Yellowstone National Park Camping Guide 2021

In July, we went camping at Yellowstone National Park for 5 nights. It was fantastic. Yellowstone made me feel like I stepped back in time. It was really cool to see all the wildlife roaming the wide-open grounds. We saw hundreds of bison frolic in the Hayden Valley. Elks came by our tent daily. We even saw a couple of wolves running along the hillside. This must have been what the country was like 200 years ago. I’m grateful to all the people who work so hard to preserve this slice of the past. We loved it. If you enjoy nature, I highly recommend Yellowstone National Park. It was really nice to get away from the city for a while.

*Acclimate – Mrs. RB40 needed a few days to acclimate. Usually, she is a good hiker, but she had a hard time at first. She could barely walk uphill to the bathroom without feeling light-headed. The average elevation at Yellowstone is about 8,000 feet. RB40Jr and I didn’t have any problem, though.

Record year

2021 is turning out to be the busiest year on record at Yellowstone. Most Americans were stuck inside last year and we are all ready for a nice vacation. International travel is difficult because many countries still have travel restrictions. That’s fine with us. There are so many things to see and do in the United States. Instead of flying somewhere, we decided to take a long road trip and visit Yellowstone. A lot of people had the same idea and the park was packed. The parking lots were often full at peak time (10 am to 6 pm.) Many visitors parked on the side of the road then walked to the attractions. The trails were full of people. There were long lines at restaurants. The campgrounds and hotels had no vacancies left for people without a reservation. It was busy when we were there.

Fortunately, Yellowstone is very big. It didn’t feel too crowded except at the main attractions during peak times. We usually tried to get there early or a bit later in the day. Expect traffic and big crowds if you visit this year.

Covid safety

We visited Yellowstone in July. At that point, it felt like the US had Covid under control. There were fewer new cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Mrs. RB40 and I were fully vaccinated. We thought it’d be safe to go out and mingle with people again. RB40Jr was too young to get vaccinated so he wore a mask and avoided going indoors.

Yellowstone had a Covid health and safety guideline. Check it out if you plan to visit this year. Here are the basics.

  • Visitors are required wear a mask indoors. (In July, this wasn’t a requirement.)
  • Keep 6 feet away from other people.
  • All shared showers are closed.
  • Dining services are takeout only.

Unfortunately, I let my guard down completely while we were there. I didn’t wear a mask the whole trip. This was probably fine outdoors. However, I stood in a line whenever I went to purchase a meal. Almost nobody was wearing a mask, probably 98-99% were maskless. None of the workers wore a mask either. Also, everyone was standing way closer than 6 feet. People behaved like it was 2019.

In retrospect, this was a mistake. At that point, the delta variant was just starting to get a foothold in the United States. I should have been more vigilant by wearing a mask whenever I went indoors. Luckily, I escaped without getting sick. RB40Jr was super paranoid and he wore his mask whenever it was crowded. Good for him.

Shower closure

Did I mention shared showers are all shut down in Yellowstone? We didn’t know this at first. Our campsite didn’t have a shower anyway. I thought we’d be able to pay for a shower at one of the other facilities in the park. We were ready for a shower on our 4th day after a long hot hike. We went looking for a shower. One RV park with a shower was closed down for renovations so we kept searching. The next camp finally told us that all shared showers are closed…

It wasn’t a huge deal for me because I was already taking a hobo shower every day. (Wipe down at the sink.) However, Mrs. RB40 was feeling really grubby by the end of the trip. She didn’t feel comfortable at the sink. Here are my tips.

  • Bring a small towel and wipe down at the sink in the middle of the day. Everyone is sightseeing around 2 pm.
  • Bring a swim suit and go swimming in the lake. We thought the water was too cold.
  • Build a camp fire every night and let the smoke cover up the BO.
  • Mrs. RB40 says bring some wet wipes.
  • A person told us you can leave the park to take a shower in Mammoth or West Yellowstone.

Anyway, we survived 5 nights without a shower.

Top attractions

I think you need 3 full days to see everything at Yellowstone. We had 4 full days so we could go at a relaxing pace. Maybe you could see all the highlights in 2 days, but I’d feel rushed. Anyway, here are our favorite stops.

