Yellowstone National Park Camping – Free Camping Near Yellowstone
Finding places to camp in and around Yellowstone National Park can be a challenge. Even though Yellowstone has 12 campgrounds throughout the national park, it is still not nearly enough for all the visitors. Yellowstone averages around 5-6 million visitors per year, which means that people are often left finding campsites FAR away from the park itself.
The problem with staying outside of Yellowstone is that the National Park is massive. To see the entire park, it can take at least 3-5 days of driving to explore everything. Staying anymore then 30 minutes outside the park will require more gas, longer days, more driving and less time to relax on your vacation.
This article highlighting free camp spots and boondocking destinations near Yellowstone does not always show the most beautiful spot. It rather is meant to showcase free places we slept overnight in our 31 Foot Class A motorhome while exploring Yellowstone and the surrounding area.
Exploring a little bit of Yellowstone each day and being able to camp as you explore makes your journey that much more enjoyable. Instead of having to drive back to your campsite each day, you can camp on your way to the next destination. Check out this map of Yellowstone National Park.
Where to Camp in Yellowstone National Park – Free Camping
Yellowstone is MASSIVE, so do some research if you only have a weekend or short period of time to explore the park. Depending on what direction you are coming to Yellowstone from, it will drastically change where you want to camp and in what order.
There is free camping located inside of the national park, the north entrance, east entrance, south entrance, west entrance.
The only location without free camping is the northeast entrance. There is a few spots but they are all around an hour and a halfway from the gate, which makes it pointless to camp there.
West Yellowstone and the Southern Entrance have to most spots, but you will be sure to find something at any of the other entrances or inside the park.
Free Camping INSIDE Yellowstone National Park –
There is “technically” no free camping inside of Yellowstone National Park. It is frowned upon, but we have done it multiple times and have seen 50+ other people doing it also. Our rule of thumb is to arrive to our spot around sunset, and to try not “setup” camp and leave our slide outs in, and ready to hit the road.
There are parking lots, pull offs and picnic areas that we have seen people camp at. There are a few places in Yellowstone that specifically say no camping, which we don’t sleep in. Every spot we have ever slept in does not say no camping.
North Entrance – Gardiner Montana (Original Gateway to Yellowstone)
Most people use apps like Campendium to find free places to stay when camping. This is a great app and we use it 95% of the time, but it doesn’t always have destinations or pull offs labeled that you are able to camp at. Most of the free campsites, pullouts and boondocking destinations are not places to hangout during the day. This article is to highlight free places to camp overnight, to allow you to work your way through Yellowstone National Park.
There is a cheap campsite called Eagle Creek Campground located right outside of Gardiner that is first come first serve. I am including this because there are really only a few other options in and outside of Gardiner. You are allowed to park your RV in town, as there is a-lot of space on each side of the road to park. We saw plenty of people parking here overnight sleeping in their RV, but chose to park .5 miles outside of town for a little more privacy, and better views.
The CLOSEST free camping to Gardiner with the best Internet is in town or in a pullout located right next to Yellowstone RV Park. The GPS Cordinates for the pull-off next to the Yellowstone RV Park is (45.0383151.-1107230895). We stayed here for 3 nights in late September, and asked the RV park if they cared. The manager said people park here all the time, and that they have no problem with it. We have 3 bar T-mobile and 5 bar AT&T, which was awesome since we work on the road.
The picture below is of the RV park, and the black arrow is pointing to the pullout on the side of the road, which overlooks the campground!
East Entrance – Camping for Free in Yellowstone National Park
The East entrance into the park is one of the smaller entrances, but you will be sure to find camping spots. The east side of the Yellowstone is known for not having the best internet, unless your are near Cody Wyoming, so be prepared. There are a few options that cost around $10-$15 to camp closer to the entrance.
The only official “camp” spot that is free is Spirit Mountain Road, which has around 3-4 bar for Verizon and AT&T. The only issue with this spot is that it is over an hour away from the entrance to the park. If you are just stopping here for one night, on your way to Yellowstone this is the perfect spot though.
The other option that people have is the Walmart located in Cody itself, which is also over an hour from the east entrance to Yellowstone. The Walmart also has good service, and is a great place to full-time RV’ers to get necessary supplies.
If you are looking to get even closer to the east entrance to have a shorter drive, the only options are pull-offs. There are a bunch that you will pass with enough room to camp for a night, but one that is only 15 minutes away is (44.4658298,-110.0830283). This is nothing spectacular as you are right off the main road and will hear cars go by. Free camping is not always the most glamorous but it allows you to save money!
