It’s oddly comforting to learn that naivety can still strike on the backside of middle age. Case in point, this here review of Grant Village Campground in Yellowstone National Park. My only campground review for all off Yellowstone, home to twelve.
That latter fact was not my intention. Not by a long shot. Sure, going to Yellowstone was a bucket list camping destination for me and the family … I really wanted to take the kids there before they were out of the house … but it also represented a magnificent opportunity to juice my blog stats. Or so I thought.
Our original itinerary for Yellowstone in the summer of 2022, had us camping at Mammoth Campground for two nights and Grant Village Campground for three nights. This was already a compromise from what I’d originally envisioned, but at least we had spots inside the park. Reserving campsites for an RV inside Yellowstone is a tedious, confusing, and often futile affair, a subject that warrants an entire blog post all to itself. I’ll save that for another time.
With four full days, plus parts to two more, I saw no reason for me to not only review the two campgrounds we were staying in, but also the four other primary campgrounds capable of accommodating trailers and motorhomes (Canyon, Bridge Bay, Fishing Bridge, and Madison). How hard could it be? We’d be roaming the entire park taking in all the amazing natural attractions anyway. Surely, I could spare a few minutes to snoop around each campground, jot down some notes, and snap a few pics as we passed by.
Charming notion, isn’t it? I haven’t shown such naivety since I thought writing a poem would win a girl’s heart back in grade nine. Right on queue, Mother Nature ensured I was aware of it.
Flash flooding in the days prior to our departure resulted in our Mammoth Campground reservation being cancelled entirely. It also meant our five nights in Yellowstone were reduced to three. And trying to see all of Yellowstone in two full days plus parts of two more is, shall we say, “pushing it”?
Then, to further insult my innocence, when we finally did arrive at Grant Village Campground, I quickly realized they really do mean village. Just reviewing this campground, and associated amenities, would be a time-sucking chore. Trying to review all the others, two of which are similarly called villages (Madison, Canyon) would be impossible with our shortened stay, not to mention aggravating to my co-travellers.
In the end, I only ever stepped foot in Grant Village Campground. We passed the others, ignoring them, focusing instead on the thrills and beauty that Yellowstone National Park offers. I imagine Grant Village is a reasonable proxy for Madison Village and Canyon Village. Hopefully, this review provides some value to campers in those campgrounds, but for eye-witness factuality, this is all about Grant!
Grant Village Campground Location
Grant Village is in the southern half of Yellowstone National Park on the southwestern tip of the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake. It is the southernmost of the park’s “villages” and the southernmost campground after Lewis Lake Campground.
Though not directly on the southern park ring road (it’s a short 2 miles south), this village is a convenient homebase for Yellowstone’s southern attractions like Old Faithful and her surrounding geyser basins and, of course, Yellowstone Lake.
Conversely, the northern attractions require a fair drive to get to from Grant Village, something that can eat up time during peak tourist season/hours. With our original plan to camp at Mammoth derailed by the flooding, we had no choice but to navigate the entire park from our campsite in Grant Village Campground. Not the greenest way to enjoy the park, but necessary under the circumstances.
The village is spread out along the shoreline, with the primary road entering the heart of the village. The campground is located to the northwest, roughly half a mile from the main village intersection. This gives some nice separation from the two main halves of the village.
Grant Village Campground by the Numbers
As the name suggests, Grant Village Campground is part of a genuine, albeit small, village. There is a store, visitor centre, gift shop, lodging, laundromat, gas station (plus mechanic!), marina, and restaurant in addition to the large campground.
The campground itself, with 430 campsites, is the second largest in the park with only Bridge Bay being marginally larger (432). Those 430 sites include arcuate pull-throughs, parallel parks, back-ins, tent only, and group. By far the most common site layout are the arcuate pull-throughs which typically line both sides of one-way campground roads resulting in awkward RV orientations.
Campsites are found in twelve alphabetical loops, A through L. Loops D, J, and K are tent only while Loop L contains group sites (tents only). Loop E and F are conjoined twins and Loop I is actually two loops. The remainder are single, oblong loops as one would expect. All have campsites around their exteriors and in their interiors.