Hayden Valley – The wildlife in Yellowstone was amazing. That was really the top attraction for us. We saw elk and bison every day when we visited. We also spotted two wolves climbing the side of a hill. Hayden Valley was very close to our camp so we could go early in the morning and late in the evening, active time for the animals. We didn’t see any bears, though. I read Lamar Valley is better for bears, but one highway was closed so you had to detour quite a ways. We decided not to go.

Old Faithful – Admittedly, the geyser wasn’t that impressive. However, it is guaranteed viewing. Old Faithful erupts every 90 minutes or so. If you wait around, you’ll see a geyser. It was pretty busy there, so bring a mask just in case. Oh, two fighter jets came by and buzzed Old Faithful when we were waiting. There must be an airbase nearby. That was pretty cool.

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring – We visited Grand Prismatic twice. The first time, we went on the hike that took us along the edge of the hot spring. We couldn’t see much because there was a lot of steam. Two days later, we came back and hiked to the overlook. The view was much better from there. You need to park at the Fairy Falls Trail parking lot and hike uphill a bit.

Norris Geyser Basin – This was a great stop. We could see a big basin with hot springs, geysers, fumaroles, and mud pots bubbling everywhere. Norris Geyser Basin is the most active area in Yellowstone.

Actually, almost every stop was really neat. There are interesting things to see at all of them.


We camped at Bridge Bay Campground for 5 nights. It was great because we stayed at the best loop, loop I. The location made a huge difference. If you plan to camp there, you need to do some research. Here is what I know.

  • Loop A, B, C and D. These were all in a large flat area with only a few trees. Campers here have no privacy at all. It was very noisy, too. The kids in this area were loud until 9 pm every night.
  • Loop E and F. A little more privacy than loop A – D, but the campsites are close together. It seems more crowded than our loop.
  • Loop G and H. I didn’t really go over there. I think loop G is for RVs. Loop H has many campsites. It looked crowded from the map.
  • Loop I. We stayed in this loop. It was a bit hilly, but there were a lot of trees. The privacy was excellent. From what I saw, all the campsites in this loop were good. We stayed at the end of the loop so we only had one neighbor. The only issue was we had to hike uphill to the bathroom. Elks came through this loop almost every day. It was pretty amazing. A volunteer said we stayed in the best location in the campground.
  • Loop J. Hiker/biker loop. Park in the nearby lot and walk up.

In conclusion, try your best to reserve a campsite in Loop I.


The food option in Yellowstone was YUK with a capital Y. Okay, that’s unfair. Let’s start over. When we went, they only had takeout. No dine-in because of Covid safety. Here is all the food we had in Yellowstone.

  • Burgers and fries at Canyon Village – This one was actually quite good. You can’t go wrong with burger and fries.
  • BLT – This was also good. BLT in a croissant with plenty of bacon. RB40Jr said it was delicious, and he normally isn’t a fan of lettuce and tomatoes.
  • Bison sausage – Not bad, but no difference from any regular sausage. If they didn’t tell me, I’d guess it was beef.
  • BBQ chicken and ribs at Old Faithful – This dish was okay. The chicken and ribs were cooked in the oven and drowned in BBQ sauce. Not bad, but don’t expect good food like you can get from a real BBQ joint.
  • Fresh Wok at Canyon Lodge – This was the worst meal I had this year, hands down. It’s a make your own bowl concept. You can pick noodle or rice, chicken or beef, and various sauces. Mrs. RB40 overheard someone said it looked good so we tried it. The concept sounded okay, but the execution was horrendous. The noodles were overcooked, the protein was tasteless, and the sauces were boring. The food was cooked in big batches then left on the warming tray, cafeteria style. It’s hard to make good food that way. We rarely throw out food, but we couldn’t finish this and tossed it. Blek! Should have gone with burgers and fries.

We didn’t eat out that much because we packed some camping food from home. I cooked breakfast every morning and had some easy camp meals like chili and hot dogs.

Camp meals

  • Toast, bacon, and egg – I got precooked bacon and it worked out great. It was easy to warm up on the pan and it was a lot less messy than regular bacon.
  • Corned beef hash with egg – I got a can of corned beef hash and used that. It was surprisingly delicious!
  • Calzones (pizza pockets) – Mrs. RB40 premade these. They were easy to warm up in the pan. These were the perfect camp food.
  • Hot dogs – Tasted about the same as the $8 bison sausage.
  • Chili and corn bread – Another easy camp meal. I got a can of chili and Mrs. made corn bread at home.
  • Mac and cheese and fried sausages and apples – This one was also better than I thought.

