A Hidden Gem Close to Yellowstone National Park
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 forego the uber-expensive RV parks near Yellowstone and boondock on some BLM and Forest Service land. We found several possibilities by checking out 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 instead. 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!
Henry's Lake State Park RV Campground-The Best RV Parks Near Yellowstone National Park
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 parks sites are 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 RV sites are gravel or paved, have fire pits 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. And of course you are so close to all of the amazing animals inside Yellowstone!
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.
Awesome Amenities at Henrys Lake
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.
Is the Campground Expensive?
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 campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park have RV length restrictions that 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.
Is the Campground Family Friendly?
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.
22 thoughts on “We Found The Best Kept Yellowstone National Park RV Camping Secret”
A man had a grizzly attack 2 weeks ago while staying there. FYI- part of the wild life is grizzlies.
It sure is- there are unfortunate animal encounters in or around Yellowstone every year.
We all have to remember.. we’re in their home and respect the wildlife 😁 I have such a deep love for all animals I want to be friends… I’ve never run across a bear… question.. we travel with dogs, are they allowed? We use 4 4’ X pens as a yard
Yes, we have a dog also and they are fine at this park.
Next time you are there just take a look at this spot on Henry’s Lake.
We do love the state park but the county has this little lovely campground that we love too.
Great tip Emily! We did boondock at Bill Fromme County Park. We mentioned it in our Boondocking Guide and included a photo. It is a totally free campground right on the lake with HUGE sites and a boat ramp. No hookups though so dry camping. There is quite a bit of boondocking land in that area. We are having Yellowstone withdrawl this summer and will have to visit again soon!
We also drive around to the back of the lake to camp a the Bill Fromme county park. Totally free, boat ramp, dock, vault toilets, camp host.
Great tip Jon. We did stay at Bill Fromme CP. It is a great boondocking site- we put a photo of our site in this article: https://therovingfoleys.com/rv-boondocking/. There are some other boondocking sites not far down the highway as well. There is a nice dirt road drive from there out to Red Rock Lakes Refuge. Super-Cool little visitors Center out there.
We stayed at Henry’s Lake State Park fall of 2029 and loved it. Absolutely beautiful. One evening driving to the entrance out of no where came a herd of antelope. Fortunately we weren’t driving very fast and were able to stop and watch them jump in front of us. It was amazing. One of our highlights.
SO glad you stayed there. It is a great park!
What do you mean by “walk-in site?” It looks beautiful. We camped near West Yellowstone a few years ago. I can’t remember the name of the campground, but it was on the Madison River & decently priced. We found a first-come, first-serve site with electricity.
We meant “first come, first served.” Reserved for walk in customers. The Madison River valley is really beautiful. Glad you found such a nice spot!
Hello! Did you happen to remember the name of the camp site you stayed near west Yellowstone? Especially with electricity? Thank you
It’s Called Henrys Lake State Park, it is closed now and reopens just before Memorial Day. It’s about 20 minutes outside West Yellowstone, it’s a beautiful spot, the camp hosts were some of the nicest we have met.
In your experience do campgrounds allow car camping? Here in Yellowstone and other states, if you noticed.
That’s kind of tough to answer given that there are so many parks and a few definitions of “car camping.” I assume here that you are literally sleeping in the car. As a general rule, if you reserve a camping spot, most won’t care. If you are looking for something more rustic, check the park in question for “dispersed camping” areas. We RV’ers call them “boondocking sites.” Again, if they are available you shouldn’t have any problem. IF not within the park, look for free camping sites on BLM ect. land near the park. There are not usually any issues with how you camp on those. Another idea- if you are not carrying a tent- carry a small one as a “just in case.” As we always recommend…ALWAYS call ahead and check with the park so you know how you stand.
We stayed here because of your glowing recommendation. The view is nice and the park was clean, however; the dump station was closed and no credit or refund allowed nor would they let us use an empty full hook-up site. Plus our site 11, said it could accommodate 55 ft. No way we practically never got our 30 ft in the spot. The sign post had to be taken out and the picnic table moved. It was a struggle. Maybe a tear drop could fit. They have installed parking barricades beside the road so you can’t swing out to back around.
That’s funny- we stayed in that very spot once. The barricades were there then too but we got our 38ft fiver in. I do remember it being a very tight turn, but once we got in there was enough room for RV and truck, and you have to admit the views from that site are fantastic. Sorry to hear about the dump station- I see the notice on the park site from March about the drain field. That’s a shame. I also see the rates have changed for out-of-state visitors. That’s not so good. Takes away a good bit of the value.
Oh no Teresa,
It sounds like a lot of things have changed since we were there! I’m very sorry to hear that the dump station was closed and they have installed barricades to prevent you from backing around. When we stayed there a few years ago, the hosts and park rangers could not have been nicer and went out of their way several times to help us out.
So sorry this happened to you,
Spent a week there in October 2021 and it was fantastic! We knew about the dump station when we made the reservations so we were not surprised. It was well announced on the web site. The bathrooms were very nice and clean. The lake was wonderful and we kayaked several times. After we had our fill of Yellowstone I asked about things to do outside the park. The ladies at the registration booth were so helpful.they directed us to a waterfalls that was at least as beautiful as any we saw in the park. Also a historic cabin. We discovered a boat landing on the river and spent our last day kayaking the river. One of the highlights of our trip.would return in a heartbeat!
I’m so glad you had such a nice time, and I’m so glad the rangers were helpful, they were super nice to us when we visited.
We enjoyed a wonderful day out on the lake kayaking with the kids, it’s so beautiful in that area.
Great place to stay, but don’t expect to swim in the lake. It is saturated with leeches. There are a few signs around the lake and campground, but it is easy to miss them. We stayed there for 1 week.