Yellowstone National Park
Park Overview
Long before any recorded human history in Yellowstone, a massive volcanic eruption spewed an immense volume of ash that covered all of the western U.S., much of the Midwest, northern Mexico and some areas of the eastern Pacific. The eruption dwarfed that of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 and left a caldera 30 miles wide by 45 miles long.

That climactic event occurred about 640,000 years ago, and was one of many processes that shaped Yellowstone National Park--a region once rumored to be "the place where hell bubbles up." Geothermal wonders, such as Old Faithful, are evidence of one of the world's largest active volcanoes. These spectacular features bemused and befuddled the park's earliest visitors, and helped lead to the creation of the world's first national park.

Fur trappers' fantastic tales of cauldrons of bubbling mud and roaring geysers sending steaming plumes skyward made their way back east. Several expeditions were sent to investigate, opening the West to further exploration and exploitation. In 1871, Ferdinand Hayden led an expedition that included artist Thomas Moran and photographer William H. Jackson. They brought back images that helped convince Congress that the area known as Yellowstone needed to be protected and preserved.

In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a law declaring that Yellowstone would forever be "dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people."


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.

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.


Bicycles are not available for rent at the park. If you plan to bring one, remember it is subject to the same traffic rules as automobiles. Bicycling is permitted on established public roads, parking areas, and designated routes. Bikes are prohibited on backcountry trails and boardwalks.

Several gravel roads are open to BOTH bicycle and automotive traffic. The Old Garidner Road and Blacktail Plateau Drive allow two-way bike traffic and one-way auto traffic. These roads are best suited for mountain bikes. Please do not block entrance gates when parking at these locations.

The following trails are restricted to only foot and bicycle traffic:

1. The abandoned railroad bed paralleling the Yellowstone River between Gardner and the park boundary at Reese Creek (5 miles).

2. Mammoth Service Road beginning at the top of the hill on the Old Gardiner Road above Mammoth, northwest to the telephone station (1.5 miles).

3. Bunsen Peak Road (6 miles) and Golden Gate Service Road between Golden Gate and Joffe Lake (1.5 miles).

4. Riverside Trail from entrance to Barnes Road (1.4 miles).

5. Fountain Freight Road is located 6 miles north of Old Faithful. Mountain bikes recommended (5.5 miles).

6. Daisy Geyser cut-off to Biscuit Basin.

7. The paved trail in front of Old Faithful Lodge to Morning Glory Pool. Bicycles are not allowed on the unpaved trail continuing beyond Morning Glory Pool to Biscuit Basin (2 miles).

8. Lone Star Geyser Road (just past the Kepler Cascades' pullout) from the Grand Loop Road to Lone Star Geyser (2 miles).

9. Natural Bridge Road near Bridge Bay (1 mile).

10. The old roadbed near the lakeshore between Lake Hotel and where the roadbed joins the main road south of Lake Junction (1 mile).

11. Mount Washburn from the Chittenden Road parking area to the summit of Mount Washburn (3 miles). Bicycles are NOT permitted on the trail between the summit and Dunraven Pass parking area.

12. Old Chittenden Service Road between Grand Loop Road and Tower Fall campground (2 miles).

13. Rose Creek Service Road behind the Lamar Ranger Station (1 mile).

Biker / Hiker Campsites:

Camping for bicyclists is limited to the developed campgrounds located throughout the park. Campsites are available by reservation and on a first come, first served basis.

The distances separating campgrounds and the fact that the campgrounds typically fill early each day during the peak visitation season will pose logistical problems for the bicycle camper in Yellowstone. A limited number of campsites are reserved for hikers and bicyclists at all campgrounds with the exception of Slough Creek. Camping is not available at Old Faithful. If you are traveling with a group of bicyclists, call Amfac Park and Resorts prior to your arrival to check on group campsite availability; not all campgrounds can accommodate groups. If you have access to a vehicle, use it to find a campsite in your destination campground early each day.

Bicyclists camping without a vehicle can use designated hiker/biker sites for $ 4.00 per individual per night. All other vehicle campsites range from $ 10 to $ 16 per night depending on the campground. Opening and closing dates vary considerably for each campground. Check the Opening & Closing Dates for Facilities page or Camping Page to make sure that a campground is open if you are planning a spring or fall visit to Yellowstone.

Private Boats:

A permit is required for all vessels (motorized and non-motorized including float tubes) and must be obtained in person at any of the following locations: South Entrance, Lewis Lake Campground, Grant Village Visitor Center, Bridge Bay Ranger Station, and Lake Ranger Station. At Canyon and Mammoth Visitor Centers, only non-motorized boating permits are available. The fee is $20 (annual) or $10 (7 day) for motorized vessels and $10 (annual) or $5 (7 day) for non-motorized vessels. A Coast Guard approved wearable personal flotation device is required for each person boating.

