Camping Alternatives to Yellowstone National Park

Sep 9, 2022 | Campgrounds, Uncategorized

Camping Alternatives to Yellowstone National Park

Here’s where to go and where to camp if you’re looking for a less crowded alternative to Yellowstone National Park.

By Kerri Cox & Campendium

Grasslands surrounding Badlands National Park. | Photo: Kerri Cox

Yellowstone National Park offers phenomenal geothermal features and wildlife viewing, but sometimes, it’s just not the right time to visit. From extreme weather to overcrowded campgrounds during peak season, there are numerous reasons why you might need to postpone a Yellowstone excursion—but that doesn’t mean you have to skip out on an adventure altogether. 

Whether you’ve decided to save Yellowstone for a future trip or are seeking a similar experience elsewhere, you can find underrated alternatives to this popular destination that offer amazing adventures all their own.

Some of the best camping alternatives to Yellowstone are located just outside the park’s gates, while others are several states away. Some of these lesser-known locations let you skip out on the crowds and they’re often more relaxed than Yellowstone, which can be a bit like the Disneyland of national parks. 

Here are some alternatives to Yellowstone that feature similar geothermal features, bountiful wildlife, an epic national park vacation, or all of the best of the Yellowstone region beyond the park gates.

Related 4 Alternatives to Popular National Parks to Visit in 2022

a geothermal spring with steam surrounded by pine trees under a clear blue sky
A 3-mile round-trip trail takes you to Bumpass Hell, the largest geothermal area in Lassen Volcanic National Park. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Yellowstone Alternative With Geothermal Features

If your interest in Yellowstone is primarily related to the geothermal features, the good news is it’s not the only park to have these. In fact, according to the National Park Service, 16 parks have significant geothermal features, including hot springs, crater lakes, and volcanoes.

Perhaps the most fascinating comparison found in the contiguous U.S. is California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park. As recently as 1917, one of the park’s many volcanoes erupted. Take a tour of the Sulphur Works Hydrothermal Area to explore the park’s steam vents and boiling pots, or drive along the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway which offers mountain vistas and scenery.

Related Planning a Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway Road Trip

Recommended Camping Options In and Near Lassen Volcanic National Park:

a small trailer is parked at a wooded campsite with a picnic table
Rafter J Bar Ranch showcases the beauty of South Dakota’s Black Hills region near Custer State Park. | Photo: Kerri Cox

Yellowstone Alternative With Bountiful Wildlife 

Yellowstone is famous for its bison traffic jams. However, it’s not the only place where you can gaze upon this relic of wild America. Once upon a time, more than 60 million bison roamed the plains, but today they’re limited to a few thousand herds, primarily in state and national parks. 

Custer State Park in South Dakota is home to the second-largest bison herd in the U.S., after Yellowstone. Take a drive on the Wildlife Loop Road; you might spot bison, mountain goats, antelope, bighorn sheep, burros, and prairie dogs in this 71,000-acre park.

Custer State Park is located in South Dakota’s Black Hills region, which abounds with places to explore, including Mount Rushmore National Monument, several Wild West towns, and Needles Highway. Nearby Badlands National Park offers sublime wildlife viewing in a unique landscape, and it has a small herd of bison roaming its grasslands. 

Recommended Camping Options In and Near Custer State Park and Badlands National Park:

a waterfall surrounded by lush greenery
Madison Falls is just one of dozens of waterfalls found in Olympic National Park. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Yellowstone Alternative for an Epic National Park Trip

Part of the allure of Yellowstone is simply its grandness and history. For some, this is the quintessential national park that wraps up everything wonderful about public lands in one powerful punch. There’s so much to see and do in the park, but Yellowstone isn’t the only national park in the U.S. of this caliber.

Olympic National Park is a great alternative to Yellowstone because it offers diverse landscapes to explore. You can hike through a hushed rainforest, stare out at wild seas, and reach toward mountain peaks in this 1.4-million acre park in northwestern Washington. Then, head over to Seattle for urban delights.

Recommended Camping Options In and Near Olympic National Park:

the irma hotel and silver saddle saloon, a small beige brick building with cars and motorcycles parked out front
The Irma Hotel. | Photo: Kerri Cox

Alternatives in the Greater Yellowstone Region

As the entire Yellowstone region recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and historic 2022 flooding, the various gateway cities will be welcoming visitors with open arms in the years ahead, whether or not you’re visiting the national park. In these endearing towns you’ll find landscapes and wildlife similar to Yellowstone, as well as diverse recreational opportunities.

Related How to Visit Yellowstone’s Gateway Towns in Southwest Montana This Summer

Each neighboring community offers its own flair. Head to Cody, Wyoming, to soak up the Wild West history and take in an exuberant rodeo. Livingston, Montana, is a hub for fly fishing and floating the Yellowstone River through Paradise Valley. West Yellowstone, Montana, is a popular gateway city with museums, family attractions, and outdoor recreation.

Red Lodge, Montana, is another option. It’s the perfect jumping-off point for a scenic drive along the Beartooth Highway, which reaches 11,000 feet at Beartooth Pass. You’ll find tons of trails and high-elevation lakes in the Beartooth and Absaroka Mountains and the Custer Gallatin National Forest. 

To the south of Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park is sometimes overlooked, though it’s a worthy destination all its own. Venture into Jackson for entertainment, dining, and recreational options in this upscale tourist destination.

Recommended Camping Options in the Greater Yellowstone Region:

Yellowstone National Park truly is a destination worth seeing in your lifetime, but in the meantime, if you decide to explore some alternative camping destinations, Yellowstone will be waiting.