PO Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168
Fishing and Boating Permits
Leave It As You Found It
Leave It At Home
Permits and Reservations
Thermal Feature - Geyser Basins
Ticks and Mosquitos
All visitors and users of Yellowstone National Park are subject to Federal Regulations. These regulations are described in detail in Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations and are on file at any ranger station and the Superintendent's office.
The National Park service is required by public law "to preserve" park resources and the values and purposes for which the park was established, as well as "to provide for the enjoyment" of those resources and values by such means as will leave them "unimpaired for future generations."
You can help by obeying the following regulations:
1. Camping outside designated sites is prohibited.
2. Open fires are permitted only in established fire rings at designated backcountry sites which allow wood fires. Only dead and down wood may be used as firewood.
3. Food, Garbage, Cooking Gear and Other Odorous Items must be suspended at least 10 feet above the ground at night and when unattended.
4. Carry out your trash - if you pack it in, pack it out.
5. Bury human waste at least 100 feet from a water source, campsite or trail.
6. Bathing, Soaking or Swimming in water entirely of thermal origin is prohibited.
7. Pets, weapons or traps are prohibited in the backcountry.
8. Tossing, throwing or rolling rocks or other items inside caverns, into valleys, canyons, caves, down hillsides or mountainsides or into thermal features is prohibited.
9. Bicycles, wheeled vehicles and operating motorized equipment in the backcountry are prohibited.
10. Feeding or intentionally disturbing wildlife is prohibited.
11. Collecting or disturbing natural features, plants, rocks, antlers, cultural or archaeological resources is prohibited.
12. Only certified weed-free feed and grain may be taken into the backcountry. Hay is prohibited in the backcountry.
13. Picketed animals shall not be kept within 100 feet of trails, campsites or water sources.
14. Stock manure shall be scattered in meadows and removed from within or near campsites.
15. Tying stock to any living or dead feature causing injury or damage to the feature, vegetation or soil is prohibited.
16. Pack strings are not permitted to travel off-trail unless no other access is available to a designated camp area.
17. Impeding or disturbing horses or pack animals is prohibited.
Yellowstone National Park's backcountry is a hugh wild area with hundreds of miles of trails. It has vast expanses of forest, wild rivers and streams, remote mountains, abundant wildlife, and a wide variety of hot springs and geysers. Whether traveling by foot, canoe or on horseback, Yellowstone's backcountry can provide an enjoyably unique experience to those willing to make the effort. The National Park Service wants your backcountry trip to be as rewarding and as safe as possible. This booklet certainly doesn't tell you everything you need to know about backcounty travel, but the information here has been compiled by backcountry rangers and covers the situations they feel you will most often encounter. Please read this information carefully. Learn and abide by the regulations and have a good, safe trip.
Yellowstone National Park was created by Congress to preserve the natural resources and provide for the enjoyment in such a manner as to keep them unimpaired for future generations. Your help is needed to accomplish this goal. When there were only a few visitors, the environment could absorb and repair the wear and tear. Now years of heavy and repeated use to the popular areas has taken its toll on parts of the backcountry. Stricter restrictions and regulations listed and explained in the booklet are solely for the protection of Yellowstone's plant, animals, and physical features. Although Park Rangers patrol the backcountry to maintain trials and assist backcountry travelers, they also protect the resources by enforcing the regulations and issuing citations for violations. Damage to the resources caused by failure to follow the regulations may take years and years to be reversed. In some cases, it may never recover. It will take a major effort for you to follow all the regulations but it will be worth it. Your effort will help keep the park unimpaired for future generations and for your future backcountry trips.
A Backcountry Use Permit is required for overnight backcountry trips in Yellowstone. They are free of charge and available at ranger stations and visitor centers. For the best information, try to get your permit from the ranger station or visitor center closest to where you begin your trip. Permits are available in person no more than 48 hours in advance of your departure. Camping is permitted in designated sites only. All sites have group size limits which must be followed. Some sites are "no wood fire" sites.
During the summer season, Backcountry Use Permits are available seven days a week between 8:00 am and 4:30 pm (some stations close for lunch) at the following locations:
In addition, Backcountry Use Permits may sometimes be obtained at the Northeast Entrance, East Entrance and Bridge Bay ranger stations. However, these stations have other responsibilities, so they may not be available at all times.