Grand Teton National Park's boat permit will be honored as a one-time 7 day permit or can be applied toward a Yellowstone annual permit.

All vessels are prohibited on park rivers and streams except the channel between Lewis and Shoshone Lakes, where only hand-propelled vessels are permitted.

Rentals and Guided Boat Trips:

Outboards and rowboats may be rented (first come, first served) from Xanterra Parks & Resorts at Bridge Bay Marina on Yellowstone Lake. Xanterra also provides guided fishing boats which may be reserved in advance by calling (307) 344-7311. Other commercial businesses are Permitted to offer guided services for canoeing, kayaking, and motorized boating.


Yellowstone National Park is managed to protect cultural and natural resources and outstanding scenery, and to provide for visitor use. Angling has been a major visitor activity for over a century. Present regulations reflect the park's primary purposes of resource protection and visitor use. The objectives of the fishing program are to:

1. Manage aquatic resources as an important part of the ecosystem.

2. Preserve and restore native fishes and their habitats.

3. Provide recreational fishing opportunites for the enjoyment of park visitors, consistent with the first two objectives.

In Yellowstone, bald eagles, ospreys, pelicans, otters, grizzly bears, and other wildlife take precedence over humans in utilizing fish as food. None of the fish in Yellowstone are stocked, and populations depend on sufficient number of spawning adults to maintian natural reproduction and genetic diversity. In Yellowstone National Park, we place less emphasis upon providing fishing for human consumption and put more emphasis upon the quality for recreational fishing. Anglers, in return, have the opportunity to fish for wild trout in a natural setting.

Because of the increasing number of anglers in the park, more restrictive regulations have been adopted in Yellowstone. These restrictions include: season opening/closing dates, restrictive use of bait, catch-and-release only areas, and number/size limits according to species. A few places are closed to the public to protect threatened and endangered species, sensitive nesting birds, and to provide scenic viewing areas for visitors seeking undisturbed wildlife.

Permits and Fees:

A Yellowstone National Park Fishing Permit is required to fish in the park. Anglers 16 years of age and older are required to purchase either a $15 three-day permit, a $20 seven-day permit or $35 season permit. Anglers 12 to 15 years of age are required to obtain a non-fee permit. Children 11 years of age or younger may fish without a permit when supervised by an adult. The adult is responsible for the child's actions. Fishing permits are available at all ranger stations, visitor centers, and Yellowstone Park General Stores. No state fishing license is required in Yellowstone National Park.

There are 49 picnic areas in the park. Click on any picnic area on the map below for more detailed information.

Fires are permitted only in picnic areas with fire grates. Charcoal grills may only be used in areas with fire grates. There are fire grates in the following picnic areas: Bridge Bay, Cascade Lake Trail, East Lot (Old Faithful Area), Grant Village, Nez Perce, Norris Meadows, Snake River, Spring Creek and Yellowstone River. Gas stoves may be utilized for meal preparation in any picnic area. Camping is Not Allowed in any picnic area. There is no water at any picnic area and most have pit toilets.

Special fire restrictions are occasionally put in place when the danger of wildland fires is great. If you plan to light a fire in the park, please ask about current fire restrictions at the entrance station when you arrive or email our Visitor Services Office immediately prior to your visit.

There are 12 campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park. Seven of these campgrounds are operated by the National Park Service at Indian Creek, Lewis Lake, Mammoth, Norris, Pebble Creek, Slough Creek, and Tower Fall. Sites at these campgrounds are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Campsite Reservations:

Xanterra Parks & Resorts operates campgrounds at Bridge Bay, Canyon, Fishing Bridge RV Park, Grant Village, and Madison. Same-day reservations can be made by calling: 307-344-7901. Future reservations can be made by calling: 307-344-7311, or by writing: Yellowstone National Park Lodges, PO Box 165, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190. Fishing Bridge RV Park is the only campground offering water, sewer, and electrical hookups, and it is for hard-sided vehicles only (no tents or tent-trailers are allowed).

Please make your reservations early and/or plan to secure your campsite as early in the day as possible. Campgrounds may fill by early morning, especially during peak season (early July - late August).

It is recommended that recreational vehicles over 30' make reservation since there are limited number of campsites over 30' available in Yellowstone. Large RV sites are located at Flag Ranch, Fishing Bridge RV Park and West Yellowstone.