Reserving a campsite at any of the five campgrounds operated by Yellowstone National Park Lodges, of which Grant Village is one, is frustrating. You are not reserving a specific campsite, but rather a type of campsite. Let me explain.
On the reservation website, once you’ve entered your dates of interest, you’ll receive an assortment of campsite types available. These come with names like “RV SITE UP TO 20-FT PLUS TENT UP TO 12 X 12” or “TENT SITE UP TO 8 X 8”. You have no clue how many of each site type exist or where they are located. You simply pick the type that suits your needs, and you’ll only receive an actual campsite number when you arrive at the campground.
Further to this, you won’t see a campsite map anywhere. Certainly not on the booking website and even a Google search produces remarkably few images of a proper campground map showing amenities and campground layout. So, here’s the one we received at check-in.
For all the amazing beauty in Yellowstone, Grant Village Campground scenery is relatively pedestrian. With the exception of maybe a third of Loop L (the group sites) which is open grass, the campground is set within a predominantly lodgepole pine forest.
The tall, straight nature of these conifers make for a surprisingly spacious understory while still providing overhead cover from the sun. However, with so many campsites situated as pull-throughs immediately beside the roads, I couldn’t help but feel like the whole campground was more sparsely treed than it actually is.
There is certainly some variation in tree density. This is a large campground and hardly uniform. Some campsites will provide full shade while other only dapples of it. Nonetheless, don’t expect any miraculous views of mountains in the distance or lakeside vistas. Even views of the night sky will be hit or miss depending on tree cover.
Only in the west end of the group site loop (L) will you find truly open camping enabling uninterrupted stargazing. For everyone else, it’s a pleasant but non-earth-shattering wooded setting. Not as roomy as the provincial parks I’m accustomed to in Kananaskis, but neither is it a sardine can parking lot.
Our Campsite at Grant Village Campground
We arrived for 1:00 check-in on Saturday, July 2nd, 2022 and were surprised to find almost no line-up. Being the start of summer vacation, and July 4th weekend to boot, I dreaded what I envisioned being a tortuous wait to get a site.
The recent flood chaos, coupled with lingering covid apprehension, likely diminished the onslaught of visitors to Yellowstone for which I’m grateful. In short order, we received our campsite (35 in Loop A), were apprised of the myriad rules (bears!), and made our way to our spot.
We were given a pull-through site and, as previously mentioned, some of these are positioned on the left side of roads. Ours was one such campsite. This, unfortunately, meant that our trailer door faced onto the road. Likewise, our awning, which we obviously couldn’t fully extend.
It’s worth noting that these pull-through sites aren’t much different than a parallel park style site. There is a paved, arcuate strip where your trailer/RV and vehicle go but it is hardly “inside” a campsite. It’s more a minor pull-off from the road with only a small patch of grass between. The campsite is fully beside the paved lane with posts and railway ties separating said site from parking/pad.
If given the choice, I’d never pick such a layout for camping. It’s inconvenient to say the least. But with no ability to choose a specific campsite, not to mention the incredible demand for campsites capable of accommodating even modest RVs, you take what you get and be grateful you were able to book a site at all.
These bass-ackwards sites are also on the interior of loops, leaving you to share space with other campers. This isn’t to say the sites are small, there just isn’t any rigid delineation of boundaries for each site. Each kind of just flows into the next and you’ll often find other campers wandering through your site as they make their way to the washroom or abroad.
We even had kids racing their bikes through the interior of the loop, often right through our campsite to and from the bathroom which we ultimately had to request they cease doing (as did another neighbour) out of fear we would get run over. They complied, thankfully, and the remainder of our stay was relatively nuisance free.
Nuisance free but not quiet. By no means was it a gong show. Even for the biggest long weekend on the American calendar, it was tolerable. But it’s a busy campground with lots of people and families and friends all having the trip of a lifetime.
We had the cliché acoustic guitar player in one site and screaming babies in another. There is activity everywhere. Things settle a bit during the daytime hours as folks are out exploring the park. But later afternoon and into the evening, it’s homebase for hundreds of campers and with that comes noise.
