If you’re looking to tent, car or RV camp for free in the Jackson Hole-Teton Range area, there are several dispersed camping as well as designated dispersed areas in the Bridger-Teton National Forest that are nearby the town of Jackson and the entrances to both Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.
There are two types of dispersed camping options on public lands: general and designated. The Forest Service uses the term “dispersed camping” to mean that visitors to the forest are camping outside of a developed campground facility. In undeveloped areas of the forest, there are no services (such as potable water and trash removal) and generally no facilities (such as tables and restrooms.)
Due to overuse and high impacts, certain areas of the forest in the Jackson Hole Valley have designated dispersed camping sites, i.e., numbered for use. This is to help lessen the amount of impact on the resource. Volunteer camping ambassadors are on-site in these particular areas and are available for responsible camping and area visitation advice. The Bridger-Teton National Forest’s website has information on where these designated dispersed areas are located. Please note that access to a couple of camping areas generally require a 4WD or high-clearance vehicle or van/RV.
Camping Stay Limits
Stays in the Jackson Ranger District and certain areas of the Blackrock Ranger District are limited to 5 days between May 1st and Labor Day. (Buffalo Valley is currently at a 14-day limit). After 5 (or 14) days, you must move to another ranger district to camp. You may only return to the Jackson Ranger District after 30 days. All camping areas fill up quickly, with popular spots generally full by the afternoon. The best time to secure a site is usually mid-morning after people have packed up and left. If a tent is already in a campsite — and the site is large — please do not assume you can share the spot without speaking to the current occupants.
Paid Campgrounds in the Forest
The forest also has two paid campgrounds in the Jackson Ranger Distric that are "first come, first served," i.e., no reservations.
• Atherton Creek Campground is a beautiful, quiet campground in the Gros Ventre Wilderness with 22 campsites along Lower Slide Lake, about 40 minutes from the Moose entrance of Grand Teton National Park. Rates: $15/night for a single site, $25/ night for double site; $7 fee for extra 2nd vehicle and no more than 2 vehicles per site.
• Curtis Canyon Campground. This wooded campground offers 12 campsites near the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, about 15 to 20 minutes from the town of Jackson and approximately 40 minutes from the Moose entrance of Grand Teton National Park. The campground is mere steps from the Curtis Canyon Overlook which has enviable views of the Teton Range, and is a favorite spot to ogle the gorgeous sunsets. Rates: $15/night for a single unit, $7 fee for extra 2nd vehicle; no more than 2 vehicles per site.
For information on paid campgrounds in other areas of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, click here.
All paid campgrounds and designated dispersed areas can accommodate vans and RV's but it’s recommended that they be less than 30 feet in length.
Do’s and Don’ts Of Camping
Just like with any other form of recreating, camping — especially in dispersed areas — comes with its own set of do's and don'ts.
The Friends of the Bridger-Teton is a 5-year-old nonprofit founded to support the Bridger-Teton National Forest through funding, volunteer work and education. Its recommended “Five Keys for A Successful Camping Experience” are as follows:
1. Campfires: Check for restrictions and ensure it is dead-out
2. Food, attractants and refuse must be acceptably stored or acceptably possessed during daytime hours
3. Take care of your human waste and use sound sanitization practices
4. Know your stay limit
5. Travel with motor vehicles only on designated routes
Let’s break down — and expand upon — the above keys as follows.
• Jackson’s arid climate makes it extra susceptible to wildfires. DO NOT have a campfire if there are local fire restrictions in place. You can stay current on fire restrictions at the Bridger-Teton Jackson Ranger District headquarters at 340 N. Cache Street, or at TetonFires.com. DO NOT leave a campfire unattended and DO extinguish your fire before you go to bed and/or before leaving the next day. A campfire is only fully out if it is cool to the touch. Please stir up the fire’s remains to make sure there are no lingering embers. DO bring plenty 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. And finally, DO NOT put or leave food in the rock ring or metal fire ring; this is a bear attractant.
• Speaking of bears, DO carry bear spray. Jackson Hole is grizzly country. It is highly recommended that you carry bear spray while hiking and also have it at the ready when camping. DON'T leave bear attractants outside of your tent or vehicle, as a black or grizzly bear wandering around day or night could get a whiff of it and amble over to your tent or fire ring or outside your rig/car to check it out. Store any food, trash, toiletries and anything else with an odor in a hard-sided vehicle. Remember: A fed bear is a dead bear.
• DO dig a cathole for your poop. It should be 6 to 8 inches deep and be at least 200 feet (75 steps) from water, campsites and trails. DON’T forget to cover up the hole with dirt!
• DO pack out everything you bring. In other words, leave your campsite better than you found it. For more information on “leave no trace,” click here.
• DO Geotag responsibly on social media to protect areas that don’t show excessive footprints. Literally.
• Lastly, it can take the ecosystem decades to recover from damage caused by cars or foot traffic, so DO respect wildlife and vegetation area closures.
For more detailed information on camping in the Bridger-Teton, visit fs.usda.gov.
If you'd like to read a fun book about camping in the Bridger-Teton National Forest ("Cowboys and Campers: Tales From a Bridger-Teton National Forest Camping Ambassador"), click here.
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