This isn’t your average list of the best free campsites near Yellowstone.
Over the past few years, I’ve spent over three months combined dispersed camping in the many national forests surrounding the national park.
Rather than repeat all the same recommendations you see everywhere else online, I’ve rounded up 5 of my personal favorite dispersed campsites near Yellowstone (one near each park entrance) that you probably haven’t heard about before – plus a few alternative options near each entrance.
Here’s exactly where to go dispersed camping near Yellowstone National Park on your next trip.
Related Post: Best Free Dispersed Campsites in Montana
And, because Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding national forests are heavy bear country (including grizzly bears), it’s extremely important to practice proper bear safety and follow all camping food storage best practices.
Best Free Campsites Near Yellowstone
Jump straight to the free campsite you want to learn about:
Or, use our super-duper Yellowstone dispersed camping map to find a free campsite near you:
My Favorite Free Campsites Near Yellowstone
Dispersed camping isn’t allowed within Yellowstone itself. But there are countless free campsites just outside its boundaries. Here are 5+ of my favorites.
Tom Miner Basin (North Entrance)
Peace and quiet just an hour from Yellowstone?
That’s exactly what you get if you’re willing to make the long, winding, rough drive to just beyond the stunningly gorgeous Tom Miner Basin.
Set your sights on Tom Miner Campground, a primitive 12-site first-come, first-served forest service campground, but turn to the left instead of the right when you reach the fork at the end of Tom Miner Creek Road.
Almost immediately you’ll see large spacious dispersed campsites in an expansive grassy meadow alongside Forest Road 1702 near the tree-lined Sunlight Creek.
For more privacy, continue on past the first corner (there’s a great creek-side campsite right on the corner) and up the rough, steep hill for more private, albeit smaller, campsites – one or two with views of the valley below.
Although the USFS suggests the unpaved road to Tom Miner Campground is suitable for rigs up to 42 feet, I personally wouldn’t attempt the drive in anything larger than about 26 feet.
Also know that Tom Miner Basin is prime grizzly bear habitat. I’ve literally seen grizzlies here every time I’ve visited (albeit I usually come in September, primetime to see bears). This means proper bear safety and food storage are an absolute must. Bring bear spray.
* Please respect the fact that locals live along Tim Miner Creek Road. Drive slowly in summer so as not to kick up too much dust. Pull completely off the road when observing wildlife.
Other Free Campsites Nearby:
Free camping is also available near the start of Tom Miner Creek Road at BLM-managed Carbella Recreation Site set alongside the Yellowstone River.
Although this used to be actual dispersed camping, you’re now limited to about a dozen designated dispersed campsites. This is a great spot for free RV boondocking near Yellowstone and has enough space for RVs and trailers of all sizes. It does fill up extremely quickly in the summer though, especially on weekends.
To camp even closer to Yellowstone’s North Entrance, head east out of Gardiner on Jardine Road. Just after Eagle Creek Campground, turn left onto Forest Road 2423.
The first campsites are little more than roadside pullouts with a handful of larger sites (suitable for mid-size RVs and trailers) just past Casey Lake. The road is about 10 miles in total with more private sites the further up you drive.
Rather than turning left onto FR 2423, you can also continue straight on Jardine Road (Forest Road 493) and you’ll find a handful more roadside pullouts.
Learn More About Tom Miner:
Tom Miner is part of the Custer Gallatin National Forest.
Call the Gardiner Ranger District for more information: (406) 848-7375
Rock Creek Road (Northeast Entrance)
Main Fork Rock Creek Road (Forest Road 2412) is a popular place for dispersed camping near Red Lodge.
Yet despite its popularity, there’s plenty of room to spread out along FR 2412 (sometimes called Hellroaring Road) and Forest Road 421 to find a private campsite.
What’s so great about camping here is the location. Just 15 minutes from Red Lodge, Rock Creek Road sits just before the start of the stunningly beautiful Beartooth Highway which slowly winds its way towards Cooke City and Yellowstone’s Northeast Entrance.
My favorite campsites are located about 3 miles down FR 421, just past M-K Campground. Look around and you’ll find private dispersed campsites near Rock Creek with views of the towering mountains in the distance.
Because Rock Creek Road is about an hour to an hour and a half away from Yellowstone, it’s not really a great home base for exploring the park. However, it’s a perfect overnight stop if you plan to enter (or exit) the park’s northeast entrance.