A Rant About Campsite Sizing
One irritation I’m obliged to rant about is the oversight of sizing when it comes to camping units. We booked a “40 FT PLUS TENT UP TO 12 X 12” site for our stay. We didn’t need the tent space but required the 40’ for our 16’ Geo Pro and Pathfinder tow vehicle. The instructions on the booking website state that unit length is RV/trailer PLUS tow vehicle, so even our relatively small trailer ended up using a larger campsite.
To stage our trailer in the centre of the campsite lane, we ended up with surprisingly little space to park our vehicle. I have no idea how we would have managed in a smaller site. The pull-through lanes for both neighbouring campsites begin/end almost immediately where ours begins/ends. There is little room for error here, especially when pulling in with a trailer in tow.
Had our trailer been much longer, we would have had to position it either to the front or the rear of the pull-through lest our vehicle not fit at all. Which brings me to my point … I don’t think everyone is being honest with their RV/tow vehicle sizing when booking these campsites. To make matters worse, the campground isn’t policing the situation either.
Immediately across from us was a campsite of similar dimensions that I can only assume was correspondingly labelled “40 FT PLUS …” In it was a fifth wheel, tow vehicle, and secondary vehicle (supposed to be illegal as well). All three were crammed in at odd angles, up against tree branches, and partially protruding onto the roadway. It was ridiculous.
The roads are one way and thus rather tight as they wind through the loops. Large RVs require care to navigate through them, and any protruding vehicles or trailer ends will cause grief. If booking is going to be this stupid, the least they could do is clamp down on abusers. Hrumph!
Other Campsites at Grant Village
Although our condensed itinerary kept us hopping, I did manage to find a few minutes to bike around some other loops. Campsite variation was minimal with the exception of tree density. Having no means of picking a site, however, your preference in this matter is irrelevant.
Campsites on the outer rim of loops, especially those along the apex of loops without “backyard” neighbours, are likely the best of the bunch. These also tend to be where the back-in campsites are located at Grant Village Campground. If I’d had any means of selection, I would have chosen one of these back-in sites for sure.
Pull-through sites on the outer loop rims appear to be smaller in the sense that they bump up to wilderness thus making for less open space. The interior of Loop A where we camped was well worn with foot traffic from the campsites within. Outer sites tended not to have this problem, so they appeared smaller. Of course, having nothing but forest behind your site kind of makes your campsite limitless.
According to the booking website, there are sites capable of accommodating RVs up to 50’. I was sceptical and still believe they must be few and far between at Grant Village Campground, however, I do think I found one in Loop F, pictured here.
The layout of the campsite is no different than other pull-through sites, just the length of the paved, arcuate trailer pad is longer.
Grant Village Group Camping
The only truly unique campsites at Grant Village Campground are the Group sites found in Loop L. Group camping is limited to tents only and all are found in this isolated loop southwest of the first four camping loops nearest the registration office.
Loop L is further divided into eight groupings of sites (3 to 4 individual sites), each considered a group site. The individual campsites within these groupings are either parallel park sites along the loop road, or walk-in tent sites with parking pull-outs.
Group sites D, E, and F are in an open area where most of the trees are gone leaving a lovely grassy space. The remaining group sites are much like the regular loop campsites though some are exceptionally forested and quite shady.
Three bathrooms with flush toilets are located around Loop L. These are no different than the bathrooms in the main campground areas and are described in more detail below.
Potable water is also available from multiple faucets next to the bathrooms.
I liked the group area well enough, but the size of the group sites ultimately limits the size of your group. And the fact that there is no similar such offering for folks with even modest RVs is a bit disappointing.
As one would expect at a campground, all campsites come with a firepit and picnic table.
The firepits are large diameter, shallow, steel rings with a flippable grate for cooking. The grates are nice and a must-have for some, but we didn’t use ours. I like that they can be flipped out of the way for a campfire, but the flipped grate does slightly impede where you station your chairs around the firepit.
Firewood is available at the campground office. Located at the entrance to Grant Village Campground, the office is a modest wooden cabin-like structure with service windows facing forward. A canopy has been erected for shelter while you wait to register. A large, adjacent parking lot offers plenty of space to park your unit.
