Yellowstone Lake Camping Tips


Aug 9, 2007
I think I'm finally going to go do some boat camping out on Yellowstone Lake next year. To all of the Yellowstone experts around here, what would you say is the best time of year to be out there? It would be great to avoid heavy bug season and of course wildlife viewing opportunities would be ideal. Any other recommendations on campsites or areas not to miss? Thanks!


Dec 23, 2013
Both. An inflatable with a small motor for covering distance and kayaks to paddle further as needed. Most likely sleeping on the boat.

Well, there are six backcountry campsites on Yellowstone Lake that handle motorized craft. It's my understanding that three have docks and three where you have to anchor your boat off-shore. Of these sites, all are located on the western side of the lake with two of them located on Frank Island. The rest of the campsites along the lake are for canoes and kayaks, and some of these water craft ones are available to folks who backpack in also. If you stay at one of the sites for paddlers, then you must completely remove your boat form the water while at camp. I've canoed the lake several times but have never used a motorized boat so you will want to check with the main backcountry office at Mammoth for motorized regulations.

There are three arms to the lake (Flat Mountain, South and Southeast) that have speed and or craft restrictions - The South and Southeast Arms have a 5 mph zone that eventually as you head south, becomes a paddle only zone. Flat Mountain Arm does not have the speed restriction but does have a paddle only zone as you head west.


Red Campsites - Motorized and/or Paddle ------ Blue Campsites - Paddle only ------ Orange Campsites - Paddle or Backpacking

Wildlife opportunities and things to do - First off, if you are not making any noise (floating by) you might be able to see wildlife along the shore of the lake itself. I have seen moose, deer, otters, muskrat, bald eagles, golden eagles, osprey, pelicans, ducks and other waterfowl simply by floating by them. Obviously there are opportunities to see wildlife if you plan on doing any day hikes while on your trip particularly if you hike into the Thorofare area.

As far as things to do are concerned, If staying at campsite 7L5, you could off-trail up the drainage to Delusion Lake. This lake is seldom seen and might be worth your time. Disclaimer: you've got about three quarters of a mile of old burn that you will have to negotiate to get to the wetlands on the east side of the lake. If staying at 7M1, you might explore the drainage that leaves Flat Mountain Arm to the west. When I did this a number of years ago, I saw numerous grizzly tracks, a complete moose skeleton, and two large bull elk as I hiked along the stream. You should take a couple of days and explore the Southeast Arm. On one of the days, hike (off-trail) to the top of Laingford Cairn which is located slightly northeast of campsite 5E2. From the top, you get a commanding view of the Yellowstone River Delta plus a look into the Thorofare to the south. On day two, take a long day hike into the Thorofare itself. You will be making your way through extremely wild country with the potential of more wildlife encounters - wolf and bear track might just be more common than boot prints along your way. Another opportunity for you would be to off-trail into Brimstone Basin which is located off-trail about three quarters of a mile to the northeast of campsite 5E4. It is a large thermal area that tends to look like a moonscape with a few steam vents spread throughout. While it doesn't have geysers or mud pots, it still has some other world charm to it and from the area you can get a nice perspective of Yellowstone Lake and the Promontory to the west.

Well, I hope this gives you a few ideas. There are plenty of areas to explore around the lake if you are willing to take the time and do a little off-trail wandering.
Last edited:


Aug 9, 2007
Great advice and tips, thanks @scatman! I think the rules on motors and campsites have changed a bit though, or maybe I'm reading it wrong. See list below for what I understand from reading the regs.

blue = motor ok
red = not ok (or in some cases okay if you can entirely remove boat from water)

But in the south and southeast arms in the 5mph zone, motors have to stay 1/4 mile from shore with these exceptions:

Power boats larger than 16 feet must travel no closer than 1/4 mile from the shoreline of the South & Southeast arms. For reference, the buoys marking the 5 mph zone and non-motorized zone are placed 1/4 mile from shore. Boats are permitted to be closer than 1/4 mile from shore only when accessing campsites and the shoreline to embark or debark or when they are stationary fishing from an anchored or moored boat.

I would most likely use my silent electric motor in those areas, but that still means no cruising the shore unless we anchor and break out the kayaks.

And of course no motors whatsoever in the very southern tips of those arms.