The Rock Creek area can accommodate RVs and trailers. That said, bigger rigs shouldn’t venture too far in as the unpaved road quickly becomes narrow and rough. When in doubt, scout ahead on foot.
Like most dispersed campsites near Yellowstone, this section of Custer Gallatin National Forest is rife with bear activity – including grizzlies. Remember to practice proper food storage and always have your bear spray handy.
Other Free Campsites Nearby:
Don’t limit yourself solely to FR 4412 and its side roads. Awesome dispersed campsites can also be found closer to Red Lodge along Lake Fork Road (FR 2346) and West Fork Road (FR 71).
Another option is the large gravel parking area at the top of the Beartooth Plateau (45.007077, -109.406033) with enough room for several rigs. I believe, only hard-sided vehicles are allowed here though, no tents.
Last but not least is Horsethief Station, a small fishing access area just north of Red Lodge with about a half dozen free campsites along Rock Creek. There’s little privacy here (indeed it’s very close to several homes), but it’s still a good spot for RVs and trailers.
Learn More About Rock Creek Road:
Rock Creek Road is part of Custer Gallatin National Forest.
Call the Beartooth Ranger District for more information: (406) 446-2103
Upper Sunshine Reservoir (East Entrance)
Let me be clear – Upper Sunshine Reservoir isn’t really close enough to Yellowstone for day trips into the park.
However, it is home to incredibly beautiful and peaceful dispersed campsites that are well worth a stopover for the night on your way into or out of the national park.
A popular fishing destination, the Upper Sunshine Reservoir sits about an hour from Cody, Wyoming and an additional hour from the East Entrance to Yellowstone.
The campsites are set around the large reservoir with mountains in the distance making for stunning views (especially at sunrise and sunset) as well as ample opportunities for viewing wildlife, especially birds.
The only catch is a lack of level campsites. They do exist, but those boondocking in RVs and trailers will likely need to hunt around for a while to find a suitably level spot to set up camp.
Other Free Campsites Nearby:
Dispersed camping is also welcome at nearby Lower Sunshine Reservoir.
For dispersed camping closer to Yellowstone, look into Spirit Mountain Road near Cody. It’s a small strip of BLM land with a dirt camping area (best for RVs and trailers) just off Highway 14 as well as several more campsites up a rough, rocky, steep, and narrow road on Cedar Mountain with rewarding views of Cody below.
In addition to these free campsites, there are several paid campgrounds along Highway 14 between Cody and Yellowstone’s East Entrance. My personal favorite (and one I often choose to stay at even with free camping nearby) is Big Game Campground. This small, well-maintained campground is first-come, first-served and costs just $10 per night. It’s set right on the North Fork Shoshoni River.
Learn More About Upper Sunshine Reservoir:
Upper Sunshine Reservoir is managed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Call the Cody Regional Office for more information: (307) 527-7125
Grassy Lake Road (South Entrance)
Not only is Grassy Lake Road just a short drive into Yellowstone, but it’s also a convenient overnight spot for visiting Grand Teton National Park.
The turn off for Grassy Lake Road (also known as Ashton-Flagg Ranch Road) is located just over two miles south of Yellowstone’s South Entrance off the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway.
You’ll start to see free campsites just after you cross over the Snake River, about a mile after turning off the highway. From here, the road continues for roughly 8 miles until you reach Grassy Lake Reservoir.
Although camping here is free, it’s not dispersed camping. You must camp in one of the 20 marked campsites in one of the 8 small camp areas. Each site has a picnic table and fire ring while each camp area also has a vault toilet and bear box.
This first stretch of Grassy Lake Road is managed by the National Park Service. It’s extremely popular and all the campsites fill up by the early afternoon in the summer.
However, actual dispersed camping (outside of marked campsites) is allowed once you near the Grassy Lake Reservoir and cross over into the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. However, the campsites near the reservoir, while abundant, also fill up quickly in the summer.
Luckily, Grassy Lake Road (it’s also called Forest Road 261 here) continues for miles and miles until it reaches Ashton, Idaho with ample dispersed campsites along the majority of the route.
The first mile of Grassy Lake Road from the highway is paved. Once you cross the Snake River, it then turns into gravel. All passenger vehicles should be able to navigate the road, but do expect moderate washboarding and a slow drive.
