West Yellowstone Hiking and Backpacking
A backpacking trip into the wilds of Yellowstone can be the experience of a lifetime. Yellowstone National Park, encompassing 2.2 million acres, is one of America's premier wilderness areas. Most of the park is backcountry and managed as wilderness. For diehard outdoor enthusiasts, the only way to experience the park is to camp it. To live in the land is the best way to explore its incredible variety of flora and fauna, its steaming geysers and bubbling thermal mud pots, spectacular lakes and river canyons, extraordinary vistas.
Over 1,100 miles of trails are available for hiking. However, there are dangers inherent in hiking in the wilderness: unpredictable wildlife, changing weather conditions, remote thermal areas, cold water lakes, turbulent streams, and rugged mountains with loose, "rotten" rock. Hiking in the Yellowstone wilderness means experiencing the land on its terms. If you choose to go hiking or camping and enjoy the natural wonders of Yellowstone, there is no guarantee of your safety. Be prepared for any situation. Carefully read all backcountry guidelines and regulations.
A few ideas for backpacking destinations might include: The Black Canyon of the Yellowstone trail begins at the Hellroaring Creek trailhead 3.5 miles west of Tower Junction and ends 18.5 miles later in Gardiner. This one has it all—beautiful campsites, mountain vistas, outstanding fishing, and wildlife. A 28-mile trek around Lake Shoshone begins and ends at the DeLacy Creek trailhead east of Old Faithful. In between, it's an unsurpassed glimpse at the park's "other" giant alpine jewel. Lake walks, mild topography, a couple of fords, and the optional side-trip to Lewis Lake are all highlights. One of the park's classic overnights leads out to the shores of Heart Lake from the South Road, past thermal features on Witch Creek and Factory Hill to the excellent campsites on the foot of Mount Sheridan. A side-trip to the summit is a must. A 70-mile adventure along the Thorofare and South Boundary trails is pretty close to the ultimate American wilderness experience. Cross the Continental Divide, glimpse the south shores of Lake Yellowstone, and visit the point farthest away from any road in the continental United States. An elevation profile of the 40-mile Gallatin Skyline Trail looks like an EKG's description of cardiac arrest. A seven-day trip across Electric Peak, the Gallatin Divide, and others might indeed give you heart palpitations, but alpine views of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are likely to stir your soul.
There are numerous trails suitable for day hiking. Begin your hike by stopping at a ranger station or visitor center for information. Trail conditions may change suddenly and unexpectedly. Bear activity, rain or snowstorms, high water, and fires may temporarily close trails. At a minimum, carry water, a raincoat or poncho, a warm hat, insect repellent, sunscreen, and a first aid kit. It is recommended that you hike with another person. No permit is required for day hiking.
Yellowstone has a designated backcountry campsite system, and a Backcountry Use Permit is required for all overnight stays. Each designated campsite has a maximum limit for the number of people and stock allowed per night. The maximum stay per campsite varies from 1 to 3 nights per trip. Campfires are permitted only in established fire pits. Wood fires are not allowed in some backcountry campsites. A food storage pole is provided at most designated campsites so that food and attractants may be secured from bears. Neither hunting nor firearms are allowed in Yellowstone's backcountry.
Yellowstone Backcountry Use Permits may be obtained only in person and no more than 48 hours in advance of your trip. Permits are available from most ranger stations and visitor centers. In order to obtain the best information on trail conditions, permits should be obtained from the ranger station or visitor center nearest to the area where your trip is to begin. The Backcountry Use Permit is valid only for the itinerary and dates specified. Backcountry travelers must have their permits in possession while in the backcountry.
Advance Reservations for Backcountry Campsites
Although Yellowstone Backcountry Use Permits must be obtained in person no more than 48 hours in advance, backcountry campsites may be reserved in advance. Requests for reservations must be submitted by mail or in person. They cannot be made over the phone or by fax. Reservations are booked on a first come, first served basis. A confirmation notice, not a permit, is given or mailed to the camper. This confirmation notice must then be converted to the actual permit not more than 48 hours in advance of the first camping date. Details are provided on the confirmation notice. The reservation fee is $ 20.00 regardless of the number of nights out or the number of people involved. The fee is not refundable. Forms for making an advance reservation are available to download online at: Backcountry Trip Planner, or by writing to:
Backcountry Office P.O. Box 168 Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190 Or call: 307-344-2160.
