Gallatin N.F. closes 3 campgrounds to tents near YNP due to bears

Soda Butte, Colter, and Nez Perce closed to soft-sided structures-

These campgrounds are just northeast of Yellowstone Park. They are not inside the Park. Last July a grizzly bear killed a man in a tent at Soda Butte. Two others were mauled by the sow and her cubs.

I always regarded these campgrounds as unsafe and wouldn’t have camped there at any time in a tent. It is about time for the Forest Service to make this change.


  1. Mike Avatar

    I’ve stayed in all three. The campgrounds are in a wildlife crossing area from the Absaroka Range into the Beartooths.

    You can see Soda Butte campground here:

    Like you Ralph, I’ve never liked “the vibe” here for tenting. The park-like sections of grass coming down from the mountains to the campground seemed like great travel corridors for wildlife. And seeing as how steep and rugged the suurrounded mountains are, it kind of squeezes everything together.

    It’s a beautiful area, but I didn’t like tenting there. I do use them for a quick picnic (with proper trash removal etiquette of course).

  2. Phil Avatar

    Ralph or Mike: Have there been other incidents of people in either danger or attacked by bears in that area recently besides the attacks last year? If so, then the Forest Service should have banned anyone from camping there a prior to last year. That may save bears and humans lives. If this is the case, and I have never camped in any of the areas mentioned, it seems like wildlife agencies in the region are pretty slow in making “good” conclusive decisions on issues like this.

    1. Savebears Avatar

      As you said Phil, you have never camped there..

      1. Phil Avatar

        SaveBears: Your point is what? The comment was not intended for you, so why post a ridiculous one on your part? Me never camping there has nothing to do with my view based on what is possibly true.

    2. JB Avatar


      The campground is in the National Forest, managed by the U.S. Forest Service; the adjacent area is a National Park, managed by the NPS; and the grizzly bear is a federally-listed species, protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. What decision could the wildlife management agency have made?

      1. Phil Avatar

        With the threat to not only the grizzly bears, but also human life, I think the best decision would be to close camping in the area. We can’t change the mindset of the grizzly bears, but we can change the actions of what can and cannot be done by humans there.

  3. jburnham Avatar

    I can understand this decision given the attacks in recent years. I’ve spent some sleepless nights in a tent at these campgrounds.

    I wish there was some other way besides closing them to tents. These campgrounds handle a lot of overflow from the park. Now tenters will have a long drive if Slough Creek and Pebble Creek are full.

  4. Elk275 Avatar

    The hell with bears. I spent a night, 52 years ago as an 8 year old, in the Nez Perce Campground. That was the night of the 1959 earthquake. Once one has been though that experience, bears become a very minor inconvenience.

    Now in the late 70’s and early 80’s when I was in Montana, all of our high school and college friends would spend the Fourth of July weekend in Cooke City, drinking it up at the Ranger Rider in Silver Gate and camping at Soda Butte. After the bars closed somehow by the grace of God we all made it back to the campground. In the morning sleeping bags were tossed around the camp site, someone sleeping on the picnic table, some on the ground, some in a tent and others in the back of a truck bed. Within a few years those that were married started having babies and those not married, got married and babies came, except for me leaving the Fourth of July in Cooke City for the next generation.

    They can close the campgrounds to tents but outside the campground perimeter anyone can pitch there tent and camp. The National Forest in Montana are unregulated any can camp anywhere they want. Another problem will be the bicycle riders after riding across the Beartooth Highway not having a place to camp. If I would spend the night this year in Cooke City and camp out then I will go up the Goose Lake Jeep trail a mile or so and pitch my tent and save the campground fee.

    1. SEAK Mossback Avatar
      SEAK Mossback

      I’ve also stayed in the Soda Butte campground a time or two. I can see it is in a potential grizzly migration zone. Back in the early 1970s when grizzlies were in general much less common, they used to be seen fairly frequently up Republic Creek just south of town. There was an old guy who lived by himself at the abandoned mine up there and we used to visit him and, being Wyoming residents, hunted up Republic Creek south from the boundary. One time a couple of the guys I hunted with returned to their truck & camper that had a deer (taken elsewhere) tied on the tailgate and discovered two young grizzlies working on it. They managed to slip in the cab and drive off down to Cooke.

