MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, Wyo. — There’s a community spirit when you camp in Yellowstone National Park, said Kris Yasord as she sat in the shade of her family’s RV on a windy June afternoon.
“People share information about what they saw and where,” said the Oregon camper. “There are a lot of other places you could go if you want solitude.”
There’s no doubt about that. Last year more than 4 million tourists visited Yellowstone, a new record. Of those visitors almost 20 percent — or around 811,000 — chose to camp out in tents, vans, trailers and RVs, according to Park Service statistics. Thanks to Yellowstone’s typically cool climate, most of those tourists are crammed into the summer months.
Of the folks who chose to camp out, the majority — more than 581,000 — favored concession operated sites where reservations can be made. Fishing Bridge on Yellowstone Lake is the most popular campground, attracting 101,000 visitors last year where they can plug RVs into electrical outlets. Another 45,000 opted to seek a less crowded option at backcountry campsites accessible only by foot or horseback.
In the first five months, the park has topped last year’s early visitation by more than 75,000 folks. That may be proof that once again Yellowstone faces another record-setting year for tourism. This year has the added attraction of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, which has been widely advertised, assisted by continued low gas prices.
Yellowstone has consistently proven to be a draw for people, not only from around the region, but around the world. Stop to chat with campers, and there’s no telling who you will meet or the unique tales you may hear.
Take Canadian Dale Wiggins, for example. He piloted his 250cc Yamaha motorcycle roughly 8,000 miles across much of the Western United States before reaching Yellowstone last month.
“It’s on my bucket list,” he said while relaxing at a picnic table next to his small pitched tent. “I wanted to see what was in my neighbor’s back yard.
“All I’ve been doing is hitting state parks and national parks.”
Lean, tan and wind-weathered, Wiggins said every place he’s visited has its own charm. Yellowstone is different in one significant way, though.
“That’s one thing I noticed: When people get in the park, their minds turn to jelly,” he said, which makes him drive even more defensively than usual.
As for the possibility of one of the park’s natives — a black bear or grizzly — wandering through the campground, Wiggins said it was not a concern.
“They are who they are,” he said. “I treat nature as the locals.”
From out West
For California campers Marth and Erik Thomson, Yellowstone was a convenient stopover on the way to a marvelous adventure for Erik.
“I’m going to canoe all the way down the Mississippi,” he said.
The trip would start when he launched a canoe on the nearby Yellowstone River. It’s an odyssey he was looking forward to enjoying with his two dogs, who would co-pilot the boat.
“I’ve been wanting to hear that sound of just the wind, no freeway,” he said, leaning up against their car in his shorts and a black T-shirt that read “Keep Calm and Ask Your Mom.
“I’m going to worry about what’s around the next bend and nothing else.”
Yellowstone holds fond memories for Marth, who lives in Atascadero, Calif. But the park had changed significantly from the last time she was there about 20 years ago — namely, there were more people everywhere she went.
“I remember we just walked right up to one of the main attractions, swam in the river,” she said wistfully. “It wasn’t nearly this crowded or restricted.”
Even with Yellowstone more crowded than ever, Kris Yasord still loves to return.
“Yellowstone is my favorite park,” she said. “I’ve been coming here since I was 4, and I’ve been back several times.”
Then Yasord’s mother poked her head out of the RV and corrected that her daughter had actually been to Yellowstone when she was only a year-and-a-half old.
The attraction for the family is the bubbling mud pots and geysers, “things that you can see here that you can’t see anywhere else,” Yasord said.
There was one fly in the campground ointment for the family, though. Nowhere on the website could the family find any information about the use of children’s scooters in the campground. So instead of hauling bicycles cross country, they saved space and brought scooters only to find out the campground host wouldn’t let the children ride them.
“They were really bummed,” said Jami Yasord, the kids’ father.
So his oldest daughter, Cedar, found another way to entertain herself, climbing in a worn juniper tree next to their RV. Like her mother, Cedar said she enjoys coming to the park “because it’s really cool and there are lots of creatures you can’t see anywhere else.” While large creatures like bison and elk may attract the majority of tourists’ attention, Cedar was just as intrigued by the wee ground squirrels scuttling around the campground.