Deep Dive into Our Campground

Several friends have asked for more details on where we camp (how we find spots, what they’re like, who are our neighbors, etc.). Right now, we’re at an especially quiet, lovely national forest campground near Yellowstone, so this is a great example.

It’s the Gallatin National Forest, which is in the same Forest where we boondocked when we were outside Red Lodge, in the Beartooth Mountains, but now we’re directly west of that, on the Montana/Wyoming border.

When we drove to the north entrance of Yellowstone, we wanted to find another boondocking site outside of the park so we could stay for free and not have to deal with neighbors in a campground.

Tracy did his usual heroic job of driving up this ridiculously narrow, winding, steep gravel road, up switchbacks to a mountain ridge, but there were very few places where we could pull off to park, and none was desirable (all right beside the road, with room only enough for chairs right beside the trailer, barely.) And we’d have had to drive back down the mountain every time we wanted to go into Yellowstone, which would have added more than 30 minutes to the already long drive to get into the park, so we nixed boondocking.

Instead, we pulled into the campground we had passed lower down the mountain. The CAMPGROUND FULL sign had been covered, so we had hope.

It’s a small campground, though (15 sites maybe, with several large enough only for tents and a few only for horse trailers, so that left maybe 8 we could fit into). We ended up with a “double site,” which is large enough so two campers can get in there, for when you travel with friends. This means we had to pay double ($30), and we ended up with a guy in a truck camper parked right next to us, sharing the site for the night.

The site right across from us was a single though, and the little tag on the post said those people were moving the next day, so I walked over and introduced myself, and they said, for sure, the next morning they were going on a run (dude), and then leaving the site right away.

As soon as I walked Banjo, I loitered outside, watching them covertly to jump on their site as soon as they pulled out. They did go on an early run, but then the guy did some more working out, and they had to hitch up and clean up their campsite, but they finally pulled out, and we were ready to swoop in. Believe me, people drive through this campground all day and evening looking for sites, and there was a chance someone would have gotten in that one while we weren’t looking.

Banjo and I are coming back from our morning walk here, and you can see our truck and trailer at the left, as well as one of the two bathrooms here (pit toilets: very unpleasant, but if you’re camping in a tent, then they’re better than nothing). You can also see one of the other Airstreams here—it’s been like a dealer lot in this campground! At one point there were four Airstreams, so per capita, this has been the most Airstream-heavy campground we’ve ever stayed. We’ve seen other Airstreams in the park, too. I don’t know the answer to this Airstream-heavy mystery.


As soon as we pulled in to the campground, the campground host greeted us and warned that grizzly tracks had been spotted in the nearby creek, so we have to be extra careful not to leave food out unattended, ever.

This is a bear box—if you’re tent camping, you need to store your food in your car or in here, and if you’re backpacking into the campground, this is the only place you can store your food. We store our food in our kitchen. 🙂

Our Campsite

The sites here are spacious, and the views are gorgeous. Of course there are no trees up on this mountain, but that’s okay; the wind has kept the temperatures down.

We don’t have electric hookups or water or sewer, so this is called “dry camping.” (I reserve the term “boondocking” for when we’re not in a campground.)

What we do get are those pit toilets (in the background), a picnic table (I’ve come to love these as being handy workspaces), and a fire pit (which we don’t use because we hate smelling like smoke all the time).

But, voila, this is our campsite. When we’re not in the park, we set up chairs, my sofa, and tables and read or knit or play ukulele quietly or cards and watch the sunset reflect on the mountains. Banjo especially loves lying in the grass because it’s been several weeks since we’ve had grass at our site.


I haven’t taken photos of neighbors because I feel like that’s rude, but I have chatted with several.

Our camphost is especially active. As soon as anyone pulls in (whether they have a spot or are looking for one), he walks over and reads them the riot act. I’m guessing a whole lot of new campers visit here, since there are a lot of new campers in the first place, plus Yellowstone is very, very crowded right now.

He’s pretty strict with the rules (I appreciate that) so he goes over them with campers or boots out people without reservations. He told us to keep our truck out of the road and to be sure to keep food inside; he told our neighbors in their van (more on them below) where they could boondock nearby, despite them having already paid for their site for three nights. I think it’s clear they’re newbies, and he seemed to want them out of his campground. He takes his job seriously. And it’s fun to watch him pop out on the scene as soon as someone pulls up

I spoke with one of the guys in an Airstream, and he used to be the camphost here in his time. He’s been full-timing since 2012 and is absurdly enthusiastic about it. “Every morning when I wake up, I thank my lucky stars I’m living my dream!” Dude, every morning I wake up, I count how many hours of sleep I got and wish I’d gotten more. He does seem like a good guy though; I hope to chat with him more.

I chatted for about an hour last night with the newbies in the van. They’d just bought their van last week and are on a month-long trip across the West and Midwest to try out #vanlife and visit friends and family. They’ve already had electrical problems and hit a deer (and more, they seemed bummed enough about all their initial setbacks that I didn’t ask). But they’re both optimistic, as they should be, that they’ll work out the kinks of being on the road soon. If you’re reading this, hi guys! Please ping me with your contact info in case we can hook up in Arizona.

About that business card above. Ain’t that hilarious! Or pompous. But so many full-timers we meet have business cards, and they hand them out with abandon. “Let us know when you get to Mexico and we can recommend a dentist.” Or, “We have a place in Yuma you can park.” Or just, “It’s great to meet you; send us an email to keep in touch.”

I’ve been scribbling the URL of this site on scraps of paper for so long that I broke down and had these made. With that image filling the card, they’re so flamboyant and unprofessional, but hey, we’re not professionals, so what the heck. And I did give out my very first card to the friendly vanlifers.

Banjo and My Morning Walk

The best part of this campground are the hiking trails leading in several directions. On Friday morning, tons of people gathered up at the horse corral area for a cross-country race (we listened to the loudspeaker from inside the trailer since it was cold that morning) on those trails—that’s how far-reaching they are.

Tracy takes Banjo for long walks after lunch, for more than an hour along the ridge overlooking the valley down into the town of Gardiner.

I go for about an hour, carrying bear spray and trying to keep Banjo from picking up and crunching on too many elk bones. Hiking directly from your campsite is primo.

That Bull Elk

Here’s that same elk I posted pictures of in my last post; he must hang out in the Mammoth Lodge area every morning and evening. The rangers have probably named him, and they have their hands full keeping people from getting too close to him.

These pictures just don’t do his size and bulk justice. We watched as he scratched his enormous antlers on this tree, ate the bark, scratched his back with his antlers, bugled at another bull elk nearby, and then sauntered away. His body palpitates before he bugles, and its bulk sways as he walks.

He is bigger than our truck, bigger than anything I’ve seen. But then I say that when I’m riding close to a bull bison, and that time we watched a moose from our campsite. They’re all bigger than I’ve ever seen!

Tonight we’re driving to where we hear there are grizzlies, and tomorrow we’re moving on to Grand Teton, where I hear moose and elk (and tons of other animals) are even easier to see. Bring it.