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Yellowstone Area Hikes and Attractions

Pilot Creek Dispersed Camping

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The Shoshone National Forest allows dispersed camping along a mile or so of the Beartooth Highway in the Pilot Creek area. There is one large area on the south side of US 212 about 9 miles east of Cooke City which has multiple undeveloped campsites as well as a vault toilet. There are a number of additional potential campsites on both side of the road for a mile or so. While most of these sites have “user built” fire rings, there are no other amenities.

Pilot Creek Dispersed Camping
SeasonOpen when ever the road is open
Number of sitesMultiple
ReservationsNo
AmenitiesNone
AccessibleNo
FirewoodNo
AttractionsClose to Yellowstone Park and Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness
Nearest CityCooke City – 9 to 10 miles
Pilot Creek Dispersed camping area
Pilot Peak is easily visible from most of the camping spots in the Pilot Creek Dispersed camping area. This is the large semi-developed area that is south of the Beartooth Highway about 9 miles east of Cooke City, MT. While most dispersed camping areas have no development at all there are vault toilets at this site.

What is Dispersed Camping

Dispersed camping is the use of federal lands for camping where there are no developed campsites. Dispersed camping sites have no water, tables, toilets, food storage boxes or fire rings. With a few exceptions all national forest lands along the Beartooth Highway are open to dispersed camping. However, in most places there are no suitable sites along the road.

In the Pilot Creek area there are a number of short side roads that lead to suitable dispersed camping sites. These are all available on a first-come first-served basis and are free of charge. Most suitable sites have evidence of previous use and there is usually a user built fire ring. Some well-used sites have further improvements like log stumps to sit on. Any improvements are camper created and the Forest Service doesn’t maintain these sites in any way.

Typical campsite at Pilot Creek
This is a typical campsite at the Pilot Creek dispersed camping area. While there are no amenities, there are great places to set up a camp. Always try to use previously disturbed areas when you camp in an undeveloped area.

Protect the Dispersed Sites

You should know and always follow the principles of Leave No Trace when you are camping. This is especially true when using an undeveloped dispersed site.

Whenever possible camp in dispersed sites that show obvious signs of previous use. Use existing fire rings and don’t create any new disturbances to the natural environment. There is no trash removal from dispersed sites so always pack out your trash.

It’s important to remember that this is prime grizzly bear habitat and take precautions to properly store your food. The developed campgrounds all have bear proof food storage lockers but there are none in these undeveloped areas. Keep your food inside a vehicle unless you are cooking or eating.

Many of these sites are used nightly throughout the summer. Take special care to manage your human waste. It’s always best to pack it out. If this is not possible always bury your poop and pack out the toilet paper. Never leave toilet paper exposed on the ground. Learn more from the folks at REI. There are vault toilets at the main camping area south of the highway.

Infographic showing 6 steps for how to poop in the woods

Learn More about Pilot Creek Dispersed Camping

The Pilot Creek area is administered by the Clark’s Fork Ranger District of the Shoshone National Forest. While they don’t provide information on the web, you can contact them for additional information.

Shoshone National Forest
808 Meadow Lane Avenue
Cody, WY 82414
Telephone 307-527-6241

For information on other campgrounds in the area visit our guide to Beartooth Highway Camping & Campgrounds.