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Want to do something adventurous in the winter that the whole family will enjoy? Go yurt camping! With the growing popularity of camping in yurts across Idaho, we had been wanting to do this for years, but never scheduled it far enough in advance (the yurts fill up fast in the winter!) We finally got our act together and booked one for a weekend in mid-February, thinking there would be plenty of snow by then and it would be a perfect mid-winter getaway. After doing some research on nearby yurts to rent, we decided on one of the Galena Lodge yurts, just outside Sun Valley, Idaho.
If you’re not familiar with a yurt, it is a rustic circular shelter first used by nomads in Central Asia thousands of years ago, specifically Mongolians. Here in the U.S., these ancient designs have been adapted to provide a secure (weather tight) and comfortable dwelling, with a few modern conveniences like a wood burning or propane stove, solar lighting, and beds. In the case of the yurts at Galena Lodge, guests have access to a wood fired sauna.
Because there is no television, electricity, or even cell service in this area of Idaho, camping in these yurts is truly an escape from the hustle and bustle and a great way to reconnect with family and friends. You can enjoy solitude and peace nestled in the beautiful Boulder Mountains of central Idaho. It is truly a little slice of paradise and in the winter, a winter wonderland to explore.
What appealed to us most about the Galena Lodge yurts were the amenities, like propane for your stove, firewood and matches, lanterns (as backup for the solar lights), all your kitchen needs (pots, pans, dishes, silverware, cups, etc.), toilet paper, paper towels, snow shovels, and even games and books! The yurts even come equipped with foam mats on the beds. Basically, all you need to bring is clothes, food, any personal items and a sleeping bag. When you book your stay at one of these yurts, a pull-behind sled is included with your yurt rental (to haul all of your gear), as well as snowshoe passes for the trails. Worried about lugging water? No need to bring a bunch of water. All you need to do is melt snow in a pot (boiled for purification of drinking water)!
Our weekend adventure started on a Friday afternoon when we arrived at Galena Lodge to check in and pick up our toboggan. We had booked the Miner’s Yurt, one of the newer yurts that sleeps eight people. We loaded up our gear in the pull-behind sled (we had also brought backpacks and our own toboggans so we could use those for additional gear), strapped on our snowshoes and hit the trail. The Miner’s Yurt is the farthest yurt from the lodge, but at 1.5 miles, we knew that even the kids could handle it.
The trails to the Galena yurts are well marked, but you can obtain a trail map at the lodge when you check in. There are even some dog-friendly trails and the Miner’s and Honeymoon yurts allow dogs! The trails surrounding these yurts are quite extensive, with over 50km of immaculately groomed Nordic trails (both skate and classic skiing) and over 25km of snowshoe trails. There are plenty of trail options for beginners or those who want to take it easy, but also lots of challenging trails for experts.
We’d recommend exploring Cowboy Cabin Trail and Valley View Loop just across the road from the Lodge for some stunning vistas, both of which are relatively short. The Rip and Tear Trail is another great option and for a longer trek that takes you across some of the best scenery in the area check out the Tilt-A-Whirl Trail. As a bonus, all of the snowshoe trails are dog-friendly. If you want more of a backcountry ski experience, you can set up a trip with a local guide through Galena Lodge.
Once we arrived at Miner’s Yurt, we took off our snowshoes and let the kids sled nearby while we set up camp. Because the air temperature was pretty chilly as the sun was beginning to set, we immediately started a fire in the wood-burning stove and quickly noticed how warm the yurt got. We heated up the homemade chili that we prepared ahead of time on the propane stove, set our table, and called the kids in. We ate chili and cornbread, drank hot cocoa and had cookies for dessert. After cleaning up our dinner (washing dishes with melted snow), we spent a couple of hours before bed playing cards (provided by the yurt!). It was so nice to not be connected to devices or the TV, away in the mountains with friends, just enjoying each other’s company.
One thing that we would recommend overnight is making sure that you have a strong fire going in the wood burning stove before heading to bed. Then in the middle of the night, have someone get up and add another log or two to the fire to ensure that the yurt stays toasty warm throughout the coldest hours of the night and into the early morning. We also recommend bringing sleeping bags that have a temperature rating of 15-20 degrees and/or a couple of warm blankets (we love our down Rumpl blankets because they are super lightweight and compact). You can bring pillows, but remember they are bulky and you might not have room for them on the sled, so we would suggest camping pillows or even just using a fleece or sweatshirt for underneath your head.
The next morning, we awoke pretty early and quickly got the fire going again and made breakfast. Breakfast burritos were on the menu–complete with eggs, bacon, cheese, and salsa and were the perfect quick, easy meal. The kids were eager to play outside, so after getting bundled up, they were outside sledding again (another good reason to bring extra sleds). After cleaning dishes and packing up our gear, we were ready to hit the trails and head back to the Lodge. We took our time along the way down, mostly because the kids wanted to take every opportunity to sled, but also because the views on the way down were even more spectacular than on the way up which meant for lots of photo ops. It was a beautiful bluebird day and the snow was glistening, so we soaked in that fresh mountain air as much as we could.
If you are looking to spend the night in one of the yurts, but don’t want to pack a bunch of food, Galena Lodge offers a gourmet lunch menu daily in the winter with dinner available for special occasions, events, and holiday dinners. The Lodge also offers Full Moon Dinners, which is a four-course meal offered at the Lodge followed by a moonlight walk on the trails. Reservations should be made ahead for dinner and make sure to check with the Galena Lodge for pricing. The Lodge also offers delivery service if you want to eat in your yurt without hiking back down to the Lodge. You’ll just need to make those arrangements in advance.
Our winter yurt camping adventure exceeded all of our expectations. The only thing we regret is not staying longer! We loved our experience so much and can’t wait to return again. Snowshoeing to a yurt for a weekend and hauling all your gear can seem intimidating, but it really was easy and fun! Grab your family and friends, experience some of Idaho’s best scenery and make memories that will last a lifetime!
Tips for winter camping at the Galena Lodge yurts:
- Bring backpacks and a sled or saucer from home (with rope to pull) to haul gear since the pull-behind toboggans might not fit everything. Alternatively, you can also pay the Galena Lodge to haul your gear on a snowmobile for $50. If you opt for the snowmobile service, make sure to inquire for more details since advance notice will be required.
- All you need to bring is a sleeping bag (and perhaps a blanket), pillow, change of clothes (extra wool socks and layers), headlamps or flashlights, food and personal items. If you plan to use the sauna, make sure to bring a swimsuit and towel. Also, bring earplugs for roommates that might snore.
- If you don’t want to wash dishes while in the yurt, bring paper plates and/or bowls that you can throw away, but remember that whatever you pack in, you pack out.
- The yurts can only be accessed in the winter using Nordic skis or snowshoes. Walking is not allowed on the trails.
- If you plan to Nordic ski, you must purchase an NVT trail pass for $17/day, but snowshoeing passes are included in your yurt rental.
- Don’t overpack since you don’t want to be hauling a lot of heavy gear uphill. No luggage or coolers allowed. For clothing, use duffel bags or backpacks and for food, carry food in an insulated storage bag.
- Keep food simple and if possible, prepare ahead so you don’t have to spend too much time preparing your meals.
- If you are interested in learning how to Nordic ski, Galena Lodge also offers lessons.
Feature image credited to Christina McEvoy.
Christina McEvoy is an outdoor travel blogger, photographer and content creator at Adventure Together and can also be found on Instagram where she documents her family’s outdoor adventures and travels. She and her family live in Boise, Idaho.
Published on March 8, 2018