Yellowstone Backpacking Campfire Protocols

Most of our clients really love the warm glow of a wilderness campfire while backpacking in Yellowstone. It’s a great way to begin the day on a chilly mountain morning, and the evening campfire is a great ritual for after dinner relaxation. Of course, Big Wild Adventures runs guided wilderness hiking tours in many areas of the American West, but the rules and regulations for Yellowstone backpack treks are somewhat unique. For one thing, back-country groups are required to camp in designated primitive campsites, and most of them are lovely with great views and good access to water. And when we reserve a camp (which we do prior to the trip), it is ours exclusively, so solitude is pretty much guaranteed. Some of the campsites forbid fires for various reasons, such as they receive relatively heavy use or they are in fairly open terrain with limited forest cover and therefore minimal dead wood. But most of Yellowstone’s back-country campsites do allow fires, unless drought restrictions are in place due to high fire danger.

While backpacking in Yellowstone, a few simple rules and protocols minimize the impact of campfires. First, in Yellowstone all campfires are restricted to designated fire-rings that the Park Service maintains at each camp. No fires outside of the fireplace! Also, it is forbidden to break dead branches off of standing trees. This is a rule that is rather unique to Yellowstone. Collect only firewood that is dead and down. On most of our guided Yellowstone backpacking trips, we use campfires not just for warmth and ambiance, but also for cooking. And the biggest mistake that novices make when collecting dead firewood is to choose chunks of wood that are too large — particularly, too large for efficient use while cooking. As someone who has probably cooked over 4,000 meals for groups on campfires, I really appreciate it when our folks bring me firewood that is properly sized, and dry and with minimal rot! In the next post I’ll describe the specifics of good firewood collecting in more detail. So stay tuned…..

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