In early July of 2022, firewood cost $9.75 for a small cardboard box (1 cubic foot) of pine and spruce. That’s not a lot of wood, nor is it cheap wood, but honestly, it’s not wildly out of line. Considering this is a high-profile national park, I was expecting a criminal gouging for firewood, so this wasn’t bad.
Picnic tables came in two flavours; a bulky composite plastic option or an older metal and wood option. Ours, and those nearest us, were all composites and I suspect the older metal/wood tables are slowly being replaced with the composites as they wear out.
The newer tables are cumbersome to move but provide a sturdy surface on which to eat, play games, or write.
With the exception of the RV-centric Fishing Bridge Campground, none of the campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park have on-site services. You will not find a single campsite with electrical or water at Grant Village Campground, and certainly not sewers.
I’m not sure what to make of this. On one hand, it gives the whole park a more nostalgic, “natural” aesthetic. You’re not glamping here so much as reconnecting with nature … along with hundreds of other hairless apes. That kind of feels … good?
On the other hand, it’s 2022 and for us pampered RV/trailer campers, electrical service would be welcomed. Electrical seems to be the bare minimum for large campgrounds in renowned national and provincial parks where I live, I guess I’ve started to expect it everywhere. I know, poor me.
Lack of electricity also means generators. They are allowed between 8:00 am and 8:00 pm with decibel restrictions, though how that is determined is beyond me. Thankfully, the generator usage in our vicinity was relatively muted. I’d likely have been on the nightly news had it not.
So, depending on your viewpoint as far as camping in parks goes, the lack of any on-campsite services will thrill you or irk you.
Grant Village Campground Bathrooms
That lack of on-campsite services might have you treading the bathroom situation. Fear not, pit toilets are nowhere to be found!
Each loop in Grant Village Campground has at least one fully-functioning, flush toilet bathroom. Some have two. The group camping loop has three. If you loathe pit toilets like I do, this is a huge relief.
The bathrooms are located in clearings that would otherwise be a campsite. They’re dated wooden structures with slanted roofs and windows just below the eaves that won’t be winning any architectural awards. But they do the job.
Inside you’ll find two toilets in metal surrounds and a full-length urinal (the women’s may have three stalls?). A single sink is available with only a cold water tap though it hints at a former glory with a hot water tap as well. A mirror, air dryer, and electrical outlet complete the offerings inside.
A single wash station is situated between the men’s and women’s portions of the building. Accessible from the exterior, this kitchen clean-up facility is tight. There’s a single, stainless steel sink with a singular tap completely surrounded by tile. Those of you with bigger butts won’t even be able to close the door while you work.
Off to the side of the parking lot is a drinking water tap. It’s a single faucet stuck into the side of a robust brick structure with a grate below. There must have been more to this feature in its past than just this simple drinking water tap. What that was, I have no idea. As it stands now, it makes for a handy shelf on which to stow additional bottles or pans while filling them with water.
RV Dump Station at Grant Village Campground
With plentiful, clean, flush bathrooms and wash stations throughout the campground, you won’t need your onboard facilities. Alas, you may still want to use them. And this will require dumping your waste upon departure.
The dump station is found along the primary campground road that leads to all the various loops. It’s a few hundred feet west of the office parking lot and it’s … underwhelming. Considering the size of the campground – 340 campsites – I expected more than a single dump station hidden in the woods off to the side of the road.
The campground map indicates that there are two outlets at this station, but only one RV would ever be able to use it at a time. The map also states an additional RV dump station exists behind the village gas station, but I couldn’t find it (not that I looked particularly hard).
Camping at Yellowstone isn’t your typical show up on Friday and leave on Sunday camping. There’s a constant churn of campers coming and going. This alone somewhat limits the sudden need for dump station usage, but it does not eliminate it.
Thankfully, when we were ready to checkout, there was only one RV ahead of us. They took forever, but at least it was only one. I imagine not everyone will be so lucky in which case, that mystery outlet at the gas station would be helpful. Lots more space to manoeuvre there as well.
Otherwise, it’s your typical dump station. It isn’t pretty but it takes your waste and offers you water to clean up.