Permits and Reservations Made Less Than 48 Hours in Advance
Because only a portion of the approximately 300 backcountry campsites are available for advance reservations, you may choose to wait until you arrive in the park to reserve your site(s) and obtain your permit. The $ 20.00 fee applies only to reservations made more than 48 hours in advance of the start of your trip.
Where to Get Your Permit
During the summer season (June - August), permits are available 7 days a week between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at the following locations:
Bechler Ranger Station
Canyon Visitor Center
Grant Village Visitor Center
Bridge Bay Ranger Station
Mammoth Visitor Center
Old Faithful Ranger Station
South Entrance Ranger Station
Tower Ranger Station
West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center
In addition, permits may sometimes be obtained from rangers on duty at the East Entrance. However, these rangers have other duties and may not be available to provide assistance at all times.
During the spring, fall, and winter seasons, ranger stations and visitor centers do not have set hours. To obtain a Backcountry Use Permit during these seasons, check the office hours posted at the nearest ranger station or visitor center. Several commercial businesses are permitted to offer guided overnight (Backpacking) trips into Yellowstone's backcountry. These businesses would obtain the Backcountry Use Permits for trips that they provide. Safety in Bear Country
Hiking and camping restrictions are occasionally in effect as a result of bear activity. Never camp in an area that has obvious evidence of bear activity such as digging, tracks, or scat. Odors attract bears, so avoid carrying or cooking odorous foods. Keep a clean camp; do not cook or store food in your tent. All food, garbage, or other odorous items used for preparing or cooking food must be secured from bears. Most backcountry campsites have food poles from which all food, cooking gear, and scented articles must be suspended when not being used. Treat all odorous products such as soap, deodorant, or other toiletries in the same manner as food. Do not leave packs containing food unattended, even for a few minutes. Allowing a bear to obtain human food even once often results in the bear becoming aggressive about obtaining such food in the future. Aggressive bears present a threat to human safety and eventually must be destroyed or removed from the park. Please obey the law and do not allow bears or other wildlife to obtain human food.
Sleep a minimum of 100 yards from where you hang, cook, and eat your food. Keep your sleeping gear clean and free of food odor. Don't sleep in the same clothes worn while cooking and eating; hang clothing worn while cooking and eating in plastic bags.
Considering bears' highly developed sense of smell, it may seem logical that they could be attracted to odors associated with menstruation. Studies on this subject are few and inconclusive. If a woman chooses to hike or camp in bear country during menstruation, a basic precaution should be to wear internal tampons, not external pads. Used tampons should be double-bagged in a zip-lock type bag and stored the same as garbage.
If you are involved in a conflict with a bear, regardless of how minor, report it to a park ranger as soon as possible. Another's safety may depend on it. Exceptional combinations of food, shelter, and space draw grizzlies to some parts of Yellowstone more than others. In these Bear Management Areas, human access is restricted to reduce impacts on the bears and their habitat. Ask at ranger stations or visitor centers for more information.
How to minimize the dangers associated with a bear encounter.
Handling Refuse in Yellowstone
All refuse must be carried out of the Yellowstone backcountry. Human waste must be buried 6 to 8 inches (15 - 20 centimeters) below the ground and a minimum of 100 feet (30 meters) from a watercourse. Wastewater should be disposed of at least 100 feet (30 meters) from a watercourse or campsite. Do not pollute lakes, ponds, rivers, or streams by washing yourself, clothing, or dishes in them.
General Safety Concerns
Should you drink the water? Intestinal infections from drinking untreated water are increasingly common. Animal and/or human wastes may pollute Waters. When possible, carry a supply of water from a domestic source. If you drink water from lakes and streams, bring it to a boil to reduce the chance of infection. Don't take chances in Yellowstone’s backcountry thermal areas. Scalding water underlies thin, breakable crusts; pools are near or above boiling temperatures. Each year, visitors traveling off trail have been seriously burned, and people have died from the scalding water. No swimming or bathing is allowed in thermal pools.
Removing, defacing or destroying any plant, animal, or mineral is prohibited. Leave historical and archeological items in place.
Below are some trail description, some are in Yellowstone others are around Yellowstone's gateway communities