Before we returned to the trail, we needed to reserve campsites in Yellowstone National Park. This should have been an easy process, and in nearly every other national park I've camped in, it has been. For instance, on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2017, I only needed a seven-day permit for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and I didn't need to reserve specific sites. The reservation procedures were different for the same park when I thru-hiked the Benton MacKaye Trail in 2020, but they were still easy to complete. I was able to reserve sites online.
Most of the national parks on the Pacific Crest Trail had regulations that weren't too burdensome for thru-hikers. The only exception to this was North Cascades National Park, where reservations had to be made in person.
It seemed like the procedures for obtaining a backcountry camping permit for Yellowstone were straightforward. We could do it over the phone. That wasn't as difficult as North Cascades but less convenient than the Smokies.
It's not legal to camp anywhere but in a designated site or a frontcountry campground in Yellowstone. There are 293 backcountry campsites, and though that sounds like a lot, the park is extremely popular for backpacking.
We knew we might not be able to get every site we wanted. We were also prepared for the possibility of hiking different routes through the park or hiking longer or shorter distances between sites than we preferred.
What we didn't expect was an ordeal that would take more than four hours before finally securing our reservations.
I called the backcountry office soon after we entered Lava Mountain Lodge's restaurant for breakfast, and had to leave a message for a return call. Then we sat and waited until 10 a.m. before finally getting called back.
My conversation with the backcountry ranger took a long time. He was patient and helpful, but with so many options it was difficult to sort out the best plan. We had some sites in mind before calling, but some weren't available. We were unfamiliar with the park's trails, and the maps we were using showed two different names. One map used a place name, such as "Three Mile Bend," while the other used a three-letter code for the same site, like "6Y6."
The phone connection dropped a couple of times during the call, which added to the frustration.
When I thought we finally had a list of sites set, the ranger said I now needed to talk to another ranger to make the reservation. I couldn't believe I just spent all that time with a ranger and he couldn't take my credit card information to reserve the sites.
He transferred me to the other ranger, but I was redirected to voicemail and had to wait again for another callback. When I finally was connected with the next ranger, he told me some of the sites we chose were now booked. I somehow remained calm with hardly any cursing or sobbing.