For those looking to fill up their RVs with potable water, there is such a tap at the dump station as well. This potentially adds to congestion and can cause further delay in the movement of vehicles through the dump station. It’s just odd to only have one spot in a campground of this size.
Making your way back toward the main village you’ll begin to find the amenities that take Grant Village beyond your run-of-the-mill campground. Amenities like the shower house.
Newer than the campground bathrooms, but not recent, the shower house is an odd structure. Combined with the laundromat (see below), the angular stone and metal clad building looks like a cold, seventies gathering place.
To use the showers, you must first gain access from the laundromat staff across the courtyard. Showers are not unlimited, with campers receiving two shower privileges per site per night of camping. Depending on the size of your contingent and how dirty and sweaty you get during the day, this can be plenty or not nearly enough.
It’s a busy place, so you’ll need to navigate around strangers in various stages of undress and grooming. The plentiful shower stalls each have a small bench area prior to the main shower area. You’ll note the now non-functional coin operating machines inside each stall.
I did shower here and can finally comment on their quality. It was a fine shower by any measure. Not up to home standards, but pretty good compared to some campgrounds. The showerheads are newer and work with the ability to adjust their flow type (massage anyone?). You also have some control over temperature which is delightful. And there’s even free liquid soap.
Some sinks and mirrors are available off to the side for shaving which is convenient, thought the humidity in the air makes the mirrors constantly fog up.
This is the true hub of the shower-laundry complex. Inside you’ll find a vast selection of washers and dryers. Save for the absolute peak summer travel season and peak daytime hours, you should have no trouble finding a machine available to wash your clothing.
The laundromat also offers a selection of camping necessities and some branded clothing for sale. There are also a small number of treats including popsicles and assorted beverages to buy. All these things are found displayed along the exterior walls of the laundromat.
A recycling depot and garbage bins make the Grant Village Laundromat a useful final stop on your way out which is exactly what we did before moving onwards.
Grant Village in Yellowstone National Park
The laundromat and shower have you returning to the village proper and no longer within the campground. Driving directly north of these facilities will take you to the Grant Visitor Center and its grand, curving parking lot with RV spaces and plenty of room for dozens upon dozens of cars.
Inside, the main foyer houses park staff ready to help you with any questions you have regarding your stay at Yellowstone. To one side is a sitting area with a beautiful stone and copper fireplace. I imagine this functioning fireplace is beautiful during shoulder season when temperatures warrant a warm, crackling fire.
Another room has educational displays of the flora and fauna making Yellowstone their home. Much of it is focused on the history of forest fires in the park and the impact they have on the ecosystem. They’re not the most incredible displays I’ve ever seen, but interesting for a few moments of perusal.
At the other end of the building, behind the service desk is a small theatre. It was closed when I was snooping around, so I never got to see inside it. I imagine it’s a modest room with a screen and theatre seating that shows educational films about the park.
Signage at the service desk indicates that most of the ranger led programming remained inactive due to covid (as of July 2022). For your sake, I hope this has changed by now because ranger led programs at Yellowstone would be very appealing for nature nuts and geo nerds.
The backside of the Visitor Center has a perfect view of Yellowstone Lake through floor to ceiling windows. Satellite images and recent pictures confirm the posted notification that fire prevention efforts are taking place throughout the village. A swath of trees has been removed between the Visitor Center and the lake which conveniently enhances the view. There are now no arbour impediments. You can even step outside onto a raised deck adjoining the building and lap it all up.
Lakeshore Pavilion and Amphitheatre
Down the hill from the Visitor Center nearing the stony beach is the small Grant Village Lakeshore Pavilion. I honestly don’t know what purpose of this small amphitheatre plays in the entertainment offerings of the village, but it’s there.
A partially covered series of wooden benches within a stone-walled surround, the pavilion has an even nicer view of the lake and its shoreline. The orientation of the benches suggests that programs or presentations of some kind occurred here at one time.
I never saw anything happening the couple times I walked past, nor did I notice any advertising of any such activities. If nothing else, it’s a nice spot to have a seat and take in Mother Nature.
