Most Yellowstone  visitors act as though they were chained to their cars with a 100-yard tether—as if by getting away from their vehicles they might miss some other sight down the road. For the 2 percent or so who do abandon their cars, Yellowstone has much to offer beyond the spectacular geysers and canyons for which it is famous.
Although many parts of the Yellowstone backcountry are heavily visited, regulations keep the sense of wildness intact by separating campsites and limiting the number of hikers. If you head out early or late in the season, you’ll discover solitude just a few miles from the traffic jams.
Much of Yellowstone consists of lodgepole (or burned lodgepole) forests on rolling terrain. With a few exceptions, anyone looking for dramatic alpine scenery would probably be better off heading to Grand Teton National Park , the Beartooth Mountains, or the Wind River Mountains.
The Yellowstone backcountry is still enjoyable to walk through, however, and many trails lead past waterfalls, geysers, and hot springs. Besides, this is one of the finest places in America to view wildlife—including bison, elk, grizzlies, and wolves—in a setting other than a zoo.
Before August, when they start to die down, you should be ready for the ubiquitous mosquitoes. Ticks are a nuisance mid-March-mid-July in lower-elevation parts of Yellowstone. The fires of 1988 created some problems for backcountry hikers but also offer a good opportunity to see how the land is recovering two decades later.
Before you head out, you will probably want to look over your hiking options. Two excellent source books are Yellowstone Trails by Mark Marschall and Hiking Yellowstone National Park by Bill Schneider. Get them from park gift shops or visitor centers, which also sell topographic park maps. The best maps are those produced by Trails Illustrated; these feature all of the major trails and show the severity of burn from the 1988 fires—a considerable help when planning hiking trips.
If you need a trailhead drop-off or pick-up, contact Back Country Sports (208/652-3385) out of Ashton, Idaho.
The Park Service maintains more than 300 campsites in the Yellowstone  backcountry, most of which have pit toilets and fire rings, along with storage poles to keep food from bears. Hikers may stay only at designated campsites. Wood fires are not allowed in many areas and are discouraged elsewhere, so be sure to have a gas stove for cooking.
Bear-management areas have special regulations; they may be for day use only, include seasonal restrictions, or specify minimum group sizes (larger groups are safer). Pets are not allowed on the trails within Yellowstone, and special rules apply for those coming in with horses, mules, burros, and llamas. Because of wet conditions and the lack of forage, no stock animals are permitted before July.
A free backcountry use permit is required of each overnight party and is available in person from various Yellowstone ranger stations and visitor centers within 48 hours of your hike. Because of the popularity of backcountry trips, you should make reservations before your arrival in the park. (Some permits are available without advance reservations, but why take the chance?)
Unfortunately, the Park Service has taken a lesson from the IRS and makes the process as complex as bureaucratically possible. Try to follow me here. Backcountry campsite reservations (not the same thing as a backcountry use permit) cost $20 per trip, and the reservation forms are available by calling 307/344-2160 or writing the Backcountry Office (P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190). You can also download them online at www.nps.gov/yell . Campsite reservation requests must be mailed in, using these forms; reservations are not accepted by phone, fax, or over the Internet.
For popular areas in the peak of summer, apply in March. You’ll receive a confirmation notice by return mail and will exchange the notice for a permit when you get to the park; the permit must be obtained in person at a ranger station within 48 hours of your first camping date. Before receiving your permit, you will be given a lengthy rundown on what to expect and what precautions to take, and will be shown a bear-safety video. The ranger stations are generally open 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. seven days a week June-August.
For backcountry rules, bear-safety tips, and suggestions for hiking and horsepacking, pick up Yellowstone’s detailed Backcountry Trip Planner, which shows locations of campsites throughout the park and provides complete information on wilderness access and precautions. You should also pick up or request the free park pamphlet Beyond Road’s End. Downloadable versions of both are available online at www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/publications.htm .
Those interested in horsepacking or llama trips should contact the park (307/344-7381, www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/stockbusn.htm ) for a list of outfitters authorized to operate in Yellowstone. The outfitters offer everything from day trips to weeklong adventures deep into the backcountry.
A few two- to four-day backcountry hikes covering various parts of Yellowstone are possible. The park has more than 1,000 miles of trails, so this is obviously a tiny sampling of the various hiking options: