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A Guide to Hiking at Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park: Backcountry Hiking and Camping

Yellowstone has a designated backcountry camping system, featuring a number of campsites where visitors can stay one to three nights with a permit. Most of these sites are small; the park typically allows only one party of visitors to set up shop at a time [source: National Park Service].

Unfettered nature is what makes the backcountry a destination for adventurers. It's also what makes some backcountry hiking trails hard to spot and follow. Orange metal tags hang on trees and posts to mark maintained trails. Once on a trail, however, it can be hard to follow as a result of meadow growth, fire damage and infrequent use. The National Park Service (NPS) recommends that backcountry hikers carry a compass and topographic map -- and be sure you can read them or they won't do you much good.

In addition to directional tools, hikers should also be prepared to deal with a variety of weather. Many backcountry trails are 7,000 feet (2,134 meters) above sea level and most see snow into May, at least. Several passes also require to travelers ford cold creeks and streams up to 25 feet (7.6 meters) wide and 6 feet (1.8 meters) deep, often moving at a swift clip [source: National Park Service]. Hypothermia is the leading cause of death in the backcountry, according to the NPS.

Shoshone Lake, Yellowstone backcountry's largest lake, is a popular destination for hikers. The Lake has no road access and only non-motorized boats are permitted on its waters. The easiest route is via DeLacy Creek Trail, starting 8 miles (12.8 kilometers) east of Old Faithful [sources: National Park Service, Frommer's].

Meanwhile, the Thorofare Trailoffers multi-day hikes through Yellowstone's deep wilderness, the length of which depends on where you let in. In order to understand just how remote this stretch of land is, consider that the Thorofare patrol cabin is farther from a road than any other occupied dwelling in the country. Hikers can camp along the trail, ascend the park's southern border and -- particularly in the early summer -- expect to come across grizzly bears [source: National Geographic].

The backcountry, of course, is not for everyone. Rest assured that you need not be a grizzled, coonskin cap-wearing mountain man (or woman) to enjoy the wonders of Yellowstone, as well as all the other great outdoor destinations across the country. Read on for great links to more information on camping and hiking.