From Yellowstone Park in the south to Livingston, MT in the north, Montana’s Paradise Valley and Upper Yellowstone region are among the finest outdoor recreation destinations in the country. Yellowstone National Park, the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, and the Yellowstone River are world-class treasures waiting to be explored. Visitors will find excellent camping opportunities at a variety of public campgrounds between Livingston and Gardiner, MT. This guide to public campgrounds will help you choose the one that’s best for you.
Upper Yellowstone Public Campgrounds
Note: The historic flooding in 2022 has damaged some campgrounds and access roads which are noted in the table below.
|Distance to Livingston
|Distance to Yellowstone
|Eagle Creek Campground
|On Jardine Road in Gardiner
|Timber Camp Campground
|On Jardine/Bear Creek Road in Gardiner
|Bear Creek Campground
|At end of Bear Creek Road from Gardiner
|On US 89 in Yankee Jim Canyon
|Carbella Access Site
|Just off US 89 on Tom Miner Road
|Tom Miner Campground
|Dailey Lake Campground
|6 miles off East River Road on 6 Mile Creek Road
|Dan Bailey Access
|On East River Road near Mill Creek
|Loch Leven Access
|1 1/4 mile off East River Road
|Mallards Rest Access
|Pine Creek Campground
|3 mi from East River Road
Some campgrounds have entrances right on US 89 or the East River Road while others require driving a side road to reach the campground. The chart lists the side road distances but you need to refer to the individual campground page for full details.
Campground Fees and Reservations
Except for the dispersed camping areas, these campgrounds all charge a nightly camping fee. Unless you prepay online, fees are paid on-site so be sure to have a checkbook or cash to make your payment. Credit and Debit cards are not accepted!
Some campgrounds have no reservations and are open to whoever secures a spot first while others have online reservations. The individual campground page will have full information about reservations.
Many campgrounds fill during the summer months so, unless you have a reservation, try to plan to occupy a site early in the day. It’s no fun to be searching for a campsite in the evening only to discover that every campground is full.
Dispersed Camping in the Custer Gallatin Forest
It’s possible to camp for free on federal lands where there are no developed campsites. Called dispersed camping, all federal lands are open to camping unless posted otherwise. Dispersed campsites have no water, tables, toilets, food storage boxes, or fire rings. With a few exceptions, the Custer Gallatin National Forest lands north of Yellowstone Park are open to dispersed camping. Unfortunately, the rugged terrain, placement of roads, and private property boundaries combine to limit dispersed camping opportunities.
There are a few places to look for dispersed camping in the Upper Yellowstone area. Located close together, the Bear Creek and Timber Camp Campgrounds are 10 miles from Gardiner and offer dispersed camping. There are a couple of dispersed sites along Mill Creek road above Snowbank Campground. Finally, you can find dispersed camping in the Dome Mountain Wildlife Management Area which is at the south end of Dailey Lake.
Be Bear Aware!
While it is unlikely that you will encounter a bear, grizzly and black bears call this area home. Campgrounds in the valley bottom are less likely to have bears but the campgrounds in the mountains are all in bear country.
It’s important to always keep your campsite clean. Avoid dropping food scraps to the ground. Keep your food stored properly unless you are cooking or eating. If the campground has bear-proof food lockers you should use them. When there is no food locker be sure to keep your food inside of a vehicle.
Always carry bear spray when you are in bear country and make sure you understand exactly how to use it. It’s too late to figure it out when you need it! Here’s more information about being bear-aware.
Fishing & Boating at the Paradise Valley Campgrounds
There’s an abundance of choices for anyone interested in fishing while camping in the area. Mallard’s Rest, Loch Leven, and Dan Bailey are all popular Yellowstone River fishing accesses. Most anglers use these sites to float fish the river but there is good shore fishing as well.
The mountain campgrounds (Snowbank, Bear Creek, Pine Creek, Tom Miner) are located on or near streams which can provide fly fishing opportunities. These campgrounds are often near trails leading to high mountain lakes that provide memorable fishing opportunities.
If you are interested in lake fishing, Dailey Lake offers great fishing for trout, walleye, and perch. The lake is open to all types of boats including paddleboards, sailboards, and powerboats.
Enjoy the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness
Along US 89 the eastern edge of the valley is part of the 943,648-acre Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. Many of the campgrounds offer easy access to the wilderness which is a prime destination for hikers and backpackers.
To get the most out of your visit I recommend you have both maps and a guidebook. I especially recommend:
Day Hikes in the Beartooth Mountains
Hiking the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness
Fishing the Beartooths – An Angler’s Guide
National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps
Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness East [Cooke City, Red Lodge]
The Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness and the surrounding forests are special places that need our support. You can help advocate for these lands by supporting the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness Association. They are a positive force in support of the wilderness and we all need to give them our support!