Good morning! We had such an amazing vacation at Yellowstone National Park, probably because I quit over-planning and was flexible with our schedule. We saw so many amazing sites, and being flexible in the park made our vacation more relaxed. One thing I did plan, research and book early was where we camped near Yellowstone.
There are so many options when visiting Yellowstone: stay in the park, camp in the park, cabins/motels/airbnbs near the park and camping near the park! It is hard to decide!
We talked about a room in the park and almost reserved an airbnb near Yellowstone, but camping is sooo much cheaper.
We also talked about camping in the park, but this year there is some campground construction. We were also worried about driving the 5th wheel into the park with curvy and possibly steep roads.
Since this was our 1st visit and we were unsure of driving over the Bighorn Mountains and really unsure of Yellowstone driving, we decided to camp near the park.
For us, camping near the park was the best choice. We did see motorhomes, 5th wheel campers and lots of camper vans driving in Yellowstone. Some were big, more were small, but I’m glad none of them were us!
They all were fine, but some of the curves and drop-offs made me nervous in the dually truck, I can’t imagine also pulling a camper.
Since were were traveling from Iowa, through South Dakota on I90 and then over the Bighorn Mountains on Highway 16, we were headed through Cody, Wyoming to the East Entrance.
Cody could be a base camp for Yellowstone. There are many motels, many campgrounds, many restaurants, lots of shopping and many interesting things to do. We did drive into Cody one day, for (lots of) shopping and milk.
But Cody is almost 1 ½ hours from the East Entrance of Yellowstone and the East Entrance is 40 min-1 hour from the main figure 8 loop road.
That would roughly be 2 ½ hour to get to the figure 8 loop. Yellowstone is huge with lots of driving between attractions, so we wanted to be closer.
There are also many nice choices to stay between Cody and Yellowstone. Since we planned to go into the park on most days, we wanted to be a close as possible to Yellowstone.
Rex Hale Campground in Shoshone National Forest was a great base camp for our Yellowstone Adventures! It is the closest campground with electricity and potable water.
There are other Shoshone National Forest campgrounds and other ranches closer to the East Entrance, but we were staying about 1 week and wanted electricity and water.
Rex Hale campground is 18 miles from the East Entrance, so it is still a 25-30 minute drive to the park, but an hour closer than Cody.
Currently, it is only $20 for an electric site and $15 for a non-electric site. It’s a great price, the same as our favorite state park!
You can reserve 6 months early, and I would recommend reserving as early as you can. We made reservations 5 months ahead of time and we had to reserve 2 separate spots for our stay, moving spots ½ way through.
There are 28 spots, but most are non-electric, one row is electric. There are just a couple 1st come, 1st serve electric /water spots. When we were camping, most people only stayed 1 or 2 nights. There were a lot of empty non-electric spots and some empty electric spots.
But next time we go, I will still reserve early to make sure and get a spot- the price and location are hard to beat!
Rex Hale is a nice, clean campground. It is close to the highway, but there is not traffic noise. The sites are level with space in between sites.
It can get windy, so we never used our awning even though there are not many trees and not much shade. I preferred the fewer trees though- it is bear country and I liked being able to see around.
There are bear boxes at each site and the host made sure to tell us about how to not attract bears and about putting things away, especially grills.
Ed, the host, is very nice and helpful. He is from the area and is familiar with the roads and he was also nice enough to help us plan a new route home to avoid the steep parts of the Bighorn Mountains (post coming soon!).
The toilets are vault toilets, but they are very clean. There is water available and our electric spot had a spigot, but the campground does not have a dump station. We really conserved water with super short showers and the vault toilets.
Buffalo Bill State Park has a dump station. It costs $12, is 26 miles east of Rex Hale, but it is an easy drive. There is a free dump station on the east side of Cody, but we didn’t use it.
Be Prepared-Bring Supplies
Rex Hale is a great base camp for exploring Yellowstone, but being prepared to stay there is also important.
Just like Yellowstone, there is no cell phone signal at Rex Hale. Ed, the host, would be very helpful in an emergency (might even have a CB radio?) and we saw National Forest vehicles drive through, but they are not there 24 hours/ 7 days a week.
We made sure to bring supplies and food with us. Most of the food came in the camper from Iowa, but we did stop twice at the Cody Walmart- once on our way to Rex Hale and one midweek for milk and bread.
Thankfully, we did not need to drive to Cody for ice every morning. Since we saved money and time by packing snacks and lunch every day, we needed ice everyday.
Pahaska Tepee, a resort 5 minutes from the East Entrance, has a small store with ice, some supplies and a mailbox for grandbaby postcards!
On really early days, before Pahaska Tepee opened, we bought ice at Bridge Bay in the park. Near the restroom is an ice machine that takes cash and it worked great! It was way easier than I thought, of course I didn’t use it- the husband did.
Even though we had some long driving days in Yellowstone (the park is just huge!), I’m so glad we had Rex Hale campground as our base camp. It is the closest campground with electricity and water for the East Entrance. It is also clean, spacious, pretty and a great price-I can’t wait to go back!
Happy Camping (or figuring out the bear-proof dumpsters!)