Rules & Regulations

The following rules and regulations have been sorted by subject for your convenience. This section does not attempt to duplicate the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) so it should not be regarded as a comprehensive list of regulations. It will, however, answer many of the most common questions regarding park rules. The Superintendent’s Orders (Compendium) is a listing of local regulations that is more technical and comprehensive concerning local issues.

Superintendent’s Compendium

The purpose of the compendium (135 KB pdf) is to provide the public and park employees with a document that lists the special designations, closures, public use limits, permit requirements and other restrictions imposed under the discretionary authority of the Superintendent

Basic Regulations Affecting Visitors

  • All wild animals are potentially dangerous – do not approach or feed wildlife.
  • Food, garbage, and all items used for storing, preparing or eating food must be properly hung whenever they are not being carried or used – day and night.
  • Swimming, soaking, and bathing in water entirely of thermal origin is prohibited.
  • Altering or putting objects in thermal features is also prohibited.
  • All plants, animals, animal parts, mineral features, archeological sites, and cultural artifacts in the park are protected. Removing, disturbing and/or damaging them is prohibited.
  • A permit is required for all overnight trips in the backcountry.
  • Pets, firearms, weapons, traps, motorized and wheeled devices, except some wheelchairs, are prohibited in the backcountry. Bicycles are allowed only on paved roads and on specially designated routes.
  • Fires are allowed only in established fire rings and must be attended at all times. Only dead and down wood may be used as firewood.
  • Solid human waste must be buried at least 100 feet from a water source, campsite, or trail. All trash must be packed out.
  • Contaminating park waters with any materials including soap, waste, food, etc. that may pollute or alter a water source is prohibited.
  • Tossing or rolling rocks or other objects down hillsides or into caves or canyons is prohibited.
  • Nuts, berries, and mushrooms may be picked only for personal consumption at the gatherer’s own risk.
  • Permits are required for fishing, boating, and using float tubes.
  • The use of electronic equipment to track wildlife is prohibited.
  • Animal calls, audio attractants or other means of attracting or disturbing wildlife are prohibited.

Backcountry Permits

Permits are required for overnight backcountry use and may be obtained in person up to 48 hours in advance from any ranger station. Rangers will provide information on weather, trails, and other conditions.

Firearms, weapons, traps and nets, pets, motorized equipment, wheeled vehicles, and hay are prohibited in the backcountry. We do allow wheelchairs and trained service animals in the backcountry. Due to personal safety concerns, please contact the Central Backcountry Office for further information before taking a wheelchair or service animal into the backcountry.

Bicycling

Bicycling is permitted on established public roads and designated routes. There are no bicycle paths along roadways. Park roads are narrow and winding; most do not have a shoulder, or shoulders are covered with gravel. Vehicles, especially motor homes or those towing trailers, may have wide mirrors, posing an additional hazard for cyclists and pedestrians. All bikes are prohibited on backcountry trails and boardwalks. Motorhomes and towing units are required to remove detachable side mirrors when not pulling trailers.

We strongly recommend that safety gear, including helmet and high visibility clothing, be worn by all bicyclists. Park roads are narrow and winding; most do not have a shoulder or shoulders are covered by gravel. During April, May, and June, high snowbanks make travel more dangerous. Road elevations range from 5300 to 8,860 feet (1,615 – 2,700 m). Relatively long distances exist between services and facilities.

Boating

Motorized boats are allowed only on Lewis Lake and Yellowstone Lake. Boat launches are located at Bridge Bay Marina and Grant Village on Yellowstone Lake and on the south end of Lewis Lake near the Lewis Lake Campground.

Canoes, kayaks and other non-motorized boats are permitted on all park lakes except for Sylvan Lake, Eleanor Lake, Twin Lakes and Beach Springs Lagoon. All park rivers are closed to boating except for the section of the Lewis River between Lewis Lake and Shoshone Lake, where non-motorized boating is permitted. The only reasonably accessible lakes for canoeing or kayaking are Yellowstone Lake, Lewis Lake and Shoshone Lake. Access to other lakes requires long portages.

Float tubes are considered non-motorized boats and subject to the same regulations. Water-skiing, jet skis and related activities are not allowed on any park waters.

For more information on boating in Yellowstone, including permitting and registration requirements, see the Park’s Boating Regulations pamphlet [PDF].

Camping

Camping outside designated sites, at sites for which you are not permitted, or within 100 feet of a water source is prohibited. Digging a trench or leveling the ground is prohibited.  Camping in undesignated sites is occasionally allowed under certain circumstances and with special approval on a case-by-case basis. Stringent policies govern this privilege, and adherence to Leave No Trace skills and ethics is required. Camping in designated campsites is not required during the winter season.