In conclusion, bring some camp food. If you have to buy food, stick with the basics like hamburgers and hot dogs.

Road trip food

If you start driving from around Boise, there is a great lunch stop in St. Anthony, Idaho. When we were looking for a lunch stop, I saw a highly rated Mexican place on Google Maps – Tacos La Perla Tapatia Mexican Food. The place turned out to be a taco truck that took over an old gas station. It was conveniently located right off the freeway so we decided to try it. The tacos were $2 each. They also had tortas, burgers, and various camarones dishes.

5 carne asada, 1 lengua, and 1 cabeza

Here is the rundown of what we tried.

  • Al pastor (marinated pork.) Good, but not as good as what we had in Mexico.
  • Carne asada (steak.) Great, as good as in Mexico. RB40Jr loved these.
  • Lengua (beef tongue) and Cabeza (head.) Wow, these were amazing. The taco was succulent, tender, and full of flavor. I was surprised how delicious these tacos were.

We stopped by on the way home as well. This was the best taco truck we ever visited. Stop by if you’re driving on 20, between Idaho Falls and West Yellowstone.

Best camping trip ever

In summary, we had a great camping trip. Usually, we go camping for just 2 days, so this was a longer trip than normal. Having no shower was a little annoying, but it was a small price to pay for visiting such a majestic place. We loved it.

The total price of this week-long road trip was about $1,200. That includes 5 nights of camping, 2 nights in a hotel, food, gas, and souvenirs. (I got a Yellowstone poster and Mrs. RB40 got some magnets.) That’s pretty cheap for a family vacation, IMO.

Do you like camping? Have you been to Yellowstone? Let us know if you can recommend a nice destination for nature lovers.

The following two tabs change content below.
Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.
Get update via email:
Sign up to receive new articles via email
We hate spam just as much as you

18 thoughts on “Yellowstone National Park Camping Guide 2021”

  1. Great write-up, Joe – looks like an awesome trip! We’re starting to plan our big road trip for next summer once we move back from Panama next year. Lisa wants to hit a bunch of National Parks so I’ll be hanging onto this post for reference. We’ll likely do something similar with a lot of camping along the way.

    I’m with Mrs. RB40, btw – I’d struggle with that grubbiness feeling after 5 days without a shower! ?

  2. Look like a great time and a great trip. I went to Yellowstone with my family when I was a teenager. We stayed at one of the cabins and had a fantastic time.

  3. Five nights without a shower and you actually lasted through it all?! What! I’ve never taken a hobo shower before and it sounds like an experience! A rite of passage of sorts.

    I love visiting the Yellowstone national park. Old faithful is well… old faithful.

  4. If I were to go there for a multi-day trip, I would stay at an Airbnd nearby and drive into the park everyday instead. Not a camping fan. Yuk.
    I wonder whether a park pass would be valid over multiple days.

  5. It looks like it was a great trip! I haven’t been to Yellowstone yet this year due to the large crowds. You missed out on Idaho Burger in St. Anthony.

  6. Great writeup! I’ve got family in Ennis, MT who have repeatedly offered to host us (just seventy minutes from West Yellowstone). We should get on that sometime. My favorite National Park trip was three nights of below-the-rim permitted camping at the Grand Canyon; that was in 2006. The scenery was absolutely stunning. It’s been too long.

  7. I’m not big into camping, but that looks like a good time. I’ve read about the crowds and figured that it wouldn’t be worth trying to go to a national park. However, as you point out, if it’s big enough, you still get plenty of nature.

    We had a similar COVID experience at Hershey Park. Like you, we thought that we were good in July and just had to worry about the kids. They were almost always outside and are good with masks. I think we’re going back to the protection phase until the kids have vaccines. Maybe by then better progress against delta will be made.

    • If you don’t like camping, you can get a cabin or a room at the lodge.
      It’d be nice to have a shower too. Hahaha.
      I’m pretty pessimistic too. At this rate, we’ll have more restrictions soon.

      • Definitely on my bucket list. I had super cheap roundtrip tickets to Jacksonville WY airport this March but the highs were in the mid 40s the whole week so I decided to delay it.
        Not sure if going when it is super crowded is better than when it’s nearly empty like Europe in June.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.