Activities

Camping Safety in Yellowstone Country

Yellowstone Country is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering breathtaking landscapes, diverse wildlife, and a wide range of camping experiences. Whether you're planning to camp at established campsites in and around Yellowstone National Park or venture into the backcountry, safety should be your top priority. Ensure your camping trip is as safe as it is memorable by following these safety guidelines.

Coyote hunts along the shore of Yellowstone Lake

Wildlife Awareness

Yellowstone is home to a rich variety of wildlife, including bears, bison, elk, wolves, and more. While encountering wildlife can be thrilling, it's crucial to remember that these animals are wild and temperamental.

  • Keep Your Distance: Maintain a safe distance from all wildlife. Stay at least 100 yards from bears and wolves, and 25 yards from all other wildlife. Use binoculars or a zoom lens to enjoy close-up views without encroaching on animals' space.
  • Food Storage & Campsite Maintenance: Store food, garbage, and scented items in bear-proof containers or hang them at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet away from the tree trunk. Keep your campsite clean and free of food scraps. Dispose of trash in designated areas.
  • Do Not Feed Animals: Feeding wildlife is illegal and dangerous. It can cause animals to become aggressive.
  • Make Noise: When hiking, make noise to avoid surprising a bear. Clap, shout, or sing, especially near streams or in dense vegetation.
  • Travel in Groups: Hike in groups whenever possible, as larger groups are less likely to be attacked by bears.
  • Bear Safety: Always carry bear spray and know how to use it. Keep it accessible at all times. Read our blog about navigating bear country for more bear safety tips. 

Thunderstorm and lightning strike on Electric Peak

Weather Preparedness

Yellowstone's weather can be highly unpredictable, with sudden changes that can catch unprepared campers off guard.

  • Check Forecasts: Always check the weather forecast before your trip and monitor it regularly during your stay.
  • Pack for All Conditions: Pack layered clothing to easily adjust to varying temperatures, and prepare for cold weather as well as drops in temperature in the evenings. Be sure to include waterproof and windproof outer layers, not only for your clothing but also for your equipment. Ensure your tent is sturdy and waterproof, and bring a ground tarp to prevent moisture from seeping in.
  • Sun Protection: Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats to protect against sunburn and UV exposure.
  • Storm Safety: If a thunderstorm and/or lightning is approaching, avoid open fields and tall trees. Seek shelter in a vehicle or building if possible. Be aware of the potential for flash floods, especially in low-lying areas and near rivers, and avoid camping in these areas if heavy rain is forecasted.

Reviewing the route while in camp

Navigation & Communication

Proper navigation and communication are vital, especially when exploring Yellowstone's vast backcountry. With limited service, navigating the vast expanse of Yellowstone requires reliable tools, and staying in touch can be challenging but is absolutely necessary for safety.

  • Maps and GPS: Always carry a detailed map of the area and a reliable compass—and know how to use them! Consider carrying a GPS device, but don't rely solely on it as batteries can die and signals can be lost in remote areas.
  • Communication Plans: Inform a friend or family member of your camping plans, including your anticipated destinations, itinerary, and expected return time. For areas with no cell service, think about using two-way radios for communication, or carrying a satellite phone or personal locator beacon (PLB) for emergencies. And, of course, always pay attention to park alerts and notices, which can provide important information about trail conditions and closures.

Making s'mores at Lewis Lake

Campfire Safety

Understanding and following fire regulations is crucial in preventing wildfires. Campfires can enhance the camping experience but also pose significant risks if not managed properly. By enforcing safe campfire practices, you can protect yourself, the environment, and fellow campers.

  • Campfire Regulations: Always check for fire bans, restrictions, and local regulations in the area. Some areas require fire permits and, during dry periods, campfires may be prohibited. 
  • Building a Safe Fire: Be sure to use designated fire rings or pits when available. Clear the area around the fire pit of debris and flammable materials. Keep the fire small and manageable, making it safer and easier to extinguish. Never leave a campfire unattended, and always have water and a shovel nearby to extinguish the fire.
  • Safely Extinguishing the Fire: Extinguish the fire completely before leaving. Douse with water, stir the ashes, and douse again until the fire is completely out and cool to the touch.

Yellowstone Search & Rescue Team training near Mammoth

Emergency Preparedness

Being prepared for emergencies can make a critical difference in remote areas like Yellowstone. Knowing what to do in an emergency can save lives—including your own—and a well-stocked first aid kit should be a staple for any camping trip.

  • First Aid Kit: Carry a well-stocked first aid kit tailored to the length and type of your trip. Basic kits should include bandages, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, tweezers, and a digital thermometer. However, you should add items specific to your needs, such as EpiPens for allergies or blister treatment for long hikes.
  • CPR and First Aid Training: Especially if you’re camping in the backcountry, consider taking a course in CPR and basic first aid, including how to treat common injuries like cuts, burns, and fractures. Be aware of symptoms for conditions like hypothermia, heat exhaustion, and altitude sickness.
  • Emergency Procedures: Prepare for any and all scenarios by having an emergency action plan in place, including evacuation routes and nearest medical facilities. You should also have a list of emergency contact numbers, including park rangers and local emergency services. 

Camping in Wolf Bay along Yellowstone Lake

Backcountry Camping vs. Campsite Camping

Backcountry Camping

Backcountry camping in Yellowstone offers solitude and immersion in nature but requires advanced preparation.

  • Permits: Obtain any necessary backcountry permits and follow check-in and check-out procedures to help park officials track your safety.
  • Leave No Trace: Minimize your impact on the environment by following the 7 Leave No Trace principles.

Campsite Camping

Campsite camping in Yellowstone and its gateway communities is more structured but still requires adherence to safety guidelines.

  • Reservations: Many campsites require reservations, especially during peak season.
  • Facilities & Amenities: Utilize provided facilities like bear lockers, restrooms, and potable water sources to enhance your safety and comfort.

Camping in Yellowstone Country is an unforgettable adventure, offering stunning scenery, unparalleled wildlife experiences, and a chance to connect with nature. By following these safety guidelines, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Whether you're camping at a designated site or exploring the backcountry, prepare for the unexpected and equip yourself with the resources necessary to make the most of your time in this incredible region.

Stay safe and happy camping!

For more tips and information on camping in Yellowstone Country, visit Yellowstone National Park's official website and local ranger stations.

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