For over 2,500 years, Mongolians have built yurts, transportable tent-like structures made of wood lattice and heavy felt, to protect themselves from the icy blasts of their native steppes. Today in America, yurts are a wonderful, yet little-known, camping amenity provided at many of the country’s state and national parks.
Yurts are constructed of a sturdy wood frame covered with a weatherproof fabric that can protect inhabitants from rain, heavy snow, and temperatures as low as -40ºF. Most American yurts are around 24 feet in diameter and 14 feet high. Unlike their Mongolian inspirations, these modern yurts are not transportable but are permanent structures, meant to provide protection and comfort for those enjoying the outdoors. Enthusiasts—and yes, there are yurt enthusiasts out there—love the unique round shape of the buildings and swear that staying in one provides a very refreshing, out-of-the-ordinary experience. Yurts often come fully furnished with cooking appliances, beds, tables and chairs, and bathroom facilities nearby.
Many outdoor buffs say that the best yurt experiences are the secluded ones. During snowy winter months, yurts provide excellent stopping locations for extended snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trips. So instead of staying in a crowded hotel next to a ski resort or limiting yourself to a snow trek of only a few hours, stay in a yurt this winter. Find your own snowy wonderland where you can ski, snowshoe, sled, have snowball fights, and build snow caves without disturbing the neighbors, and with the comfort of a warm bed and hot food nearby.
Here are some yurt providers in the western United States. If you don’t see something here that strikes your yurting fancy or isn’t close enough to home, check out the web or contact the park ranger office of the national or state park nearest you. They will let you know if they have yurting amenities available.
Wyoming: Rendezvous Backcountry Tours
Location: Grand Teton National Forest, south of Yellowstone National Park
Description: Three mountain yurts and one family-size yurt on the valley floor are available. All yurts bunk eight people and have working kitchens and private sheltered latrine areas. Mountain yurts are four miles into the mountains, between 1800- and 2200-foot elevation gain, requiring three to five hours of easy to moderately strenuous skiing. However, it is well worth the hike to reach any of these yurts surrounded by pristine pine forests and gorgeous mountain vistas.
Location: Manti-La Sal National Forest, south of Moab
Description: This lovely secluded yurt is available for rental year-round. It has beautiful, unobstructed views of the La Sal, the Telluride, and the Durango mountain ranges and is surrounded by a lovely desert sage forest. It accommodates four to six people and includes a complete kitchen and covered bathroom. Access is by graded road; all-wheel or four-wheel drive and chains are recommended in the winter.
Montana: Bell Lake Yurt
Location: Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, west of Bozeman and south of Helena
Description: Don’t miss out on this yurt with its instant access to secluded mountain ski trails and crystal-clear night skies. This yurt is at 8,500 feet, so a fairly challenging hike or ski is necessary to reach it. An orientation guide is required on your first visit to the yurt, and guided ski trips are available. The yurt is equipped with both a wood and a propane stove. A pit toilet is available. Cots are available for up to six visitors.
Oregon: Douglas County Parks
Location: Whistler’s Bend Park in the Umpqua National Forest, west of Roseburg in western Oregon
Description: These two yurts, located in a campground, come equipped with fire rings and picnic tables but no indoor cooking amenities. Flush toilets and hot showers are nearby. The yurts offer an easily accessible getaway with a great view of the North Umpqua River.
Colorado: Ute Lodge
Location: White River National Forest, northwest corner of Colorado
Description: This yurt sleeps six and includes an indoor coal-burning stove and an outhouse. The trail to reach the yurt is an intermediate ski with an 800-foot elevation gain. This yurt is easily accessible and is in the heart of prime elk and deer habitat, a great location for animal watchers or those interested in hunting.