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Winter camping with the family may seem like a daunting pursuit, requiring mad super-hero parenting skills. But it doesn’t have to be. Stocked with a kitchen, camp stove, wood stove, and an outhouse, a yurt is a fantastic winter escape for the adventurous family wanting to dip a toe into cold weather camping.
My family booked a weeknight vacancy at the Bogus Basin Alpine Yurt on a whim. The Alpine Yurt sits less than a mile off the Nordic Lodge parking lot and directly on the Nordic trail system. It’s one of a fistful of soft-shelled Mongolian-style shelters available to rent in Idaho—year around if you like. Many sit on public lands, owned and operated by Idaho Parks and Recreation. Other yurts are privately run. But all offer a unique getaway opportunity. And perhaps there is no better time to visit than during winter.
Lost deep in pursuit of our own winter getaway, visitors at the Nordic Center glanced at me sideways as I emptied the contents of my truck into my sled. Clothing, sleeping bags, flashlights, hats and gloves … coolers bloated with food and drink … you’d think we were embarking on a British Expedition to explore the third pole. Not quite; but I was determined to ensure the family’s first winter overnighter would be a happy experience. Sled bloated and skis donned, we slowly pushed off the lot and down the Nordic track towards our backcountry cabin.
After about forty-five minutes of nurturing tired little legs and tattered patience, the hasty decision still seemed legit.
We slid off the groomed track and onto a small trail that punched through the deep snow to our home for the night. The kids took to the snow with a fist full of shovel and got right to digging a snow cave. This allowed mom and dad some quiet time to decompress, ignite a fire and ready the yurt for a cold night.
With no running water and no electricity, the evening comes at you fast in the mountains. The yurt was wired with LED solar lights to provide a bit of evening light. Fortunately, the visitors before us paid it forward and left nearly a full pot of melted snow and the wood stove was prepped and ready to light. Cabin prepped, we moved to the deck with a glass of wine to watch an atomic sunset throw the Boise Front Range into a riot of alpenglow.
Soon enough, the mercury plummeted, forcing everyone inside. We hung our wet gear and thawed out over soup and sandwiches around the wood stove. Dinner was chased with hot cocoa, s’mores and a game of cards. And then it was off to bed with stories about “what it was like in my day”.
The four sets of bunks can sleep 10; the futon folds out to sleep two more. Of course, our small family of four managed to sprawl out over every inch of available flat surface. At nearly 30’ in diameter, the Bogus yurt is a fairly big structure—even by yurt standards—with a healthy appetite for wood to keep it warm through the night. I woke up twice during the night to stoke the waning fire. But the kids woke up refreshed, quickly booted up and launched back into the great outdoors to continue their architectural masterpiece while mom and dad made breakfast.
We swept the floor, melted a pot of snow, put out the fire, and stacked more wood inside the door, leaving the yurt in ‘as-we-found-it’ shape and then it was back to the truck to store the sled and take in a day at the slopes.
Sure, we had the typical ‘how much longer’ inquisition. And on the way out, my daughter hitched a ride on the sled giving dad an extra workout. But the time spent together—replacing screen light with fire light—was precious and memorable, not soon to be forgotten. Plus we got an early jump on the lines at the lift!
DO IT NOW
What to pack
Yurts are like camping…but upscale. Bunks include mattresses racked on hardwood slats, protected under weather worthy shelters capable of buffering cold winter storms and hot summer days. Tables, benches, stoves, lanterns, solar powered lights, gas and a capable kitchen (sans running water) make the cabin fully functional, even for the backcountry noob.
The structures are often tucked back in the woods. If there’s a crux to the strategy, this is it. In winter, it means pulling all your supplies over groomed Nordic trails by skis or snowshoes (or fatbikes, if permitted). This isn’t optional, it’s required. Booting in would punch holes through the groomed trail, a practice that is considered a backcountry faux pas. Some places, like Bogus, rent skis or snowshoes and sled, but be prepared to bring your own kit.
Outside, you’ll find a privy (stocked with toilet paper), a shed (stocked with wood), tools to break down thus said wood, a deck and chairs, a snow shovel, and in summers, a fire pit to help extend the good times deep into the night.
You’ll need to bring your own food, clothes, flashlights sleeping bag (in winter, bring bags rated to at least 20˚F), toiletries and snow toys (sleds, skis, snowshoes, etc.).
Our yurt had melted water—a kind gesture from the previous night’s renters—but don’t count on it. Five-gallon pots are available to store and melt snow over the heavy-duty, double-burner camp stove.