  5. JohnR Avatar

    They should also close all the backcountry campsites within the park as well. That area is crawling with grizzly bears and wolves. We should also close several intersections around every metropolitan area. There have been several deadly accidents at those intersections. Oh.. by the way. We should also close all mcDonald’s resturants. The food they serve is high in fat content, low in nutrition and statistically amounts to 157,382 deaths every year – attributed directly to McDonald’s and other fast food resturants. Oh yes… on more thing, we should all stop driving motor vehicles. They account for 33,000 deaths every year. Duh!

  6. JohnR Avatar

    My guess, is the forest service is not closing the campgrounds to protect visiters. They are closing the campgrounds to protect themselves from financial liability (lawsuit). If you want perfect safety in the outdoors, maybe you should stay indoors. But you know what? More people die from lack of physical activity (watching Tv sitting on the couch) than will die from being in the out of doors hiking, camnping and enjoying nature.

  7. JohnR Avatar

    If you are worried about being killed in your tent while in a National Forest Campground, statistically, you are much more likely to be killed by a human being – not a bear. Google ‘campground murder’

  8. JohnR Avatar

    Mike: That vibe you get when camping at those campgrounds is your imagination running wild in the middle of the night. Do you get that same vibe when driving down a two lane country road at night at 60 miles per hour and see headlights coming at you in the other lane at 60 miles per hour. Every time you pass each other on that country road late at night with a combined speed of 120 miles per hour you are coming litteraly a few feet from instant death. No vibe then? Ever wonder why?

  9. Mike Avatar

    Phil – A man was attacked in his tent several years ago at Soda Butte. That contributed to my feelings of unease there. By contrast, I camp at another campground in the Gallatin National Forest and there are far more bear ecounters there, but mostly black bear. The USFS even has pictures of a bear family running up a hill at my favorite site. I often hear these bears sniffing at night. They don’t bother me and I don’t bother them. It’s when they start getting too close to the tent that it’s an issue.

    At another campground two years ago I had a bear smack the side of my tent at 4 a.m. I yelled (with bear spray in hand) and it ran uphill into the woods. This was also the Gallatin National Forest, but on the Gallatin River.

    My experience is that it’s usually foxes sniffing around campgrounds at night. But sometimes it’s a bear. You can tell by the breathing and the sounds the paws make on the dirt.

    If anyone is interested, you can read about the other two campgrounds which were open only to hard-sided campers here:

  10. JohnR Avatar

    There was a shooting and double murder at the local supermarket (in the Minneapolis area) that we frequent on a weekly basis. We did not stop going to that particular super market because of that. Nor do I stop driving a motor vehcile because people die in traffic accidents. Every single person/bear is potentially dangerous. But 99.99% of people/bears will never hurt or bother a person. I’ve had a bear poke its nose into my tent door while sleeping in the BWCA in Northern MN. I felt it’s nose poke into my back thru the screen mesh of the tent door. It sniffed me twice and then walked away and never bothered my camp site again. My 9 year old daughter fell of the kitchen counter at the daycare center, and we had to take her in to see if she suffered a concussion. She continued to go to that same day care center. Things can happen anywhere… even in the safest of neighborhoods. My neighbers had a home invasion in he middle of the night. They were tied up and robbed. They considered moving after the incident, but didn’t.
    They killed and removed the problem bear that killed the camper (and injured others) at the Soda Butte campground. We have been in the very situation descrived above. Slough Creek and Pebble Creek were full. We then camped outside of Yellowstone at a National Forest Campground – all though I don’t remember which one. In Katmai National Park, I was wind bound on a small island on Brooks Lake. Rather than risk the white caps and cold water – decided to stay put. An Alaskan brown bear swam against the white camps, and came ashore. I prepared to launch but decided the white caps were more dangerous – and so stayed on the island. There was no incident whatsoever in this particular case, and slept without knowing where the bear was on the island.
    Can’t say that will happen every time, but am saying that just because there is a bear nearby, does not mean it is out to ‘get you’. I hiked 5 miles up the Toklat river in Denail. Set up the tent in the rain in the evening, and a grizzly walked by about 30 yards away. Now should I have walked 5 miles in the rain back to the park road in the dark? Don’t know. Was wet and cold, so slept in the tent. Next morning woke up and looked outside my tent. The large male grizzly was digging roots about 40 yards from the tent door. I stepped out of the tent, and it walked by looked at me, and went about its business of loking for food, ignoring me after that.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan