Yellowstone Backcountry Camping
The Backcountry of Yellowstone is like a place you have never seen. It offers a peace and solitude that many of us are searching for. Lake Shoshone is one of the more secluded places in Yellowstone. Most of the campsites are only accessible by canoe or kayak. No motorized boats allowed. Being so far in the backcountry the stars really come out at night and you feel like you are in heaven on earth.
You need to decide how many people are going to come on this trip with you. All the campsites only allow 8 people. So if you have more than 8 you need to have 2 campsites. Once you have decided how many people are coming you can then apply for a backcountry permit through the Yellowstone Backcountry Office. You will have to submit which campsite you are wanting to go to, and how many days you will be back there. The selection process is a raffle that takes place around March. If you are flexible with your dates and campsites you will most likely be selected.
Once selected the real planning begins. From canoe rentals to food prep. I would suggest renting canoes from a University. Most Universities have an outdoor rec rental shop, and that is where we have found the best prices for renting canoes. They also rent dry sacks, tents, etc. if you don't have that gear. For food you can go 1 of 2 ways. The 1st is to bring a cooler and bring some food that needs to stay cold. We cook the food and then freeze it in a gallon baggie to not only keep things cold but to save room. Stuff like pulled mexican chicken is easy to do this with, and then you just need to warm it up and not have to deal with cooking it completely once in the backcountry. We suggest bringing a bear proof cooler. They stay closed from bears, but also if the cooler goes overboard into the water it's going to float. The 2nd option for food is to just bring dry food. Stuff like freeze dried food, pancakes, etc. You can also get a fishing license and fish for a meal, but the fishing is hard unless you are a seasoned fisherman. There are a lot of other ideas for meal's in the backcountry, check out REI's Meal Planning.
Check in with the backcountry office. We came in the south entrance so there is a backcountry office right when you enter the park. There are some things they will need to go over as far as camping in the backcountry, and this is where we got our backcountry permit and fishing license. We wanted to check in as early as possible. We stayed in Jackson the night before so we could get up and go as soon as the backcountry office opened at 8am. Once checked in we kept heading up the road to where we launched our canoes. We went as north as possible on Lewis Lake, HERE is where we parked. This is where the adventure really begins. We got all the canoes out and started loading them up. Trying to make every canoe as equal as possible on weight. Getting launched and on the water as early as possible really helps throughout the day. The water is more calm so we could get across the lakes faster. Once loaded up and out on the water it took probably 45-60 minutes to get across Lewis Lake and to the Lewis River Channel. The river is a really nice mellow flow. We paddled upstream as much as possible until it's too shallow and we kept bottoming out. At this point we attached a rope to the front of the canoes and started pulling them up the last bit of the river. This is by far the hardest part of the adventure. Walking up a river for miles while pulling a canoe over your back isn't something we do often, haha. Once we made it up the river and reached Shoshone Lake we parked the canoes for a bit and had some lunch. After lunch we made our last push across Shoshone Lake to the campsites. Reaching a campsite has never felt so good. We unloaded, set up camp and relaxed until dinner. After cooking dinner and feeling tired from a long day we got the camp ready for bed. In the Backcountry of Yellowstone you need to pull food and everything you cook with into the trees. At these campsite they have built areas for you to do this. We carried things in plastic bins on the canoe which made it easier to lift into the trees when the time came. We used the ones from costco. This way you can just put all you stoves, pans, food, etc inside and hoist it up in the trees much easier. You'll also need to put the cooler up with it. We had two ropes we used for this. The first had a pulley tied to the end and we threw that over the log, which made it easier to use the second rope to pull all the food up to the top. It takes a few people helping with this. Once the camp is all picked up, we finally went to bed. The stars came out and the waves were crashing on the shore of the lake. We fell asleep very quickly and woke up with the sun.
Waking up in the Backcountry of Yellowstone feels incredible. No need to check the phone or hurry into the office. Open up the tent and walk out to the lake. Put your toes in the water and soak in the morning sun. Walk over to the food and lower it down to start breakfast. Usually once someone starts cooking breakfast everyone will slowly start to come out of their tents. We all sat around and ate our pancakes. Once finished with breakfast the food and cooler all go back up the tree. At this point we all talked about what the days plan was going to be. We decided to go the Shoshone Geyser Basin, which is on the west side of the lake. HERE is where we canoed to and parked them while we hiked around to the Geyser. It's about a 1/2 mile hike around to the Geysers. If you decide to go to this side of the lake I would suggest to go in the morning so that you can be heading back to camp early afternoon. The winds pick up a little later in the afternoon and make it harder to paddle back to camp.
Today was a rest day. No plans for the group. Just hanging around camp, laying in hammocks, playing card games, going fishing, swimming in the lake, going for a walk down the lake shore, taking a nap and whatever else we wanted to do. It felt great to just be in the wild and connect with whats around.
This was the final day we were back there. Not a huge rush to get out because it will be much faster getting back since the river is flowing down with the direction we are going. We packed up and headed out across Shoshone Lake. Once into the Lewis River channel we just had to worry about steering. The flow of the river was nice and we could just ride it down. We stopped at what we are calling Grandaddy Rock. It's a good spot for a snack and to jump off the rock into the river. It's probably around a 20 foot high cliff. After the fun cliff jumping, we had just a a little bit more of the river and then out onto Lewis Lake. From there we had just the last push across the lake to the cars. As we were at about the middle of the lake a Bald Eagle flew over us. It really solidified the the trip into an Epic Adventure!
- Dry Sack (for all you clothes etc.)
- Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Pad
- Rope (for pulling canoes up the river & lifting food into the trees)
- Cooking Utensils
- Cooler (if you decide to bring more than just dry food)
- Water Purifier
- Water Bottle
- Bear Spray
- Fishing Pole
- Tin Pan For The Charcoal
- Trash Bags
- Deck Of Cards
Disclaimer: This is a basic overview of our trip. Made to help you in your planning among the other resources that the Yellowstone Backcountry office provides. Do as much research as you can before heading into the backcountry.