First Come, First Served Campsites

Group Camping:

Group camping areas are available at Madison, Grant, and Bridge Bay campgrounds from late May through the closing date for large organized groups with a designated leader such as youth groups or educational groups. The fees range from $45-$75 per night, depending on the size of the group. Advance reservations are required and can be made by writing:

Nature Programs
Yellowstone National Park offers two distinctive educational programs for children. Take a look below to see which program is right for your child.

Expedition: Yellowstone:

Through Expedition: Yellowstone! the National Park Service offers a 4-5 day curriculum-based residential program for students in grades 4-8. This long-standing program operates September through mid December and mid February through May. The program has two campuses. The historic Lamar Buffalo Ranch is used during the spring and fall. The Youth Conservation Corps facilities are used during winter months.

Expedition: Yellowstone! teaches students about the natural and cultural history of Yellowstone National Park, investigates current issues affecting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and promotes stewardship and preservation in the park and in home communities. Emphasis is on learning through direct experience in the outdoors. Students participate with teachers and parent chaperones in hikes, field investigations, discussions, creative dramatics, and journal writing. The program coordinator works with teachers to tailor an itinerary for the group that best meets their educational needs.

Expedition: Yellowstone! operates on a fee basis to cover faculty salaries and instructional supplies used by students. A staff of rangers with diverse education backgrounds instruct these expeditions to the park.

Junior Ranger Program:

Yellowstone National Park has an official Junior Ranger Program open to children ages 5 - 12. The goal of the program is to introduce children to the natural wonders of Yellowstone and their role in preserving them for the future.

To become a Junior Ranger, families pay a $3 fee for the 12-page activity paper, Yellowstone's Nature, available at any visitor center. After completing the age appropriate requirements described in the paper and reviewing their work with a ranger at any visitor center, participants are awarded an official Yellowstone Junior Ranger patch. Modeled after the National Park Service patch, Junior Ranger patches feature a stylized bear track for 8-12 year olds, a wolf track for 5-7 year olds, and a snowflake for all winter junior rangers.

Requirements include attending a Ranger-led program, hiking on a park trail, and completing activities on various park resources, issues, and concepts such as geothermal geology, park wildlife, and fire ecology.

Some winter activities require the use of a thermometer and hand lens, so make sure you ask to check out a Junior Ranger Snowpack. Snowpacks are available at both the Mammoth and Old Faithful visitor centers and snowshoes may be checked out in Mammoth.

Both children and adults benefit by sharing the fun of becoming a Junior Ranger.

Nature of the Area
Geological characteristics form the foundation of an ecosystem. In Yellowstone, the interplay between volcanic, hydrothermal, and glacial processes and the distribution of flora and fauna are intricate and unique.

The topography of the land from southern Idaho northeast to Yellowstone results from millions of years of hotspot influence. Some scientists believe the Yellowstone Plateau itself is a result of uplift due to hotspot volcanism. Today's landforms channel westerly storm systems eastward onto the plateau where they drop large amounts of snow.

The distribution of rocks and sediments in the park also influences the distributions of flora and fauna. The volcanic rhyolites and tuffs of the Yellowstone Caldera are rich in quartz and potassium feldspar, which form nutrient-poor soils. Thus, areas of the park underlain by rhyolites and tuffs generally are characterized by extensive, monotypic stands of lodgepole pine, which are drought tolerant and have shallow roots that take advantage of the nutrients in the soil. In contrast, andesitic volcanic rocks that underlie the Absaroka Mountains are rich in calcium, magnesium, and iron. These minerals weather into soils that can store more water and provide better nutrients than rhyolitic soils. This allows for more vegetative growth, which adds organic matter to the soils and results in much more fertile soils. You can see the result when you drive over Dunraven Pass or through other areas of the park with Absaroka rocks. They have a richer flora, including mixed forests interspersed with meadows. Lake sediments such as those underlying Hayden Valley, which were deposited during glacial periods, form clay soils that allow meadow communities to out-compete trees for water. The patches of lodgepole pines in Hayden Valley grow in areas of rhyolite rock outcrops.

Because of the influence rock types have on plant distribution, some scientists theorize that geology also influences wildlife distributions and movement. Whitebark pine is an important food source for grizzly bears during the autumn. The bears migrate to the whitebark pine areas such as the andesitic volcanic terrain of Mt. Washburn. Grazing animals such as elk and bison are found in the park's grasslands, which grow best in sedimentary soil of valleys such as Hayden and Lamar. And the many hydrothermal areas of the park, where grasses and other food remain uncovered, provide a haven for animals during the winter.

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