Back in early May, I went to make a camping reservation for Memorial Day weekend and couldn’t find a single open spot in all of Northern Oregon.
We ended up spending the holiday at home, but this unsuccessful camping trip inspired me to plan the most epic summer trip. We quickly decided on Yellowstone National Park and the planning began!
At the time, there were only two reservable camping sites throughout the entire month of July. Millions of people visit Yellowstone every year and I cannot emphasize enough – book as early as possible if you want a guaranteed camping spot!
The drive from Portland, Oregon to Yellowstone is just about 14 hours (quite the trek for one day), so we decided to camp along the way in Lake Walcott State Park, Idaho.
I randomly chose this site because I was able to make a reservation – little did I know what a gem it would be!
As we drove in, we realized the state park is also home to a wildlife refuge. Within five minutes we saw a group of deer and the cutest raccoon scavenging!
Our cozy campsite was right on the lake in a secluded alcove – the perfect spot for a hammock hang with a drink in hand. After a bit of relaxation, we walked around the park, took a quick dip in the lake, and headed back to camp to make dinner.
We recently bought a camping stove, which means I have seriously leveled up my camping cooking game.
For the first night, I prepared nachos with cheddar cheese, red onion, black + pinto beans, canned chicken, pickled jalapeños, cilantro, avocado, and a squeeze of fresh lemon and lime. Each crunchy bite was heavenly after 10 hours in the car!
When choosing meals for the trip, I chose dishes that could easily be made in one pot and used either canned or sturdy, fresh ingredients.
After dinner, we enjoyed s’mores by the fire along with the most beautiful sunset. This combination really hit the spot for me as I also started my period while on the road. Thankfully I brought my favorite sustainable period products with me, which made camping with Aunt Flow a breeze.
Remember the raccoon I mentioned earlier? Well, he kept making appearances all night long at our campsite. As the smell of nachos and s’mores filled the air, he couldn’t resist and kept sneaking up on us trying to rummage through our food.
Even after we put the food away, he wouldn’t let it go. I woke up in the middle of the night thanks to Issac shouting, “get outta here!” followed by an angry raccoon growl. Apparently Issac was so startled, his first instinct was the punch the raccoon through the tent! No wonder the little guy was so upset…
Despite the raccoon shenanigans, I absolutely loved our first night. If you find yourself looking for a place to set up camp in Southern Idaho, Lake Walcott is the place to be!
We hit the road by 7 am the next day and headed straight for our campsite at Madison Campground.
I highly recommend this campground for those entering the park from the west. It is fairly central, inexpensive, and has great amenities (superb bathrooms and evening campfire programs).
After setting up camp and eating pb+j’s for lunch, we hit the road again to drive the central loop and hit a bunch of spots with the daylight we had left.
There are countless pullouts, hikes, historic points, and landmarks to visit in Yellowstone. You could easily spend one week exploring the area and still miss a ton (the park is just under 3,500 square miles large).
Plan for everything to take twice as long as you expect. Traffic and parking is terrible at the touristy spots. Plus people randomly stop in the road to take photos of nearby wildlife, like this elk (I’m guilty, too)!
–Fountain Paint Pot
–Grand Prismatic Spring | Take the Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail (1.2 miles) for a bird’s eye view.
–Old Faithful | Look for the next eruption time in the general store and peruse the Visitor Center and Old Faithful Inn while you wait.
–Yellowstone Lake | There are tons of beautiful viewpoints to take photos of this insanely gorgeous lake.
–Natural Bridge | Carry bear spray! Yellowstone is bear country and there are signs and warnings everywhere about being prepared for an encounter, especially while hiking.
Issac and I randomly decided to pull off the road and hike to Natural Bridge and we were not prepared.
At the start of the trail I saw yet another sign about bears and felt a bit hesitant about hiking without the bear spray. We planned on renting some, but we had not yet reached the one place in the park to rent it – Canyon Village.
We made it to the end of the out-and-back trail and were pleasantly surprised by the gorgeous view. As we started to head back, I was thinking, “Wow, this was so worth it and I’m so glad I wasn’t mauled by a bear.”
You can probably guess where I’m going with this.
As we turned the corner, we saw a small grizzly bear about 100 yards ahead of us, walking away.
We immediately started freaking out – what do we do?! As we discussed our options (we didn’t have many), we heard rumbling from a truck in the distance. A service vehicle was headed our way!
We told the guys about the bear and they generously gave us a ride back to our car, and of course threw in a lecture about always carrying bear spray.
Even though we were alright and didn’t come dangerously close to the bear, I was flipping out! The situation could have ended terribly and I am forever grateful that those men were in the area to save us.
–Hayden Valley | Great place to spot wildlife, especially at dawn and dusk. Bring binoculars with you to see bison, coyotes, and elk!
We ended the day cooking dinner in the dark (sadly, no photo) and drinking rum and coconut LaCroix. I made a protein-rich lentil pasta with spicy marinara inspired by Fresh Off the Grid.
Because we were only able to reserve one campsite, we woke up extra early, packed up camp, and headed to Indian Creek Campground to try to snag a first-come, first-serve site.
Thankfully, we were the first people there at 6:45 am and got a spot! If you’re winging any leg of your camping trip, I recommend getting there early. Most campgrounds fill up before 9 am!
While Issac set up camp, I made a potato hash with scrambled eggs and gobbled it up before I realized I forgot to take a photo…oops!
We spent the rest of the day driving the northern loop.
–Mammoth Hot Springs | Park at Upper Terrace Drive and walk the boardwalks to see the crazy, Mars-like thermal activity.
–Lamar Valley | This is another great spot for wildlife viewing. We saw hundreds of grazing bison and even a few crossing the road!
–Canyon Village | The Visitor Center here has an awesome exhibit about the volcanic activity of the park. This is also the place to rent bear spray for $9.50 per day.
–Artist Point | Amazing view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Prepare yourself for insane crowds of people.
We cut day two a bit short and headed back to camp for the best nap ever and an early dinner. I love sightseeing and adventuring, but I also love a good chill sesh.
For the last night, I made chilaquiles with baked eggs. We followed dinner with more s’mores using Mocha Chip Smashmallows and sea salt caramel dark chocolate.
Yellowstone National Park is full of surprises, amazing wildlife, and beautiful views – I was in awe the entire time.
The memories from this trip will stick with me for the rest of my life. I love camping because it provides the space to immerse myself in nature, put down my phone, and reset. Plus, I always come back feeling more grateful for a hot shower and cozy bed.
With a bit of summer left, I’d love to write more posts about all things camping. I’d love to hear – what do you want to know more about? Camping recipes, packing lists, sample itineraries – you name it! Leave me a comment below!