Interestingly, about 150’ to the west of the pavilion is a proper, outdoor amphitheatre. Tucked into the pine trees near the shoreline, this much larger amphitheatre leaves no doubt as to its purpose with many rows of wooden benches along the slope in front of the broad wood and stone stage.
Again, perhaps a post-covid leftover, I saw no indication programs of any kind occurring at the amphitheatre during our stay in 2022. Now, I didn’t specifically look for a schedule so I may be completely out to lunch on this. But considering the toll covid had on live entertainment, not to mention the near universal retreat of this kind of service in national and state/provincial parks over the years, it would not surprise me if this structure was no longer used. Hopefully, I’m wrong.
Grant Village Stores and Restaurants
Continuing eastward the village of Grant takes shape. The unimaginatively named Dining Room is an imposing structure. A large dining hall with a deck surrounding two sides looking out over the lake from the hill above, it would surely make for a wonderful restaurant experience.
Except, in 2022, the Dining Room was closed thanks to covid’s continued impact. Oddly enough, there were people dining in there at least one time when I biked past. I suspect it was park staff because the building was undoubtedly closed off to the public.
A second restaurant exists right by the water, down the hill from the Dining Room. A smaller, single storey wood building right along the shore at the west end of the marina, the Lake House too was closed for the season in 2022. And I do mean, closed. There wasn’t even a hint of usage when I wandered past. There were no mystery diners in this one. Would be a nice spot for a lunch when open.
South of the dining room is another large, swooping parking lot in front of the stand-alone U.S. Postal Office. This is a nifty structure that I didn’t notice or enter. Seriously, I only know of it from Google Maps. Not sure how I missed it, or maybe I’m just forgetting it, but I never snapped a picture of it or attempted to set foot inside it.
Continuing south from the post office and past the main village intersection, is the Grant Village General Store. The biggest service building in the village, the General Store is a combination of grocery store, gift shop, and diner.
The diner, or The Grill, as it’s called, was … you guess it … closed. Essentially a cafeteria style fast food counter, it looks to offer typical burger and fries options with soda and what not. Once all these restaurants are open again, you’ll have no shortage of dining options right in Grant Village.
If you’d prefer to prepare your own food, or have to because everything else is closed, the grocery store offers a selection of staples to help you create a tasty meal. More a glorified convenience store, you’d be wise to do a proper shopping outside the park before arrival both for selection and cost.
That said, if you’ve forgotten an item, run out of something, or just staying too long and don’t want to waste a day leaving the park to go shopping, the grocery store is a reasonable stopgap to pantry barrenness. You’ll find the usual suspects: processed foods along with dairy, juices, and breads.
Being called a grocery store is a bit misleading in my opinion. I’d optimistically expected to find a genuine, if overpriced, grocery store inside. There’s a not-insignificant drive to the nearest city and it made sense to me that the villages within the park would offer a fuller service grocery store. I was wrong but worry not, you won’t go hungry.
The gift shop is big. It takes up more floor space as the grocery store. It’s got a lot of stuff available for your memento needs. Every imaginable tourist favourite, from trinkets to clothing, is there for your purchase. These fully stocked gift shops are present in every village and major hotspot (ha! … pun) in the park, so don’t feel like this is your only chance to snag a keepsake.
Grant Village Lodges
Why, there’s even a second gift shop right in Grant Village. Found inside the lodge registration office, it’s smaller but still feels redundant. Why there’s a second gift shop here, I don’t know, but I suppose some folks won’t venture across the parking lot to the main one once they’re registered and headed off to their room. I mean, I missed the post office so who am I to judge.
I didn’t get to look inside any of these buildings as they were restricting entry to people with actual rooms. I’m sure they’re a nice way to stay in the park without having to camp or blow your retirement fund on one of the uber-fancy hotels.
Grant Village Marina and Lakeshore
Down the hill from the lodges, and to the right is the Grant Village Marina.
This marina is purely functional. There has been no attempt to make it look attractive whatsoever. It’s a boat launch and dock complex and nothing more.
The boat launch is concrete, wide enough for one launch at a time, and protected by a short pier extending from the gravelly shoreline. A short dock parallels the pier.