During the Spring, Fall and Winter seasons, ranger station and visitor center hours may vary, check the Address Page. To obtain a Backcountry Use Permit during these seasons, call the park at: 307-344-7381.
A Backcountry Use Permit is required for all overnight use of the backcountry in Yellowstone.
The permit is valid only for the itinerary and dates you select. Permits are not required for day hiking; however, day users must observe all backcountry regulations. All Backcountry Use Permits must be obtained in person and not more than 48 hours in advance of the first camping date of the trip. However, backcountry campsites can be reserved more than 48 hours in advance of your trip and a Confirmation Notice will be issued or mailed. A Confirmation Notice is not a permit and must be exchanged for a permit.
Reservations for Backcountry Campsites
To reserve campsites more than 48 hours in advance of your trip, a Trip Planning Worksheet must be submitted by mail or in person. Reservations will be booked on a first come, first serve basis. A Confirmation Notice, not a permit, will be issued. The Confirmation Notice must then be converted to the actual permit not more that 48 hours in advance of the first camping date. The Reservation Fee is $ 15.00 per trip.
Only a portion of backcountry campsites will be reserved in advance. Consequently, you may choose to wait until you arrive in the park to reserve your site(s) and obtain your permit.
Each trail head has a trail register box; make certain that you enter your plans on the registration sheet. This will greatly assist rangers if your party becomes lost and a search is required. Orange makers on trees and posts are used to distinguish maintained trails from game trails. Distance and directional signs are at most trail junctions. Certain trails may be hard to follow due to light use or downed markers. If in doubt as to whether you are on a maintained trail, and no markers are visible, look for signs of saw or axe cuts on the trees along the trail. This will usually mean you are on an established route. If you decide that you are lost and no longer on an established trail, backtrack until you return to a sign or trail marker.
Fishing permits are required and are available for a fee from ranger stations, visitor centers and general stores throughout the park as well as local stores in the gateway cities. See the Fishing Page for more information.
Power and non-power boat users must purchase a boating permit from a ranger station, see the Ranger Stations listed above for which stations issue boating permits. The permit is good for the year.
See the Permits Section and the Boating Page for more detailed information.
All stock users are encouraged to obtain and read the National Park Service brochure "Horse Packing in Yellowstone" which is available at any ranger station, or by calling or writing the Backcountry Office.
Traveling in the Yellowstone Backcountry on horseback is a traditional and exciting way to see the park. Only horses, burros, mules, ponies and llamas may be used as pack animals. Because horses and mules are large animals with big appetites, they have the potential for causing a noticeable impact on the backcountry. People using stock in the backcountry must accept the responsibility to minimize the signs of their passing. Stock selected for a trip in Yellowstone should be well trained, compatible with each other and accustomed to the restraining techniques you plan to use whether they be electric fences, hobbles or pickets. Highlines can be used, but they must be set up and moved often enough so that trees and underlying areas are not damaged. Horses may not be kept overnight at any trailheads or in any of the roadside campgrounds. To camp overnight in the park, you must have a Backcountry Use Permit and use a backcountry campsite which allows horses or stock. See the Campsite Listing for sites which allow stock. None of the sites have corrals or hitching rails and tying stock to trees for long periods is not permissible. If you wish to take a daytime ride, call the Backcountry Office for a Day Use Stock Permit.
Campsites and trails may be closed to stock use in the spring and early summer due to wet conditions. Generally, overnight stock use isn't permitted before 01 July. Contact the nearest ranger station or the Backcountry Office for current trail conditions and/or restrictions.
For a list of licensed outfitters who provide guided backcountry trips using horses or llamas, call or write the Backcountry Office.
Yellowstone is bear country. No matter where you travel in the backcountry you are never too far from bears. As Yellowstone's visitation increases and surrounding habitat shrinks, bears are forced into accepting human populations where there were none before. We cannot expect bears to change their behavior. Thus if bears and humans are to coexist, we must change our behavior so as to minimize our impact on the bears. Learn about bears before you go into the backcountry. Many books about bears are available from the visitor centers. Enter bear country with respect and humility. You are not the dominant species in Yellowstone's backcountry. Fear of bears is quite reasonable, although many bear stories are greatly exaggerated. The chances of being injured on your trip "TO" Yellowstone are far greater than being injured by a bear here. However, if the fear of traveling in bear country is overpowering perhaps it is best that you travel on trails where there is little chance of encountering a bear. Ask at a ranger station or visitor center for their recommendations. There are numerous trails to visit in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. You have the luxury of choosing where to travel; the grizzly, due to limited habitat, does not.