Small RVs and trailers are welcome here. The first three or four camping areas along the Snake River are best suited for such rigs. I’d stick to about 24 feet at the longest and even that might be pushing it.
Other Free Campsites Nearby:
A ton of additional dispersed camping (some “designated dispersed”) is found about an hour south of Flagg Ranch in Bridger-Teton National Forest at popular areas including Pacific Creek, Spread Creek, Shadow Mountain, and others.
Learn more about dispersed camping in Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Learn More About Grassy Lake Road:
The first 8 or 9 miles of Grassy Lake Road (the marked free campsites) is managed by the National Park Service.
Call Grand Teton National Park for more information: (307) 739-3300
The next 20ish miles of Grassy Lake Road (the dispersed camping section) is part of Caribou-Targhee National Forest.
Call the Ashton Ranger District for more information: (208) 652-7442
Beaver Creek (West Entrance)
Get ready for quiet nights with lots of stars when camping along Forest Road 985 near Beaver Creek.
This 4.5 mile stretch of unpaved forest road starts just a half hour north of Yellowstone’s West Entrance in West Yellowstone, Montana off of Highway 287 near Hebgen Lake.
Although this used to be a true dispersed camping area, campers are now restricted to 8 designated dispersed campsites. Here’s a helpful map of Beaver Creek’s campsites which shows their locations along the road.
While you can’t just set up camp anywhere, camping along Beaver Creek is still free. The designated campsites are spread out so you’re never too close to any neighbor. They’re also primitive with nothing in the way of amenities except rustic rock fire rings.
Like most dispersed campsites near Yellowstone, bears frequent Beaver Creek. Make sure to follow the posted bear safety signage, such as keeping all food and other scented items securely stored in a hard-sided vehicle.
Other Free Campsites Nearby:
Henry’s Lake is another top-notch spot for dispersed camping and boondocking near Yellowstone. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, these free campsites are just over a half hour from West Yellowstone.
Head towards Red Rock RV Park on Red Rock Road before turning towards the lake and continuing on past the RV park (towards 44.616437, -111.413687). Expect minor washboarding, but the gravel access road is suitable for rigs of all sizes.
Indeed, dispersed camping at Henry Lake is notable for the ample room to spread out (just make sure you’re not on private property), including level spaces for even the largest RVs and trailers. Of course, the unbroken views of the lake and mountains beyond are another benefit.
Learn more About Beaver Creek:
Beaver Creek is part of Custer Gallatin National Forest.
Call the Hebgen Lake Ranger District for more information: (406) 682-7620
Is Dispersed Camping Allowed in Yellowstone National Park?
As mentioned above, dispersed camping isn’t allowed within Yellowstone itself.
Few, if any, national parks offer drive-in dispersed camping or boondocking so as to keep the land as unaltered by minimizing human impact on the land.
In other words, the National Park Service’s main goal is conversation – and dispersed camping doesn’t align with this goal.
Fortunately, there are countless dispersed camping options (as outlined above) just outside of Yellowstone’s boundaries in Bridger-Teton, Custer Gallatin, Caribou-Targhee, and Shoshone National Forests.
Although the campgrounds in Yellowstone itself are nice and extremely convenient (Pebble Creek Campground is my favorite), dispersed camping outside the park is typically a much quieter, more laidback experience with just as beautiful scenery.
If you’re in the national park in the evening, you’ll likely see people stealth camping in RVs, trailers, and vans in roadside pull-outs, day-use picnic areas, and visitor center parking lots.
Although stealth camping is very common in the summer and you’ll likely get away with it without getting a ticket, I encourage you to respect park rules and stay in an official Yellowstone campground or in a dispersed campsite outside of the park.
Learn more about dispersed camping in national parks.
Related Post: Best Dispersed Camping Near Grand Teton National Park
Let Us Know If You Have Any Questions!
Dispersed campsites near Yellowstone National Park certainly aren’t in short supply.
Although the 5+ free campsites described above are my personal favorites, they’re far from your only options.
I encourage you to do your own research (these free camping apps/websites will help) and spend some time exploring the surrounding national forests.
One of the best parts about dispersed camping is discovering amazing campsites on your own (and there are a ton more to discover near Yellowstone)!
If you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to shoot me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
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