There’s nothing quite like sleeping under the stars. But around here, even open air requires a reservation. If you’re hoping to camp in or around Jackson Hole in the summertime, you’ll need to plan ahead.
Camping on our public lands in the Bridger-Teton National Forest is first-come-first-served. Still, planning ahead is critical. Sites fill up quickly — popular spots are generally full by the afternoon. Even at dispersed campsites — meaning, sites without facilities like bathrooms — the Forest Service has worked hard to offer numbered, maintained spots to park your car. It can take the ecosystem decades to recover from damage caused by cars, foot traffic, and fire pits.If you can’t find a numbered site on Forest Service land, don’t make your own. Choose durable surfaces like pine needles, sand, and rocks when parking and pitching your tent.
Jackson’s arid climate makes it extra susceptible to wildfires. Do not have a fire if there are local fire restrictions in place. You can stay current on fire restrictions at local ranger stations or at TetonFires.com. Even if there are no restrictions, be mindful of current fire danger and never leave a campfire unattended. A campfire is only fully out if it is cool to the touch. Douse it in water (officials suggest 2 gallons), and stir up your firepit to make sure there are no lingering embers.
Finally, you’re in bear country, so be bear aware. Store any food, trash, toiletries, and anything else with an odor in a bear box or hard-sided vehicle. If you’re in the backcountry without a bear box, you can hang food from trees or bear hangs at least 10 feet above the ground and 4 feet away from tree trunks.
Clean up crew
Until 2017, Shadow Mountain and Curtis Canyon were free-for-all camp spots. Campers could pull up anywhere there was room and park their cars for as long as they wanted. But the constant degradation from car tires started to take its toll, and the damage bordered on irreparable. After a public National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review in 2017, new laws mandated that campers can only park at designated, numbered campsites and could only stay for five days. Still, maintaining those sites was going to require some extra help.
Enter: Friends of the Bridger-Teton. The nonprofit was founded in October 2018 to support the Bridger-Teton National Forest through funding, volunteer work, and education. Friends of the Bridger-Teton has spent countless hours rebuilding firepits, numbering campsites, installing and maintaining portapotties, and helping the Forest maintain the millions of acres of land that surrounds Jackson.
Now, their mission is to engage and inspire. Friends of the Bridger-Teton is eager to help visitors leave a positive mark on the land, because the best souvenir is a place you can return to. Learn more about how to volunteer to preserve local campsites, support Friends of Bridger-Teton’s mission, or just take a pledge to camp and recreate responsibly.
When to go
If you really want to beat the crowds, try camping in spring or fall. But if you’re visiting Jackson Hole in the summertime, make your camping plans well in advance. Reserve your National Park campsites at Recreation.gov. If you want to camp on Forest Service land without a reservation, stake your claim early. The Forest Service estimates campsites fill by 4 p.m.
How to do it
You don’t need fancy gear to have a good time. But there are a few basic necessities you’ll want to bring: you can rent tents, sleeping bags, and other essentials in town. Bear spray is a must – but know how to use it before you go! Bring lots of water. Experts suggest 2 gallons just to douse your fire, plus more than you think you’ll need to drink, cook, and clean with. Stick to designated campsites, plan ahead, get there early, and enjoy mother nature.
Know before you go
Practice Leave No Trace by camping on durable surfaces, packing out everything you bring (even food waste), and generally trying to leave your campsite better than you found it. Stay current on local fire restrictions and follow them — fires spark quickly and easily around here. Be bear aware and store any food or trash in hard-sided vehicles or bear boxes. Never leave trash, food or fires unattended.