Similar threads
Thread starter Title Forum Replies Date
P Overnight at Ice Lake, Yellowstone Backpacking 4
TractorDoc Yellowstone's Shoshone Lake, Ouzel Creek, and Three Rivers Junction -- September 13-16 2021 Backpacking 62
TractorDoc Off Trail to Yellowstone's Aster Lake and Upper Witch Creek -- September 13, 2021 Hiking & Camping 13
TractorDoc Yellowstone's Heart Lake -- September 14-17 2020 Backpacking 32
Yvonne Day Hike to Cache Lake, Yellowstone NP, August 2019 Hiking & Camping 6
P Ribbon Lake, Yellowstone Backpacking 6
P Heart Lake, Yellowstone Backpacking 13
scatman Grebe Lake, Headwaters of Lava Creek and Observation Peak, Yellowstone National Park - September 13, 2019 Backpacking 7
TeamJenkins17 Yellowstone Thorofare to Brooks lake trip next year. Trip Planning 6
scatman Yellowstone Lake - A Two Week Paddle Trip - July 28, 2019 On The Water 44
scatman Grebe Lake - Yellowstone National Park - September Trip Planning 6
scatman Yellowstone Lake - 2 Week Canoe Trip - Summer 2019 Trip Planning 24
P Question about going around Shoshone Lake in Yellowstone Trip Planning 0
TractorDoc September Day Hike in Yellowstone -- Wrangler Lake and Beyond. Hiking & Camping 7
scatman Ice Lake, Yellowstone National Park - September 14, 2018 Backpacking 31
Rockskipper 59 years ago today - Hebgen Lake Quake/Yellowstone General Discussion 5
scatman Electric Peak and Sportsman Lake, Yellowstone National Park - August 9, 2018 Backpacking 38
scatman Plateau Lake and Buffalo Meadows, Yellowstone National Park 7/27 - 7/30 Backpacking 17
P Yellowstone Ice Lake overnight Backpacking 6
scatman Mallard Lake and DeLacy Lakes, Yellowstone National Park - June 30,2017 Backpacking 6
B Yellowstone --- backpacking trip to Shelf Lake Backpacking 6
Joey Backpacking Yellowstone: Fairyland Basin, Josephs Coat, Wapiti Lake, and Pelican Valley Backpacking 33
Joey Backpacking Yellowstone's Snake River, Heart Lake, and South Boundary Trail Backpacking 13
Joey Backpacking Yellowstone's Shoshone Lake and Mr Bubbles in May Backpacking 14
scatman Delusion Lake - Yellowstone National Park - 8/2/15 Hiking & Camping 13
Joey Yellowstone's Bighorn Pass, Shelf Lake, Sportsman Lake, and Electric Pass Loop. Backpacking 10
Bob Shoshone Lake to the South Entrance, Yellowstone Backpacking 5
Joey The Sour Creek Expedition. An 8 day trip into Yellowstone's Wapiti Lake/Broad Creek Area Backpacking 17
Joey Trip Video: Yellowstone's Crescent Lake and High Lake Backpacking 6
Joey Yellowstone's Crescent Lake, High Lake, and Specimen Creek Backpacking 32
Joey Backpacking Yellowstone's Heart Lake down to the Snake River Backpacking 12
Yellowstone 1 Grizzly Lake, Yellowstone Trip Planning 0
Yellowstone 1 Trout Lake, Yellowstone Trip Planning 0
Yellowstone 1 Riddle Lake, Yellowstone Trip Planning 0
HomerJ Yellowstone - Shoshone Lake - 2010 Backpacking 8
P Yellowstone Snake River weekend Backpacking 6
scatman Gneiss Creek Part 2 - Yellowstone National Park - September 18, 2021 Hiking & Camping 0
napatony13 FIRST-TIMER'S YELLOWSTONE TRIP Hiking & Camping 13
scatman Hayden Valley Loop - Yellowstone National Park - September 17, 2021 Hiking & Camping 27
scatman North Pitchstone Trail, Headwaters of Ouzel Creek, Bechler River and Mr. Bubbles(?) - Yellowstone National Park - September 13, 2021 Backpacking 36
scatman Gneiss Creek - Yellowstone National Park - September 8, 2021 Backpacking 17
napatony13 YELLOWSTONE-Should I Go? Trip Planning 18
swmalone Yellowstone August 2021 Hiking & Camping 11
scatman Snake River Lollipop Loop - Yellowstone National Park - August 8, 2021 Backpacking 45
chebba87 Invite Looking for partner - Yellowstone late August Meet Up (Members Only) 1
Christo Water availability:Thorofare Yellowstone Trip Planning 4
travel2walk Lamar River, Pelican Valley, & Speciman Ridge loop - Yellowstone, Jun 29 to Jul 3, 2021 Backpacking 15
Bob Yellowstone traffic General Discussion 21
futurafree Yellowstone partners in July Meet Up (Members Only) 0
LarryBoy A Greater Yellowstone Loop - 2020 Trip Reports 18

Similar threads

Don't like ads? Become a BCP Supporting Member and kiss them all goodbye. Click here for more info.