Campsite Safety Rules and Recommendations

  • A food storage pole is provided at most campsites, so that food and other attractants can be suspended. You need to provide your own rope (35 feet recommended).
  • Suspend items 10 feet above ground and 4 feet out from uprights
  • In addition to food and garbage, suspend all odorous items including toothpaste, deodorant and lotion
  • Keep a clean camp; pack out all garbage
  • Don’t sleep in the same clothes worn while cooking
  • Store food in airtight containers
  • Where possible, keep your sleeping area 100 yards from your cooking and food-storage area
  • Strain food particles from dishwater and pack out with trash. Scatter dishwater at least 100 yards from tent site
  • Bring at least 35 feet of rope to hang food
  • Line your pack or panniers with plastic bags Never eat or store food in your tent
  • Sleep in a tent, not under the stars
  • Avoid placing your tent near dead standing trees

Climbing

Climbing is allowed in only a few areas of Yellowstone National Park, however it is illegal in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone Park area. Contact the backcountry office in Yellowstone for more information.

Firearms

As of February 22, 2010, a new federal law allows people who can legally possess firearms under applicable federal, state, and local laws, to legally possess firearms in this park.  The law allows you to carry a firearm consistent with the laws of the state within which the park resides (in Yellowstone’s case, that involves Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho).  You’re permitted to carry a weapon, but may not bring it into certain buildings.  You can find out more about the specifics of this law and its application in Yellowstone HERE.

Fires

Open wood fires are permitted only in established fire rings at designated campsites. Use only dead and down wood which is wrist size or smaller so that it can be burned completely before you leave the campsite. Make certain the fire is cold before leaving your site. Restrictions may be in place due to dry conditions and forest fire danger. At some sites fires are not permitted any time of year; backpacking stoves are allowed at all campsites.

Fishing Regulations

Yellowstone National Park is managed to protect cultural and natural resources and outstanding scenery, and to provide for visitor use. Fishing has been a major visitor activity for well over a century. Because of this history, fishing continues to be allowed and can complement, and in some cases even enhance, the park’s primary purpose to preserve natural environments and native species.

Yellowstone National Park offers some of the finest trout fishing in America. But as important as fish are to anglers, they are even more important to the park’s native residents. Bald eagles, osprey, pelicans, otters, grizzly bears and other wildlife depend on fish for a major portion of their diet. Additionally, all fish are wild (there is no stocking), so populations must have sufficient numbers of adult fish to reproduce and maintain populations, and assure genetic diversity. Cutthroat trout, grayling, and mountain whitefish— the native sport fish—are catch and release only in all park waters. More information is available on YNP’s Fishing page.The fishing season begins the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend (usually the last weekend in May) and extends through and includes the first Sunday in November. Exceptions are noted within the Exceptions to General Regulationstable within YNP’s Fishing Regulations handbook [(2.8 MB pdf). Also note that there are areas within the park that are permanently closed to human entry and disturbance, have seasonal area and trail closures, off-trail travel and daylight hour limitations, and party size recommendations.

A current Yellowstone Fishing Permit is required. Anglers 16 years of age and older are required to purchase a three-day, seven-day, or a season permit. Anglers 12 to 15 years of age are required to obtain a non-fee permit. Permits are available at all ranger stations, visitor centers, general stores in the park, and many vendors in our gateway communities. State fishing licenses are not required in the park and are not a substitute for a Yellowstone Fishing Permit.

Pets

  1. Pets are prohibited in the backcountry and on trails and boardwalks for the following reasons:
    • Yellowstone National Park is a designated natural area where wildlife are free to roam undisturbed. Park visitors should be able to enjoy native wildlife in their natural environment without the disruption of other people’s pets.
    • Pets occasionally escape from their owners. Domestic animals generally lack the ability to survive in the wild.
    • Yellowstone is bear country, and domestic animals (especially dogs) and bears are traditionally antagonists. A loose dog can lead a bear directly back to you.
    • There is a strong possibility that your pet could become prey for a bear, coyote, owl, or other predator.
    • There is a possibility of exchange of diseases between domestic animals and wildlife.
    • Thermal areas pose particular hazards to pets. Boiling water in pools and thermal channels can cause severe or fatal burns if your pet decides to take a drink or go for a swim.
  2. Pets may accompany you in the front country areas of the park. This includes any areas within 100 feet of roads, parking areas, and campgrounds. Pets must be kept under physical control at all times – caged, crated, or on a leash not to exceed six feet in length.
  3. It is prohibited to leave a pet unattended and tied to an object. If necessary, pets may remain in your vehicle while you are viewing attractions near roads and parking areas. However, we care about your pet’s well being. Be sure to provide sufficient ventilation for its comfort and survival. Pets running at large may be impounded and the owner charged for the care and feeding of the animal. By law, any domestic animal observed by authorities to be molesting or killing wildlife may be destroyed if necessary for public safety or the protection of wildlife.
  4. Pets should leave no traces other than footprints. The owner is responsible for clean-up and disposal of all pet feces. Please be thoughtful of other visitors as well as your pet.