Towards the Lake House mentioned above, are a handful of boat tie-ups along with a government dock and an interesting boat of some kind. It’s all rather ugly, looking no different than a rundown city port. Maybe this was a bigger deal in the past with more boats entering the lake and whatnot? From what I saw, it’s been kind of forgotten.
Which isn’t to say it’s unused. A private operator of kayak tours was setup on the shore. One group was out on the water paddling around while another was preparing to head out. It was nice to see additional activities were starting back up after the lengthy covid closure.
We didn’t have time for such novelties, and I likely would have balked at the cost. Still, a paddle around this pretty lake in a kayak (or a canoe) would be a delight on a beautiful summer evening.
Motorized boats are allowed on Yellowstone Lake. There is fish in the lake and it’s a sizable mountain lake by any measure. For whatever reason, we just didn’t see much activity at the dock or on the lake for that matter.
And if all this water makes your bladder grumpy, well, there’s a stand-alone bathroom at the marina too. Also good for boaters coming back from a fun day on the water.
Grant Village Service Station
As I’ve mentioned, you’re quite far from traditional urban services once inside Yellowstone National Park. It’s big! And with attractions so far from each other, all but the most fit (insane?) of you will be using your vehicles to get around. That requires gasoline and, if Lady Luck hates you, a mechanic.
True to being a “village”, there’s a gas station and mechanic available (at certain times) right in Grant Village. A lifesaver if something goes awry with your car or RV, having auto service in the park is pretty much a necessity. Thankfully, I was never in need of any.
I did require gas, however, and as you can imagine, the price was steep. Not as steep as elsewhere (Grand Teton National Park was ludicrous) but certainly higher than in the neighbouring towns and cities surrounding Yellowstone.
As a Canadian, these prices weren’t all that nuts to be honest. Even with the currency exchange, it wasn’t all that different than what many of us regularly pay at home here in the Great White North. But for my American readers, it’s likely a bit of sticker shock depending on where you’re from.
In addition to the gas station, a long, covered picnic area extends from the service station building to a mini store. It’s not the nicest picnic spot considering you’re inside YELLOWSTONE, but I guess it’s useful in a pinch?
The mini store, a genuine convenience store like any other you’d find at a gas station across the continent, was closed. Covid really did a number on staffing and services even into 2022. I was only able to take a poor photo of the interior through a glass window. Hopefully things return to something closer to normal moving forward.
Trails and Scenery
Yellowstone, by nature of its size, is very car centric. You just can’t walk to all the attractions and cycling is to be attempted only by the fittest. Within the villages, however, you can get around on foot. In Grant Village, the nicest way to do this is via the trail running from the west end of the campground (Loop I) to the amphitheatre.
The trail is hodgepodge of paved sections and dirt sections running through the woods and along the shoreline. It’s an attractive alternative to driving or biking on the main roads, but in spots is in need of repair.
Near the amphitheatre there was noticeable damage to trail lighting. Heading towards the campground, a wooden suspension bridge was completely impassable and closed off to pedestrians. Sadly, this made the trail useless for walking from the campground to the village as intended.
Where you can use the trail, the scenery was mixed depending on whether you are in the woods or out of them. You may come across some woodland critters on your journey which is always fun. And though the scenery pales in comparison to the park’s highlights, there are some modestly appealing lookouts.
Aside from the shoreline itself, with its singular gravel barrier bar that is good for strolling or fishing, the nicest view in Grant Village exists at the car bridge crossing the ravine between the two segments of campground loops. It’s a busy bridge with cars and RVs crossing regularly, but there is space to stop and have a look up and down the ravine.
The view towards the lake is superior, highlighted by the wooden footbridge where the creek opens up into the lake and the mountains in the distance. But the view back into the woods has value too.
Another, meandering ravine between the Visitor Center and the east side of the campground would make for nice viewing if that suspension bridge wasn’t ruined. The scene from the road isn’t much, but that suspension bridge surely would offer some sweet vistas. I think, anyway.