A bear's reaction to you can be influenced by many factors and is never entirely predictable. Simply put, some bears are more dangerous and aggressive than others. Any bear that has become accustomed to people and shows no fear of them is a dangerous bear.
Remember that bears are wild and unpredictable. THERE IS NO GUARANTEE OF YOUR SAFETY.
ATTACKS ARE MAINLY CAUSED BY:
1. Surprising a bear (make noise).
2. Getting between a sow bear and her cubs.
3. Getting too close to a carcass or a bear with food.
The chances of being attacked by a bear can be reduced considerably by avoiding the above situations and taking the following precautions.
HOW TO AVOID RUNNING INTO BEARS...
Watch for tracks, droppings, diggings or other bear sign. Rest often when you are tired. Carry binoculars and scan ahead periodically. Fleeing wildlife may be an indication of bears in the area. If you see a bear cub, you can expect the mother to be close by.
DON'T HIKE ALONE OR AT NIGHT
Beside the dark limiting your vision, bears travel (often on the trails) and feed mainly at night. For this reason it is wise to plan your itinerary carefully so that you will not travel at night. Large parties are safer than solo hikers. Groups tend to make more noise and appear more formidable to a bear. Also, if there is an attack, there are enough members in the group to render assistance to the injured while others go for help. However, having a larger group is no reason not to pay attention to your surroundings. If you are alone, check with the backcountry office and see if anyone else is hiking the same trail or area.
As a general rule, the noisier the safer. Make a variety of noises; talk, clap hands, shake pebbles in a can, to let a bear know of your presence. Don't rely on bear bells; oftentimes they are too quiet. Whistling is not recommended as if may inadvertently imitate another animal, drawing the bear to you. Yell every few minutes to alert bears, especially when traveling upwind, near streams or in thick brush. Keep in mind that noise is disruptive to nearly all animals in backcountry. There is a good chance of not seeing any wildlife when you are making noise to avoid bears. Understanding and accept the trade off.
Report any dead animals near a trail or campsite to the nearest ranger station. Never camp in a campsite that has a carcass nearby. Concentrations of ravens and/or coyotes may be an indication of a carcass. If you smell rotting meat, stop hiking. It is very risky to approach a dead elk, bison or any other animal carcass. A bear may be out of sight guarding its food.
AVOID SMELLY FOOD
Leave bacon, tuna, ham, scented deodorants and other odorous items behind. A bear's acute sense of smell can detect aromatic odors for great distances. Dry foods are lighter to carry and not as aromatic.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SEE A BEAR AT A DISTANCE...
If the bear sees you, expect it to either run away, circle down wind to get your scent, or come closer for a better look at you. Bears do not charge on their hind legs. You should climb a tree or slowly walk up wind if possible, so the bear can get your scent. Don't even think about moving in for a close up photo.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SEE A BEAR AT CLOSE RANGE...
Tree climbing to avoid bears is popular advice. but not very practical in many settings. All black bears, all grizzly cubs and some adult grizzlies can climb trees if the spacing of the branches is right. Running to a tree may provoke an otherwise uncertain bear to chase you. YOU CANNOT OUTRUN A BEAR! Bears can run up to 40 mph over short distances. If you do climb a tree, make sure you pick a good one and climb at least 15 feet up.
IF A BEAR CHARGES...
If the bear charges you, freeze. Some bears will bluff their way out of a threatening situation by charging, then veering off or stopping abruptly at the last second.
If the bear does not stop, play dead. Drop to the ground, lift your legs up to your chest and clasp your hands over the back of your neck. Wearing your pack will shield your body. Bears have been known to inflict minor injuries under these circumstances.
It takes courage to lie still, but resistance would be useless. Keep silent and still. Look around cautiously and be sure the bear is gone before moving.
NIGHT ATTACKS - IN YOUR TENT AT NIGHT...
