It seems that sometimes the best places you stay at are found by accident. You can scour the internet reviews etc, but until you get somewhere you just never know. This was especially true a few weeks ago when we pulled into the Island Park area in Idaho, just a little outside of Yellowstone National Park. We had been planning to boondock on some BLM and Forest Service land and had done the obligatory research on Free Campsites.net.
It was raining when we pulled onto the dirt road that led uphill to the campsites. As we came around the corner, we stopped as there was a truck and 5th wheel attempting a 3 point turn right in front of us. I spoke to the guy driving and he said that the road was washed out so they were leaving.
We decided to do the same. There are a few camping spots in the area so no need to be silly and get stuck. We pulled out and headed for the number 2 location on our list.
We had a hard time finding the next site but came across Henry’s Lake State Park. We don’t usually look too much into state parks because they generally do not have any hookups AND you have to pay. There is too much free boondocking around so we just don’t pay too much attention.
But it was getting late, raining, and dim out so we decided to check the rates and availability to stay overnight and then find our boondocking site in the morning. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the rates started at just $29 and they have sites ranging from electric only to full hookups.
We quickly made the purchase and pulled into our site – a walk-in site. Unbelievable, this was meant to be!
This campground sits right on the south shore of Henry’s Lake- only about 20 minutes from Yellowstone National Park. The views of the surrounding mountains are superb. There is a wetland surrounding about 1/2 of the lake so wildlife and bird viewing is also great.
Our site actually backed right up to the lake. It was spectacular. The land slopes gently up from the shore, so the farther back sites still have beautiful views. While most of the park is reservable, there are several walk-in only sites that are first come first served. Getting into these can be tough at times, but once on a site, you can keep it for up to 14 days.
All sites are gravel or paved, have fire rings and picnic tables. Wildlife viewing opportunities are frequent. There is currently a momma and baby moose in residence in the wetland, and there have been several bear sightings this summer. We saw a huge herd of Elk just north of the lake one morning. Hawks, white pelicans, and the famed Trumpeter Swans can be seen as well as a host of other birds.
The lake is known for cutthroat trout and though they are elusive, we have seen more than a few 10-15 pounders taken over these past weeks.
Along with the site amenities, this park has 2 large bathroom/ shower facilities one of which was being newly renovated by possibly the slowest construction crew in the history of mankind!. The other was open and there were plenty of port-o-potty’s scattered around to make sure anyone who has to poo has a place to do it. There are trails to walk and a boat ramp with docks.
There is even a small beach if you care to take a dip, just beware there are leeches in the way – they’re pretty small but my kids weren’t too keen on them. There is no playground for kids, but the spaces are huge, there is plenty of open space to run around and the roads are all paved for biking and scootering. Our kiddos have never been bored. There are always plenty of other kids around here to play with.
There is a dump station on site which is free with camping and for Idaho residents and $5 if you just come by to dump/fill. There is no laundry facility here, but there is a huge laundry just across the road. It’s kind of old/crappy and half the machines always seem to be out of order but there are a lot of them so you can get your clothes clean. You can’t beat $1.50 for a washer and .25 cents every 10 minutes for a dryer!
West Yellowstone has groceries but is a total tourist town and can be a bit expensive. Walmart is 45 minutes away in Rexburg and Sams Club is a little over an hour and a half in Idaho Falls.
Prices in the park range between $20 and $35 depending on what type of site you want and whether you are an Idaho resident. For stays longer than 8 days, you can purchase the annual pass which gets you $5 off per day. Unbelievable pricing for a park in this kind of location and only 20 minutes to the entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
West Yellowstone RV parks go for no less than $70 a night!
The Yellowstone RV Parks are a bit more affordable, but there are very few spots with full hookups. There is some nice camping but the Yellowstone National Park campground RV length restrictions make it impossible for a big rig like ours to camp there. The National parks campgrounds generally were built many years ago so the best RV size for National Parks tends to be less than 30 feet.
Henry’s Lake State Park is very family friendly. The staff here are first rate! From the park rangers to the work campers and hosts, we have enjoyed meeting and getting to know the staff here immensely. They are friendly, kind and helpful in every way. Bouncing people around all of these sites on a day to day basis can be quite difficult and these folks always do it with a smile.
The Idaho State Parks have a Junior Ranger program that is as good as the National Parks. Our kids have about 15 badges from the various parks we have traveled and getting the badges here was just as much fun.
There are interpretive and educational programs every week as well as just plain fun events from time to time. We missed the Fourth of July Parade but heard it was a blast. They have just added a Kayak experience program in which they provide kayak safety programs and then allow anyone who wishes to reserve kayaks one time only for FREE!
We went out for the max 2 hours and had a great time. The kiddos are begging us to buy boats now!
We attended a bear talk the other day and everyone had an opportunity to experience what it’s like being chased by a bear and how quickly you can spray them. Let’s just say I won’t be much help if we come across a bear, I was a little late with my spray and would have been eaten. The kids, on the other hand, did great.
We love Henry’s Lake Campground so much- that first night turned into 3 days- and we have been back here two times since for 14 days each. We just can’t pull ourselves away. We do have to move on soon but we will be back.
Anyone looking for a great family spot very near Yellowstone National Park- we highly encourage you to stop by Henry’s Lake State Park Campground– you won’t be disappointed.
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