On the west side of this ravine is the Grant Village Picnic Area. This is accessible from a road just prior to the campground office and is easily walkable from the easternmost loops. This road used to go all the way to the lake but is now gated just past the picnic area. Unsure why, but whatever used to be down at the end of the road that could accommodate vehicles is long gone.
It’s a large picnic area, reminiscent of the Day Use Areas in the provincial parks of Alberta. There’s a large, paved parking lot cut into the steep slope heading down to the river. A bathroom like those found in the campground resides on the south side of the lot.
Picnic spots here are essentially smaller campsites with picnic tables and firepits in the trees. They’re positioned all around the parking lot and down towards the water. Some are quite open with only sparse tree cover while others are more sheltered. A couple even overlook the aforementioned ravine.
I wouldn’t say any have spectacular views of the lake, but it is nonetheless a cool spot for a picnic. And if you do venture down the hill towards the water, you have quick access to the lakeshore. I’m not sure you’ll want to swim as the water is very cold, but it’s good for stone skipping, fishing, or birdwatching.
Being so close to our campsite, we didn’t venture over for an actual picnic. It’s also a perfect place for exploring. Outdoorsy kids will enjoy burning off some calories here since the campground (and village) do not have a playground of any kind. At Yellowstone, the park is the playground.
Wi-Fi and Cell Service
One more thing before I wrap up this monstrosity. Communication with the world outside Yellowstone will be on your mind plenty. Whether it’s sharing newly minted memories with loved ones or boasting on social media for clout, connecting to cellular or Wi-Fi will feel imperative at some point.
There is cell service within the park. It’s not blanket coverage, and at peak usage can have problems, but it does exist. You’ll typically find service in and around the primary developed areas of which Grant Village is one.
Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is all but absent in the park. According to Yellowstone National Park Lodges, which operates the lodges in Grant Village, you can purchase internet in your room. But for those in the campground or just wandering into the gift shop or grocery store, there is nothing.
This is the case at all the villages and major destinations in the park. I honestly expected there to be guest Wi-Fi in the stores. I don’t know why. A testament to the prominence of “free Wi-Fi” in the world these days. But a massive national park in the middle of nowhere is a fair bit different than a café in a major city. My bad.
In the end, you’re social media updates are likely best left until after your trip. Live the moment and leave the cell service for the important stuff and emergencies. You’ll still get your Instagram love a week later.
Ultimately, nobody goes to Yellowstone National Park for the campground. Okay, except for back country camping and maybe the first come first serve campgrounds that don’t allow RVs. Point is the park is the primary attraction.
As such, rating something like Grant Village Campground is rather pointless. It doesn’t really matter. If you’re going to Yellowstone and want to camp, be it tent or trailer or motorhome, you’ll need to find a campsite somewhere. Being inside this grand ole park lessons the amount of driving you’ll do getting to all the amazing natural wonders within.
There are campgrounds outside the park, sure. Some are likely pretty fancy (and costly). If that’s your preference, have at it.
I prefer being in the park and while Canyon might be better located for seeing the entire park, Grant wasn’t so bad. I wouldn’t hesitate to use it again. With that in mind, I’ll give Grant Village Campground 3.75 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5.
It did what we needed it to do and that’s all I can ask. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Yellowstone despite the pre-arrival flooding panic and loss of two days. Having the laundromat and showers was wonderful and needed.
It’s unfortunate some of the amenities were closed due to covid hangover. I also really hate backwards camping where my trailer door does not open onto my campsite. That’s a huge negative in my book but frankly, that could have happened at any of the major campgrounds in Yellowstone.
The booking process that eliminates site choice sucks but is likely a necessity due to demand and the variable itineraries of visitors. A popular place like Yellowstone will inevitably require compromises.
I’d love to see some investment in Grant Village. Fix that suspension bridge and the trail lighting in and around the village. Maybe pretty up the industrial looking marina and get some canoe or paddle boat rentals. Oh, and I’ll bet some young families wouldn’t mind a playground for the young’uns. Not that the campground needs more noise.
To wrap this up, let me just say this. Don’t get hung up on the campground. Yellowstone is so awesome you won’t remember anything about where you parked your camper or set up your tent. Just go and take in Mother Earth in all her greatness.