area is secluded and full of sights, smells, and sounds unique to this part of the United States. 

This comes with a disadvantage, though – many other people know about the beauty of this place too, making it quite crowded during the peak camping season. So, if you’re seeking a tranquil camping experience, you’ll want to arrive at Taylor Fork Road early in the morning and secure the most secluded spot you can find. 

Camping at Taylor Fork Road means camping far from civilization (the closest town is Big Sky, about 18 miles to the north). Here, you’ll need to be completely self-sufficient. 

Lastly, this area is well-frequented by bears. Keep your food inside the vehicle or in one of those convenient bear canisters.

Lily Lake Campsite

Lily Lake
  • Map 
  • Crowds: Moderate 
  • Water: No 
  • Restrooms: Vault toilet available  

The Lily Lake Campsite is situated next to the titular lake in northwestern Wyoming. To get here, one must drive down the breathtaking route known as Beartooth Highway, which leads to Yellowstone’s northeastern entrance. 

This dramatic, scenic drive turns the journey to Lily Lake Campsite into an unforgettable experience. The highway passes next to charming meadows with vibrant wildflowers, pristine alpine lakes, and ancient pine forests. 

While it’s true that you can set up camp anywhere near the lake, the best place to do so is at the location marked on the map above. There, you will find eight designated camping spots on a short loop road. 

If you’d like to stay away from other campers, on the other hand, you should be able to find other dispersed camping spots next to the water, further inside the forest, and on the road that leads to the lake. 

Vault toilet access is the most significant advantage of staying at the Lily Lake Campsite (the loop road with eight designated spots). But that’s about it – don’t expect any other facilities. 

For those wishing to explore the National Park’s less-visited northeastern region, Lily Lake Campsite is a superb option. Make sure to pack everything you might need, as you’ll be camping far away from civilization.  For more awesome dispersed camping areas in Wyoming, check out our ultimate guide to free camping in Grand Teton National Park.

Fish Creek Road

Caribou-Targhee National Forest
  • Map 
  • Crowds: Moderate 
  • Water: No, but you can filter some from the creek  
  • Restrooms: Yes 

The Fish Creek Road dispersed camping area can be found in Caribou-Targhee National Forest, west of Yellowstone. Camping here means being close to both the National Park and the small town of Island Park. 

The camping area is adjacent to Moose Creek and tucked back just off Fish Creek Road. It is very spacious and easily accommodates larger recreational vehicles. 

Those looking for more privacy can also set up camp by the road itself. There are a lot of smaller roadside offshoots located further back on the road. 

Even though you’ll be right next to Moose Creek while camping here, bringing a couple of portable containers full of clean water would be best. Pulling and treating water from the creek is possible but not recommended. 

As for the provisions, you should be able to find everything you may need in Island Park. The town is only two miles west of Fish Creek Road. 

The last thing worth mentioning here is that there is a USFS Ranger Station in the town. The people working there are very friendly and can provide valuable information on dispersed camping in the region. 

Deer Creek Primitive Campsite 

Deer Creek
  • Map 
  • Crowds: Light
  • Water: No 
  • Restrooms: Vault toilet available 

My final recommendation for dispersed camping near Yellowstone National Park is the Deer Creek Primitive Campsite. As its name suggests, this is a primitive USFS-managed campground rather than a standard dispersed camping area. 

If staying close to the National Park is your top priority, there may be better options than this place. However, the Deer Creek campground is free, secluded, and features some basic services. 

Another great thing about this campsite is that it’s never really crowded, making it an excellent option for those seeking peace and quiet. The fact that it features a vault toilet is a huge bonus.

The titular creek runs adjacent to the campsite and later flows into the nearby Shoshone River. Filtering water from the stream is not recommended. You will, however, be able to fish from it. 

It is highly recommended to come here fully prepared, as you’ll be camping over 30 miles from the nearest town (Cody). Also, while staying in the area, check out the stunning Deer Creek Waterfall – it’s only a short hike from the campsite. 

All things considered, this place is a wonderful option if you’re looking for a basic but established campground near Yellowstone.