A fleet of yurts are available across the state for summer and winter use. Some are publicly managed; others are privately operated. But all are a fantastic opportunity to get away from it all.
Bogus Basin Alpine Yurt
Just 16 miles from Boise and another mile from the Nordic lodge, the Bogus Yurt is perhaps Boise’s best-kept camping secret. Well, maybe. The weekends book fast but the weekdays are often vacant, so be flexible or plan accordingly.
- Sleeps: 12
- Distance from lot: ⅔ mile
- Cost: $135 a night
- Check-in/check-out: 2 pm/ 1 pm
- Trail pass: Required (your annual ski pass covers this)
- Reservations and more information: www.bogusbasin.org
- A supply sled can be rented
Idaho State Parks
The State Park system manages nine yurts across the state, including five backcountry yurts located in and around the Idaho City corridor. Accessing the yurts requires a 2-3-mile trek in by skis or snowshoe.
Dates can be reserved online up to nine months in advance, with fierce competition for weekend dates. For early risers and go-getters, the Idaho City Yurts usually reserve two walk-up reservation dates during the week … with occasional weekend dates. For those with fat-tired bikes, the Idaho State Yurt system allows fatbikes on the trails.
- 4 drive up yurts
- 5 backcountry yurts**
- Sleep 6 (two bunks, one futon)
- Distance from lot: 2-3 miles
- Cost: $50 (plus $10 reservation fee)
- Check-in/check-out: 2 pm / 1 pm
- Reservations are typically made 9 months in advance
- Walk-up availability
- Park fees: Park n’ Ski pass are required during winter and are available through Idaho Parks & Recreation and Idaho City
- Reservations can be made through the Reserve America
- More information: www.parksandrecreation.idaho.gov
**The 2016 Pioneer Fire damaged a good portion of the Idaho City corridor, destroying Whispering Pines yurt. Only two yurts are open this year: Stargazer and Banner Ridge. But five are anticipated to open for 2017. If renting an Idaho State Yurt, be aware of post-fire hazards, like fallen trees, flooding, and obstructing debris. Surf on over to parks and recreation homepage more information about the fire and the available yurts.
Four yurts are tucked against the Boulder Mountains above Ketchum at Galena Lodge, offering quick access to world-class Nordic skiing and backcountry skiing.
- 4 ski-in yurts
- Sleep 8 (two bunks, one futon)
- Distance from lot: 2-3 miles
- Cost: $135-$165/night plus tax ($100 in the summer)
- Check-in/check-out: 2 pm / 11 am
- Reservations are typically made 9 months in advance
- Sled provided with rental. For $50, supplies can be pulled in by snowmobile
- Yurt menu will deliver meals to your door
- Wood fire sauna
- One dog-friendly yurt (Honeymoon Yurt)
- Trail pass provided for yurt access; $17 trail pass must be purchased to ski on the trail system
- Reservations can be made through the Galena Lodge Yurt Calendar
- More information: Galena Lodge
Sun Valley Trekking
One of the oldest privately owned hut systems in the States, Sun Valley Trekking runs six backcountry yurts out of the Boulder, Pioneer and Sawtooth Wilderness, catering to everyone from the family oriented to the backcountry powder hound. SVT rents portions of each yurt, so unless you make a private reservation, expect to have company. Weekends are available as private rentals only.
- 6 yurts
- Sleeps 8
- Approach time: Boulder Yurt is the closest park-side yurt with a ½-2-hour approach. The rest require a 3-7-hour approach
- Weekend rate (Friday-Saturday): $360/night for all 8 bunks ($45 for each extra person)
- Weekday rate (Sunday-Thursday): $180/night for 4 bunks. $360 to reserve the entire yurt
- Check-in/check-out: noon
- Porter service available ($200/day)
- Assisted snowmobile tow service available ($25/person, minimum $200 charge)
- Food service available
- Wood fire saunas
- Reservations can be made through the SVT Yurt calendar
- More information: svtrek.com
A few privately-owned yurts are available to rent through Airbnb. They are typically smaller than those operated ‘on the books’, and the rates usually reflect the informality. Expect the same requirements as outlined above. For more information, search Idaho Yurts at Airbnb.
Feature image is credited to Steve Graepel. Artist, writer, adventurer, father of two, Steve Graepel is in constant pursuit of the balanced life. Living in Idaho, he can pursue it with gusto. Steve’s work has appeared in National Geographic Adventure, Patagonia’s The Cleanest Line and Gearjunkie.com. Steve and his wife Kelly live in Boise, Idaho with their two children, Chloe and Ethan.
Published on February 28, 2017