Swimming

There are no swimming pools in Yellowstone, and swimming, bathing, or wading in thermal features, or in streams whose waters flow from thermal features, is illegal. River, stream, and lake water is so cold that hypothermia is a serious possibility. Swimming is generally discouraged.

Thermal Areas

Yellowstone’s thermal features are extraordinary natural wonders. Most are formed through decades or centuries of natural processes. It is illegal to throw objects into features, deface them or remove any natural features from the park. Stay on boardwalks and designated trails; watch for frosty and icy trails and boardwalks, especially in the morning. Pets are prohibited in thermal areas. Swimming or bathing in the thermal pools or streams whose waters flow entirely from a thermal spring or pool is prohibited.

Traffic

Yellowstone has more than 350 miles (564 km) of roads. Most are narrow, rough, and busy. Some sections are steep with sharp drop-offs. Drive cautiously and courteously. Slow moving vehicles must use pullouts to observe wildlife or scenery and to allow safe passing by other vehicles. Watch for animals on the road, especially at night.

Bicycles and motorcycles present special hazards. Drive defensively and wear seat belts. Yellowstone has a mandatory seat belt requirement for all passengers. Be especially cautious of ice and road damage. Cool temperatures may occur at any time of the year. The maximum speed limit is 45 mph (73 km per hour) unless posted otherwise.

Transporting Carcasses Through the Park

Game animal carcasses or parts may be transported through Yellowstone by motor vehicle on park roads only:

  • The transport of heads and spinal cords from deer, elk, or moose through the park is prohibited if they were taken in states known to have chronic wasting disease in wildlife. More details of the regulations can be found at www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/compendium.htm, page 15.
  • The transporter will keep the items/carcass covered and out of sight.
  • The route is direct and continuous with no stopping except for essential or emergency situations.
  • Transported carcasses are not allowed to overnight within the park boundaries.
  • Carcasses are freshly harvested and accompanied by a marked/valid state tag documenting legal harvest outside the park.
  • All carcasses, shed antlers, skulls, horns, bones, and other parts must be accompanied by a “Yellowstone Permit to Transport” issued at the point of entry into the park. Commercial transport of such items is prohibited. Those states affected include: Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Weapons

No firearms or weapons, including state-permitted concealed weapons, are allowed in Yellowstone. However, unloaded firearms may be transported in a vehicle when the weapon is cased, broken down, or rendered inoperable, and kept out of sight. Ammunition must be placed in a separate compartment of the vehicle.

Wildlife Regulations

Yellowstone’s abundant and diverse wildlife are as famous as its geysers. Habitat preferences and seasonal cycles of movement determine, in a general sense, where a particular animal may be at a particular time. Early morning and evening hours are when animals tend to be feeding and thus are more easily seen. But remember that the numbers and variety of animals you see are largely a matter of luck and coincidence. Check at visitor centers for detailed information.

Wild animals, especially females with young, are unpredictable. Keep a safe distance from all wildlife. Each year a number of park visitors are injured by wildlife when approaching too closely. Approaching on foot within 100 yards (91 m) of bears or wolves or within 25 yards (23 m) of other wildlife is prohibited. Please use roadside pullouts when viewing wildlife. Use binoculars or telephoto lenses for safe viewing and to avoid disturbing them. By being sensitive to its needs, you will see more of an animal’s natural behavior and activity. If you cause an animal to move, you are too close!

  • BISON may appear tame and slow but they are unpredictable and dangerous. They weigh up to 2,000 pounds (900 kg) and sprint at 30 miles per hour (48 kph), three time faster than you can run! Every year visitors are gored and some have been killed.
  • BEARS – Be alert for tracks and sign. The best way to avoid a bear is to take all necessary precautions to avoid surprise encounters. If precautionary measures fail and you are charged by a bear, you can still usually defuse the situation. Pepper spray is a good last line of defense and it is effective in more than 90% of the reported cases where it has been used. Become familiar with your pepper spray, read all instructions, and know its limitations. Pepper spray must be instantly available, not in your pack. Remember, carrying pepper spray is not a substitute for vigilance and good safety precautions.  If you are injured by a bear (regardless of how minor), or if you observe bear or bear sign, report it to a park ranger as soon as possible. Someone’s safety may depend on it.
  • COYOTES quickly learn bad habits like roadside begging. This may lead to aggressive behavior toward humans. Never approach or feed a begging coyote.
  • RAVENS have learned to unzip and unsnap packs. Do not allow them access to your food. Do not feed any animals. It harms them and it is illegal.

It is illegal to willfully remain near or approach wildlife, including birds, within ANY distance that disturbs or displaces the animal.