Clearwater Campground is the last campground along the North Fork Highway where you can pitch a tent. From this point west to Yellowstone National Park, all the campgrounds are for hard-sided recreational vehicles only. This is an intimate campground where the gentle sounds of the river drown any road noise.
What Makes It Great
With only 11 sites, this tiny tent campground is a haven from the larger, more heavily used campgrounds on the forest. There’s a nice lane leading down to into the campground, providing separation between your tent and the excessive traffic of the North Fork Highway. Tall Douglas Fir and more scrubby junipers shade the campground and serve to screen out the road. You have good access to the river for tempting rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout with a fly. There are several trails nearby for hiking and mountain biking, or you can opt for trail riding at one of the historic guest ranches of the North Fork.
With the river at your back you can look north to the stunning rock formations of the volcanic Absaroka Mountains. You might get in some great wildlife watching without much effort. Mule deer and moose can wander by as well as coyotes and chipmunks. Watch for bald eagles winging along the river in search of trout. Keep an eye out for the gray bodies and white rumps of the local bighorn sheep either among the sagebrush or perched precariously on the rock cliffs on either side of the valley. Although the bighorns generally move to higher ground during lambing season, some ewes and lambs seem to prefer the lower elevations around the campground.
Who is Going to Love It
Self-reliant tent campers will appreciate the rustic nature of Clearwater Campground. Water is not available so fill the containers before leaving town. There’s one vault toilet and some communal bear-proof food storage boxes.
This is a good place for families. The road is a ways off and there are fewer incidences with bears at this lower elevation than the campgrounds further upriver. It can be hot in the summer, but that makes the cool water of the river even more inviting. Although it’s a 20 mile drive to Yellowstone, you can make this your base for park day trips.
In the spring and fall you might even have a visitation by one of the old bison that migrate out of Yellowstone to winter in the milder climate of the North Fork valley. They generally head back into the park about the time the campground opens in mid-May and might make their first appearance just in time for fall closure in mid-September.
Clearwater’s lower elevation makes it a good shoulder season campground. It won’t be as cold at night and there’s less possibility of snow on the ground or frost on your tent.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Cody, take US HWY 14/16/20 west for 32 miles. The campground will be on your left. There’s a 16 day stay limit and the cost is only $10 per day. Remember, there won’t be any cell service. Bring bear spray.