Into the Wild, Close to Home: Cody’s Closest North Fork Campgrounds

If you’re looking for the perfect spot to slip away into the vast sanctuary of Wyoming’s outdoors for a short weekend, or even just for a night, we’ve found some campgrounds that provide the optimal destination: surrounded by wilderness, yet conveniently close to home.

America’s first national forest offers over 30 campgrounds that sit in the heart of the wild Absaroka Mountains, and the commute to the closest five sites from Cody only takes about half an hour.

Drive west of Cody on Highway 14 into the Shoshone National Forest, and you’ll see a sign for the first of these campgrounds after about 35 minutes or so (depending on how many times you stopped to watch all the wildlife along the way). All located in the Wapiti Ranger District and within about 10 minutes of each other, each camping area is right off the road and right near the North Fork of the Shoshone River.

These spots are made for short ‘n sweet family outings, especially. With all the basic amenities and ideal site set-ups, there’s none of the stress or time commitment of packing, preparing and embarking on a backcountry trip. Whether you’re tent, car, camper or RV camping, these sites offer the chance for a speedy yet revitalizing getaway to the forest.

Here, the North Fork campgrounds, listed from closest to farthest from Cody:

 1. Big Game Campground

Fee: $10
# of units (single): 16
Typical Season: June – September
Amenities: Garbage collection, Picnic tables, Restrooms, Fishing
Pets: On leash
Reservable: Yes
Stay Limit: 16 days

What’s special about Big Game:  “Of course one thing that defines Big Game is it being our closest campground to town,” said Kristie Salzmann of the Shoshone National Forest Service.

Big Game also is distinct from the other campgrounds listed in its extremely lush landscape – giving campers the feeling they’re in a deciduous mountain jungle.

“This one is unique in that it’s very closed in,” said Kristie. “Its trees and plant life are very thick and dense. I don’t even see my neighbors when I’m in one of these sites.”

2. Wapiti Campground

Fee: $20 (electricity); $15 (w/out electricity)
# of units: 40 (single); 2 (multiple)
Typical Season: May – September
Amenities: Garbage collection, Picnic tables, Restrooms, Drinking water, Fishing, Power hookups
Pets: On leash
Reservable: Yes
Stay Limit: 16 days

What’s special about Wapiti: Wapiti is by far the largest of the campgrounds mentioned here, with 42 total site options. It is also one of the two with drinking water available.

Locals can benefit from part of this campground even in the winter.

“We keep one of Wapiti’s loops open all through hunting season,” said Kristie.

 

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Elk Fork Trail is the perfect place to take the family out for hike, ride your bike or have a scenic horseback ride.

3. Elk Fork Campground

Fee: $10 (May – September)
# of units (single): 12
Typical Season: Open year-round
Amenities: Garbage collection, Picnic tables, Restrooms, Fishing, Trailhead, Horse corrals
Pets: On leash
Reservable: No
Stay Limit: 16 days

What’s special about Elk Fork: Elk Fork is the only one of these campgrounds with extensive horse corrals and direct access to a popular trailhead: Elk Fork Trail.

It also stays open to the public longer than most all the Shoshone National Forest campgrounds.

“Elk fork is actually open year round,” said Kristie. “It’s one of a handful of campgrounds on the entire forest that are open year round.”

 

4. Clearwater

Fee: $10 (May – September)
# of units: 11 (single); 1 (multiple)
Typical Season: May – September
Amenities: Garbage collection, Picnic tables, Restrooms, Fishing, Group site
Pets: On leash
Reservable: Reservable Group site
Stay Limit: 16 days

What’s special about Clearwater: If you’re looking to go somewhere with a big group – or your family is just that big! – you need search no farther for your campsite.

“Clearwater is our only campground that has a group site – it’s the only one in the entire forest like that,” said Kristie.

The group site includes a large shared camping expanse as well as a large group cooking and eating area.

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Sit and relax to the soothing sounds of the Shoshone River at Clearwater campground.

5. Rex Hale Campground

Fee: $20 (electricity); $15 (w/out electricity)
# of units (single): 29
Typical Season: May – September
Amenities: Garbage collection, Picnic tables, Restrooms, Drinking water, Fishing, Power hookups
Pets: On leash
Reservable: Yes
Stay Limit: 16 days

What’s special about Rex Hale: Drinking water is available at this campsite. Its most special feature is where the campground gets its name:

“Rex Hale memorializes a Shoshone National Forest Service employee who died in the August, 1937 Blackwater Fire,” said Kristie. The sign denoting this memorial stands by the road as you drive into the campground.

 

Common Ground: What these campsites all have to offer

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These campgrounds are perfect for families and toddlers. Enjoy the sights and sounds of the outdoors only 30 minutes outside of town.

Option for soft or hard side camping

“In these five, campers have the option for either tent or hard side,” said Kristie. “These are the only five campgrounds on the North Fork that you can tent camp in. The rest are all hard side only, due to bear activity.”

Tried & tested steel bear boxes

“As of last year, all of the campsites on the north half of the Shoshone Forest have bear boxes,” said Kristie. “Being able to have that available to the public decreases the chance of conflict with not just grizzly or black bears, but raccoons, squirrels, and other varmint that can get into food and ruin a camping experience.”

Campground hosts

“Every one of these has a full-time campground host during season,” said Kristie. “We’re a little unique in that not all forests have campground hosts. We have them to increase the safety of visitors because we are a grizzly forest.”

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Picnic tables and campfire rings make cooking a breeze.

Ideal cooking/picnic setup

Each of the sites in these campgrounds has a picnic table as well as a grill setup over the fire ring for quick and easy cooking and eating.

Takeoff point for adventure

“These campgrounds all offer a great place for your adventure base camp,” said Kristie. “There are hikes either leaving from the campgrounds or from very nearby, and there’s either the river or a creek right by them for fishing with the appropriate license.”

Wildlife visitors

During excursions to these five campgrounds prior to writing this story, there was a buffalo standing calmly near a campsite at Big Game, a little band of Bighorn Sheep grazing on mountain daisies at Elk Fork, and countless mountain bluebirds soaring above them all.

“These five, especially early in the season, are actually the campgrounds where you have the best chance of seeing a larger variety of animals,” said Kristie. “From buffalo to bighorn sheep, moose, deer, elk …”

 

Proximity to Yellowstone, Cody … AND a zipline!

With Cody and Yellowstone about an hour apart by car, this clump of campgrounds lies close to the middle ground between them – slightly nearer Yellowstone’s East Entrance. This makes them an excellent option for an in-between stop on the journey separating the Park and its closest sizable town on the eastern side.

And a new perk of these campgrounds is their proximity to the Sleeping Giant Zipline, opening to the public for the first time this summer on June 15.

“These are places you can drive to after work on a Friday with your family to get out for the weekend,” Kristie said. “And now, you’ll be able to go down the road toward Yellowstone just a little bit and hit the zipline, too!”