FOOD AND BEARS
Leaving food out where bears can get to it is just as illegal and unwise as feeding bears deliberately. Bears that get food and/or garbage from people usually end up as dead bears. Here's an example of how it happens: Careless campers leave their frozen chicken out to thaw on a stump while they go out on a day hike. A bear passes through the area, picks up the scent and walks into the campsite to investigate. Not only does the bear get the chicken but also ravages through the fire pit and packs for more food. The bear has made the association that people can be a food source. The bear comes back, not only to that campsite, but to others as well on its never ending search for food. The bear gets food rewards, either intentionally or unintentionally. It becomes bolder and walks into campsites while people are there - day or night. One camper tries to grab a food sack from the bear and gets mauled.
Bear management personnel trap and then relocate the bear 50 miles away in another part of Yellowstone. The bear returns a day later, driven by its search for food and knowledge that food can be obtained at that campsite. Since the bear has been rewarded in the past it will continue to check other campsites for food. If the bear has cubs, the problem is intensified as the mother will teach her cubs how to get human foods and trash. If the bear wanders outside the park, it stands a chance of getting shot; where it is legal to shoot a bear to protect life or property.
A bear that is food conditioned has developed this unnatural behavior through the carelessness of people. A food conditioned bear is more likely to injure or kill people. And if the food conditioned bear injures someone, it is often necessary to destroy the bear. This chain of events illustrates how improper food storage, something that may seem trivial to the uninformed, can lead to the death of a bear.
FOOD STORAGE REGULATIONS
|Trash and garbage||All human food||Empty or full beverage cans|
|Ice chests||Beverage coolers||Lip balm|
|Sun screens||Lotions||Freshly caught fish|
|Horse feed||Medications||Cooking clothes|
Water bottles which may have contained drink mixes.
Eating utensils which have not been properly cleaned.
If you are out for the day - hiking, fishing, riding or boating - your food must be stored as if you were hanging it for the night. Cooling beverages in the creek or lake is fine if you are in camp - otherwise they must be properly stored.
FOOD STORAGE DO'S AND DON'TS...
MENSTRUATING WOMEN AND BEARS
Considering bears' highly developed sense of smell, it may seem logical to assume that they could be attracted to menstruating women. Yet studies on this subject are few and inconclusive. If a woman chooses to go into the backcountry during menstruation, a basic precaution should be to wear tampons, not external pads. Used tampons should either be burned in a hot fire until completely incinerated or double bagged in a zip-lock type bag and stored as trash, then carried out.
BEAR REPELLENT SPRAYS: DO THEY WORK?
The current limitations of all chemical repellents are the incomplete nature of their testing, their short range, the difficulty of accurate delivery if the person is excited, and their potential for abuse and over confidence.
Chemical repellents are no substitute for avoiding bear confrontations and proper precautions.
Because of the limited research and information available, chemicals sprays are not recommended.
Almost all harmful conflicts between people and wildlife could be avoided. Respect the needs of wildlife for undisturbed territory. Never chase or charge any animal. Taking these precautions is particularly important near breeding, nesting or feeding areas. Backcountry use may be restricted during certain times of the year to minimize disturbance of wildlife. Some animals may be quite curious, but resist the temptation to feed them. Even in low use areas, feeding wildlife can alter their migration, feeding habits, and reproduction levels, resulting in unnatural behavior, population structure and species composition. Some animals may readily approach humans but can bite, scratch and kick without warning. Detour around large animals such as moose, bison and elk, especially during mating season or when young animals are present. While large animals cause the greatest concern, remember that small rodents and other animals can ruin your tent or pack in their quest for food. This is another good reason to store odorous items properly.
Edible plants, mushrooms and berries may be picked for your daily consumption while in the Park. Make certain that you know what plants, mushrooms and berries are edible. If you're not sure, don't eat it.
Evidence of prehistoric occupation in Yellowstone National Park dates back over 10,000 years. Prehistoric and historic sites are found throughout the park. These cultural resources are protected by law, and it is illegal to disturb or collect things from such sites. Should you discover an artifact or site, report it to a ranger.
Many elk, deer and bison winter in geyser basins. Winterkilled animals provide an important food source for grizzly and black bears emerging from winter dens. Check at a ranger station before you go exploring as some areas may be restricted.