South Entrance – Free Camping near Yellowstone & Grand Teton
The South Entrance is super popular and can become crowded during peak season. The entrance is on the north end of the Tetons, and South end of Yellowstone which is why it gets so much traffic. Most tourist will generally try to hit both National Parks at the same time, so staying in a central location can help you explore both!
You will most likely have NO internet service in any of these free spots.
The South Entrance has a good amount of locations to stay for free, which is awesome because there are usually a lot of people staying in this area. The most popular spot for a single overnight is the Headwaters Lodge parking area. There enough space to probably fit 50 RV’s and it allows for overnight parking. This free camp spot on the way to Yellowstone is perfect, because it is right off highway 191, which is the route to Yellowstone and the Tetons.
If you plan on staying more than 1 night, the Snake River campsite is perfect, located at (44.1033554,-110.6861496). You should be able to stay for up to 14 days, but there is not much room compare to some other sites (maybe 4 RV’s max). The site is quiet, secluded as you are right near the river.
Another spot right down the road from Snake River is Grassy Lake Road Campsites. If you put Grassy Lake Reservoir in your GPS, you will pass the campsite on your way from the Tetons or Yellowstone. It has 6 designated camp sites, but most of them can fit 2-3 big RV’s. This is a great option incase Snake River is full. Another option is the Grassy Lake Reservoir itself, which also fills up quickly during peak season.
West Yellowstone – Boondocking near Yellowstone National Park
West Yellowstone offers the MOST free camping and boondocking destinations near Yellowstone National Park. It is the biggest town located near Yellowstone and has numerous free camping locations in Caribou-Targhee National Forest. If you want good internet, a long stay in one location, beautiful views and a couple of lakes to fish at West Yellowstone is the place to be.
We work on the road 4-5 days a week and ended up staying right outside of West Yellowstone for 7 days. We had 25mb download and 10mb upload with our AT&T hotspot and WeBoost. Located only 15 minutes from West Yellowstone is Targhee Creek Trailhead (which we stayed) and I believe is the best if not second best boondocking site in the area. The only spot that could compare is the overlook at Henry’s Lake which is more crowded.
Targhee Creek Trailhead (pictured below) is able to accommodate 15-20 campers at any given time. Our favorite spot was about 200 meters once we turned on the stone road. It’s the second dirt road left you can take, and we had this spot for around 7 days all to ourselves. It was a dead end, meaning no car’s drove past us and we had amazing views every night, a huge fire pit and great internet.
There have got to be at least 20 FREE places to camp within 30 minutes of West Yellowstone. In order to check out all the possible locations, your best option is to download the Campendium app. The #1 camping destination I would recommend would be the Targhee Creak Trailhead, and Henry’s Lake Boat Access (44.614712,-111.413315). Both of these destination have 4-5 bar AT&T and Verizon, and we even got 3 bar T-mobile.
How to camp for free in Yellowstone National Park – Boondocking
Technically you are not allowed to camp for free in Yellowstone from my understanding. We asked a park ranger if they cared if people camped in pullouts and visitor parking lots and he said “its frowned upon, your not supposed to”. We took this with a little bit of optimism as we had seen ALOT (50 people plus) camping throughout Yellowstone before in pull offs or parking lots. Certain parking lots do say “NO CAMPING” but the majority of them do not.
We have seen people camping at the old faithful visitor center, canyon village and numerous pull offs. We have now camped in Yellowstone a total of 3 nights without any issues. So… where are good spots to camp in the park for scenic views, quiet areas and places you won’t get a ticket.
Arguably the best spots to camp overnight inside the park are at one of the major visitor centers such as Old Faithful, Madison, Canyon Village and West Thumb. You will almost always see other campers parked overnight here depending on what time of year you visit. While these places don’t have the best views, you will be at a central location in the park to go exploring the next day.
Our favorite spots to camp in Yellowstone are pull-offs because they often offer the best views of wildlife and sunset. Free camping sometimes does offer better views than a normal campsite. One of our favorite spots (video above) near Norris Geyser is a pull off at (44.717610, -110.722847). It is a huge pull off that should allow for at least 10 cars or a few campers, and faces north west for sunset. We even got to see a few Bison in the field that were only 200 yards from our camper.
Another great place to camp for free in Yellowstone is the Lamar Valley. The Lamar Valley is famous for its huge amounts of bison, gorgeous views and pristine sunset. Located around an hour from Mammoth hot springs is (44.868552, -110.174558) which is a great place too camp overnight. Local’s bring their horse trailers here to take their horses on walks, so you have a better shot at finding a place later in the day near sunset. We also would recommend that you leave somewhat early, so that you are not taking up any space from people wanting to walk or park their trailers!
Enjoy your time in Yellowstone and plan ahead so that you make your route as efficient as possible!
Our Favorite Hiking Backpack – Atlas Athlete Pack