For more campsites in the area, read our guide to the Spread Creek dispersed camping area.

Yellowstone Dispersed Camping Must Know 

Nature of Yellowstone

Leave No Trace Dispersed Camping

With all the dispersed camping areas described above being very close to the world’s first – and most well-known – National Park, following the Leave No Trace principles while staying at these places is essential. 

By practicing these outdoor ethics, campers can reduce their environmental impact and ensure that future campers can enjoy the area they’re staying in. The Leave No Trace principles are as follows: 

  • Properly dispose of trash – Do not leave any of your garbage behind. As for human waste, use a portable toilet or dig a hole far from water sources, do your “business,” and then bury the hole. 
  • Be aware of other campers in the area – Do not make noise that could disturb other visitors. Leave your camping spot in a better shape than you found it. 
  • Respect the region’s wildlife – Only observe animals from a distance and refrain from feeding them. Store all your odorous belongings in a car trunk or a bear-proof barrel. 
  • Camp on durable surfaces – A good camping spot is found – not made. Use designated campsites whenever possible. Do not damage surfaces that have suffered little to no impact. 
  • Minimize campfire impacts – Use designated campfire locations if open fires are allowed. Instead of bringing your own wood, use only dead wood collected around the camping spot. 
  • Leave whatever you find – Leave all natural objects, such as plants and stones, in their original place. Avoid moving cultural, historical, and traditional elements and sites. 
  • Plan ahead – Inform yourself about the restrictions in effect, access rights, and rules concerning the dispersed camping in the area you’re planning to visit. 

If you are interested in camping elsewhere in the US, see our guide dispersed camping in Minnesota as well.

Campfires, Permits, and Fees 

Campfire near Yellowstone

Dispersed camping is allowed on all public land – most of which is covered by National Forests (NFs) – that surrounds Yellowstone. To the west and north, you have Custer & Gallatin NF, to the east, Shoshone NF, and to the south, Caribou-Targhee and Bridger-Teton NFs. 

You can find more information on dispersed camping in each of these below: 

Dispersed camping near Yellowstone requires no fees or permits. However, there are a few essential rules and regulations to consider: 

  • When available, use existing fire rings. Make sure the fire is fully extinguished before leaving. 
  • Within a continuous 30-day period, you are allowed to camp for up to 14 days max. 
  • Do not set up camp near established campsites, picnic areas, or trailheads. 
  • Always pick a camping spot without vegetation. 
  • Keep your campsite as small as possible. 
  • Stay at least 200 feet from water sources. 

What to Pack 

A certain level of preparedness is required for any dispersed camping trip. After all, camping in this manner means having no access to facilities typically found at established campsites. Most of the time, you’ll need to be completely self-sufficient. 

Here are a couple of items you’ll want to bring along with your tent and the sleeping bag: 

  • Map – A good physical map is crucial for dispersed camping near Yellowstone, especially for those who want to explore as much of their surroundings as possible. 
  • Camping stove – There’s no better way to start a day out in the wild than with a steamy cup of coffee. Similarly, you’ll want to end each of your days in the wilderness near Yellowstone with a warm meal. A portable camping stove will allow you to prepare your favorite meals and hot beverages easily. 
  • Portable water containers – Most of the wild camping areas listed in this guide are dry sites. Even when you can pull and treat water from creeks, bringing clean water in a few portable containers is still a much better idea. 
  • Bear canisters – Many of the dispersed camping areas described above are in bear country. Protect your provisions and other odorous belongings by keeping them in bear-proof canisters. 
  • Cooler – Keeping drinks and food cool when camping is crucial. Bring a model that is easy to carry around but still capable of keeping your provisions cool for a long time. 

The Takeaway 

The fact that you can’t camp inside Yellowstone isn’t so bad at all – the adjacent wilderness is full of natural wonders that are just as breathtaking as those in the National Park. 

Hopefully, my descriptions of these lovely dispersed camping areas will help you choose one whose location matches your preferences. Have a great time! 

Leave a Comment