Don't approach or short cut through geyser basins after dark as there is a greater chance to accidentally slip or step into a hot spring.
For your safety and for the protection of thermal features in Yellowstone, it is illegal to swim, bathe or soak in any thermal spring or pool. Many springs and pools in Yellowstone are extremely hot, acidic or very alkaline; only a small number are neutral. The effects of some types of warm water bacteria and fungi, if swallowed or contracted through open cuts or the skin are not totally known. One type of organism is known to cause childhood meningitis.
Algae mats and living units on the sides and bottoms of a pool could be destroyed by those soaking or wading in it.
Stock can heavily impact a thermal area, therefore they are prohibited from entering any geyser basin.
Damming or altering the natural presence of any thermal features is prohibited. Do not put rocks, sticks or any other objects into thermal features.
Before leaving your campsite look around to see if you've forgotten anything. Leave your campsite in a condition that is aesthetically pleasing to future users. Leave it better than you found it.
Urine need not be buried, but should be kept well away from camp and water.
Used tampons should be treated as trash and packed out or burned in a hot fire.
Groups of more than four (4) people should dig a latrine approximately a foot deep and cover in the same manner as mentioned earlier.
SOAP AND DISH WASHING
Some heavily used lakes and streams have leftover noodles or soapsuds on their shores. This is not only a disrespect to the wilderness but may also lead to wildlife problems in your campsite.
The chemicals found in bio and non biodegradable soaps pollute backcountry lakes by disrupting the balance of these delicate water systems.
For the sake of protecting the wilderness environment, backcountry users should use only a light portable stove for cooking and boiling water. In many areas, these stoves are the only permitted source of "fire" and provide their users with the latest convenience while at the same time protecting wilderness quality.
Where it is legal to build a fire - keep it small. In very popular backcountry areas, natural processes cannot supply dead wood fast enough to feed camp fires. Re-vegetation of areas that once contained fire rings is slow or unlikely.
Few of Yellowstone's rivers or streams have bridges and some are not fordable until mid-July or later. Even later in the summer, water levels can rise quickly after rainstorms. The water can be cold and fast, and very dangerous if over thigh-deep. Attempting to ford deep, swift water has resulted in injury, loss of gear and, in some cases, death. Carefully check your itinerary on a topographical map for stream crossings and check on their condition at a ranger station before you leave.
Prepare for crossings by sealing important items in plastic bags. Put shirts, towels, hats or any other dangling items inside your pack, so that you won't lose them of get them caught on rocks or trees. It's not a good idea to cross barefoot or in socks alone.
A long sturdy stick may help a solo hiker. If you are not alone, it may be easier to cross while holding hands or interlocking arms with other members of your party.
Spend time walking up and downstream to find the safest place to ford. You don't have to cross where the trail meets the river.
Make sure you undo the waist and chest straps of your pack. You must be able to get out of it quickly should you lose your balance and fall in. Don't look at moving water when crossing; keep your eyes set on the approaching bank.
Although rivers without bridges can be regarded as adversaries, they are also a symbol and challenge of the wilderness that attract people to our untamed lands.
Visitors to Yellowstone may be surprised to experience chilly "wintry" type weather any time of the year. Rain, wind, and snow can kill if proper precautions are not taken. Current weather forecasts should be consulted before venturing into the backcountry. The ice cover on Yellowstone Lake does not break up until the last week of May or the first week in June. Lewis and Shoshone Lakes usually lose their ice the second or sometimes third week in June. The temperatures of these lakes, even in the summer, usually stays in the low 50's. Flooding conditions usually exist until early to late July, making stream crossings hazardous and some trails wet and muddy.
See the Weather Page for current conditions, forecasts and weather stats.
When clothes get wet, they lose much of their insulating value. Cotton and down lose the most, wool loses less, and synthetic piles lose the least and dry out the fastest... Most hypothermia cases develop in air temperatures between 30 and 50 degrees. 50 degree water is unbearably cold. The cold that can kill is the cold held against the body by wet clothes wicking away body heat.
