Visiting Yellowstone is like touring a different planet. At 3,472 square miles, it's bigger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. And it contains a world's worth of attractions: geysers, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and some of the best wildlife-watching anywhere. The park has 12 campgrounds, and most visitors choose to bunk near the headliner attractions: Canyon Campground near Yellowstone Canyon, or Bridge Bay and Grant Village Campgrounds alongside Yellowstone Lake. But if you're looking for solitude and wildlife, consider farther-flung gems like Pebble Creek and Slough Creek, where the grizzlies and buffalo play.
• Slough Creek. Tucked into the park's northeast corner, Slough Creek is a full two hours from Old Faithful, at the far end of a 2½-mile gravel road. But look what awaits: creekside beauty, cutthroat trout, and some of the park's best wildlife-watching (bison and the occasional grizzly). 29 sites May 26-late Oct; $12. 307/344-7381.
• Lewis Lake. Near Yellowstone's southern entrance, Lewis Lake tends to fill up more slowly than other park campgrounds ― which is strange, because it's lovely, with trout fishing and good hiking. 85 sites Jun 16-Nov 6; $12. 307/344-7381.
• Pebble Creek. A bit east of Slough Creek, Pebble Creek also offers excellent wildlife-watching and fishing, plus gorgeous hiking along the 12-mile Pebble Creek Trail. 32 sites Jun 9-Sep 25; $12. 307/344-7381.
Outside the park
The scenery doesn't stop at Yellowstone's boundaries. Adjacent Beaverhead-Deerlodge (406/683-3900), Caribou-Targhee (208/524-7500), Gallatin (406/587-6701), and Shoshone (307/578-1200) National Forests are nearly as spectacular as the park, and all offer camping.
• Island Lake and Beartooth Lake. Full disclosure: Located in the Shoshone National Forest, 25 miles east of Yellowstone's northeast entrance, Island Lake and neighboring Beartooth Lake are not incredibly convenient for day-tripping in and out of the park. But they're two of the most beautiful campgrounds anywhere in the West, each set on a glistening lake high in the Beartooth Mountains. Trust us ― camping doesn't get more spectacular than this. 21 sites at Beartooth Jul 1-Oct 1, 20 sites at Island Lake Jul 1-Oct 1; $10. 307/578-1200.
• Lonesomehurst. On the South Fork of Hebgen Lake, within the Gallatin National Forest, the campground offers incredible lake and water views and easy access to the town of West Yellowstone and the park's northwest entrance, both about a 20-minute drive away. 26 sites May 15-Sep 15; $14. 406/823-6961.
What camp hosts say
• Five of the park's campgrounds are reservable. If you can be flexible about dates and sites at the campgrounds (307/344-7311), you'll be at an advantage.
• There are 7 first-come, first-served campgrounds. Show up early in the day ― preferably midweek.
• Be bear aware. Don't leave food or any other scented item in your tent or unattended at your site. Store everything in your car or in a bear box if the campground offers one.
Get ready to go
Yellowstone is so big, you need to plan out what you most want to see and when. (That's especially true if the park roads are closed for summer maintenance; call 307/344-7381 for updates.) Look into the excellent programs offered by the nonprofit Yellowstone Association Institute (307/344-2293).
Info: Seven-day pass $25 per vehicle. www.nps.gov/yell or 307/344-7381.