A few years ago you couldn't get near a Yellowstone National Park campground unless you had made a reservation or were willing to cruise the sites, waiting for someone to leave. Today there's less demand, as the younger generation is less enamored of pitching a tent and curling up in a sleeping bag. Too bad: camping in Yellowstone National Park is an experience everyone should have in their lives.

Inside the Park: Campgrounds

Still, snaring a campsite can be a challenge. You can make reservations at five of the popular campgrounds via Xanterra. Otherwise, there’s a lot of hard work and a little luck in snaring a site at a popular campground like Slough Creek. Checkout time is 10 a.m., and during the high season a campground quite often will be filled by 11 a.m., so you’ll need to head to the campsite early and cruise around until a spot opens up. Tote boards are located at the Park entrances listing campgrounds and their status.

Here’s a list of the 12 designated campgrounds within the Park, both for tent camping and RV parking. There are many more in the backcountry, but these require a hike and a backwoods permit (hence, we’ll cover that topic separately). Those marked with an asterisk (*) require a reservation via concessionaire Xanterra.

All dates and prices are for the 2009 season.

Bridge Bay*: Fewer than 425 sites. Open through 5/29-9/13. Fee is $18.50 plus sales tax. Elevation is 7,800 feet with flush toilets. For a fee, there are showers and laundry nearby the site. No dump stations on site and generators are not permitted. For RV sites, call for availability and reservations. The largest campground in the Park, Bridge Bay can be a surprisingly mellow locale: tent campers will love the tent-only loops (E and F), and it’s possible to get away from the traffic in the more remote loops.

Canyon*: Fewer than 250 sites. Opens 6/5, closes 9/7. Fee is $18.50 plus sales tax. Elevation is 8,000 feet with flush toilets. There are no shower sites or places for laundry. There is, however, a dump station. Generators are not permitted. For RV sites, call for availability and reservations. A central location makes this a popular campground, but it’s a little noisy and usually on the busy side.

Fishing Bridge RV*: Fewer than 325 sites. Open from 5/15 to 9/27. Fee is $65 with sales tax for 1-4 people. Elevation is 7,800 feet with flush toilets. No showers and no place for laundry. There is a sewer, but generators are not permitted. For RV sites, call for availability and reservations.

Grant*: Fewer than 400 sites. Open from 6/21 to 9/20. Fee is $18.50 with sales tax. Elevation is 7,800 feet and the toilets flush. There are no showers or places for laundry. There are no dump stations, and generators are not permitted. For RV sites, call for availability and reservations. Proximity to Lake Yellowstone is the big draw here.

Indian Creek: 75 sites. Open 6/12-9/14. Fee is $12. Elevation is 7,300 feet with vault toilets (no flush). There are showers, laundry facilities and dump stations, while generators are permitted from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. RVs are allowed on the following conditions. 10 at 40; 35 at 30; pull-through. In the past this was an overflow campground, opened only when the rest of the park was full. Today it’s the place where you’re almost sure to snare a site. In many ways this is a very underrated campground: it’s secluded, quiet, and in the midst of the woods.

Lewis Lake: 85 sites. Opens 6/15 and closes 11/1. Fee is $12. Elevation is 7,800 feet with vault toilets. There are showers, Laundromats, dump stations, and generators are allowed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. A few RVs are allowed at 40’.

Madison*: Fewer than 250 sites. Opens 5/1 and closes 10/25. Fee is $18.50 plus sales tax. Elevation is 6,800 feet with flush toilets. There are showers and Laundromats. There are however, no dump stations and generators are not permitted. For RVs, call for availability and reservations. The closest campground to Old Faithful and its nearby geyser basins, Madison appeals both to tent campers — the best sites here, next to the Madison River, are reserved for tents — and anglers.

Mammoth: 85 sites. Open all year. Fee is $14. Elevation is 6,200 feet with flush toilets. There are showers, Laundromats, and dump stations. Generators are not permitted. RVs must be pull-through. This is the most exposed campground in the Park: a hairpin curve is present on three sides, and there’s little in the way of trees. Then again, it’s your best bet early or late in the season: the restrooms are heated (which can be quite the luxury), and because of the lower elevation it’s a little warmer.

Norris: Fewer than 100 sites. Opens 5/15 and closes 9/28. Fee is $14. Elevation is 7,500 with flush toilets. There are showers, Laundromats, and dump stations. Generators are not permitted. RVs are allowed on the following conditions: 2 at 50’ (signed); 5 at 30’. This is one of the most popular campgrounds in the Park, between its promixity to the Norris Geyser Basin and other trailheads.

Pebble Creek: Fewer than 30 sites. Opens 6/12 and closes 9/28. Fee is $12. Elevation is 6,900 feet with vault toilets. There are showers, laundry facilities and dump stations, and generators are permitted 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. There can only be some pull-through RVs. It’s popular with the animal watchers who set up at the campground turnoff and spend all day watching the opposing mountainside for grizzlies and wolves.

Slough Creek: 29 sites. Opens 5/22 and closes 10/31. Fee is $12. Elevation is 6,250 feet with vault toilets. There are showers, laundry facilities and dump stations, and generators are permitted from 8am to 8pm. RVs are allowed on the following conditions: 14 at 30’, walk through first to assess sites beyond #16. This is a very popular campground, as anglers in RVs set up camp and fill it early in the day.

Tower Falls: Fewer than 30 sites. Opens 5/15 and closes 9/28. Fee is $12. Elevation is 6,600 feet with vault toilets. There are showers, Laundromats, dump stations, and generators are permitted from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. All RVs at 30’ or less; has hairpin curve.

Prices and dates are for the 2009 season.

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