WARNING SIGNS OF HYPOTHERMIA
IF YOU CANNOT STAY WARM AND DRY
TREATMENT FOR HYPOTHERMIA
If only mild impairment is evident, warm drinks and dry clothes (preferably wool) and a sleeping bag will probably solve the problem. Powdered jello mix or orange drink mixed with warm water makes a good high energy emergency drink. A warming fire (if it can be built quickly in existing conditions) can help speed recovery. Alcohol will cause heat to leave the body rapidly.
When a person's core temperature becomes low enough they will lose consciousness. This should not happen if you stop the cooling using the above warming methods. You would be more likely to find an unconscious hypothermia victim near a lake shore after a boating accident. It is recommended to take off the victim's wet clothes and put him or her in a sleeping bag. It is not advisable to try to rewarm these extreme cases in the field, as rewarming may cause cardiac failure. They need to be rewarmed under medical supervision, and it may be up to you to carry them out.
Giardiasis is an intestinal disorder caused by a microscopic protozoan. Beaver, muskrats, marmots, voles, deer, elk and humans can carry and transmit Giardia.
Clear, cold backcountry waters can look, smell and taste good. Wildlife drink without hesitation, in spite of these indicators, Giardia may be present and can survive for at least 2 months in water.
Disease symptoms usually include diarrhea, loss of appetite and abdominal cramps. These symptoms may appear a few days to a few weeks after ingestion. If you suspect Giardiasis, inform your physician.
Temperatures above 160 degrees will kill Giardia cysts, bacteria and viruses within 20 minutes, and 185 degrees is effective after a few minutes. Thus, disinfection is occurring during the time required to heat water from 140 degrees to boiling temperature. So any water brought to a boil, even a high altitudes should be safe. Some charcoal filtration systems may or may not remove Giardia. Therefore, when shopping for a filtration system, make sure the packaging indicates "Effective against Giardia".
Ticks are wingless parasites which depend on blood for existence. Grassy, brushy, low elevation areas (4000 - 6500 feet) are ideal tick habitat in Yellowstone from mid-March to mid-July. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease occurrences have been rare and very few tick related diseases have been reported in Yellowstone.
Wear repellents containing DEET and tuck pant legs into boots; tuck shirts into pants.
Inspect your clothes in the field. Check your body at home.
Cover the tick with vaseline or some type of non-odorous lotion, this will normally cause the tick to suffocate and release itself. Or apply some type of heat to or near the tick body, this will normally cause the tick to release itself and you can brush it off. As a last resort, remove the tick by grasping it as near to the skin as possible, gently pulling it out with tweezers. Check to see whether the mouthparts broke off in the wound. If so, seek medical attention.
Mosquitos are found throughout Yellowstone from June until early August. Although mosquitos may be pests to most people, they are factors in the control of some animal populations and in turn provide food for birds and fish. Mosquitos concentrate in wet areas such as marches, bogs, and lakes and are attracted to dark or bright colors and sweet or floral scents. The most effective repellents are those containing diethyltoluamide (DEET). Other than repellents and wearing heavy clothing, patience and forbearance are your best options.
The National Park Service is trying to determine how widespread some exotic plants are in the backcountry and is especially concerned about the following noxious weeds:
Knapweed is a highly competitive plant. When uncontrolled it will crowd out native plants. Since no wildlife will eat it, wildlife populations can be jeopardized by this exotic species.
For the most part, these plants have been carried into the backcountry by horses and will be seen mainly along pack trails. However, wildlife and wind will also carry the seeds so that the plants could be just about anywhere. Hay is not allowed to be brought into the backcountry and all feed brought in for the National Park Service stock must be certified weed-free.
Pictures of the "Ten Most Wanted" exotic plants are posted in many ranger stations and visitor centers. Most are readily recognizable. If you are interested in helping to eradicate these species, press a piece of the suspected plant's stem, with a leaf and flower attached, between the pages of a book or map. Remember to record its location. Return it to a ranger station so that a positive identification can be made.
Stock users can help by feeding their stock certified weed-free hay and feed before the animals are brought into the park.
For current conditions or information on backcountry campsites, stop at a ranger station or call or write park headquarters:
National Park Service
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168
Trail guidebooks, and a variety of topographical maps and books about Yellowstone are available at visitor centers, some ranger stations and at general stores in the Park. These publications are also available from:
The Yellowstone Association
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0117