Family camping in a yurt. Credit: Stephanie Lenox
Before I discovered yurts, camping with my kids seemed like one of those untenable dreams — just another family activity we’d put off until the kids got older. My older son, age 4, snored sweetly but powerfully; my younger son, age 1, was still prone to getting up in the night; and I was enough of a light sleeper that the prospect of staying in such close quarters was anything but appealing.
But then my friend Stephanie, whose kids are the same age as mine, invited us to go yurt camping with them on the Oregon Coast, along with five other families.
“You’ll love it — it’s like camping 'light',” Stephanie assured me.
The success of the yurt as a structure for familial bliss is well proven by now. Yurts originated as circular dwellings used by the nomadic peoples of central Asia roughly 3,000 years ago, and they now pop up worldwide. In the Pacific Northwest, they have found a strong following among travelers who value them for their high level of comfort, thin-walled access to the great outdoors and affordability — more expensive than tent camping but cheaper than renting a cabin.
A yurt’s round structure is created by forming a latticework of wooden wall sections and strapping material such as cloth or canvas over the top and sides. The structure is held together by the weight of the covering and can be dismantled easily for portability elsewhere. A skylight in the middle of the roof lets in sunlight and moonlight. These are the same houses that nomads valued, but for families in the Pacific Northwest, yurts no longer go with us — we go to the yurts!
Best family yurt sites in the Pacific Northwest
Just 40 minutes north of Seattle, Kayak Point County Park is home to a village of 10 yurts, a great home base for exploring the 3,300-foot shoreline of Port Susan. Enjoy activities such as fishing, windsurfing, picnicking, hiking, camping and boat launching; access to a saltwater beach makes it a fisherman’s heaven. Bring your crab pot!
An hour and 40 minutes southeast of Seattle, this 320-acre camping park, set on a low plateau, is a favorite for exploring the Green River Gorge. Boat and raft launches provide access to the river for expert kayakers and rafters, while two miles of shore set the stage for wandering in the woods, fishing and exploration.
With 7,449 feet of direct access to the Pacific Ocean in southwest Washington, Grayland Beach is a must for bird watchers, kite fanatics, beachcombers and others who like to beach it by day and retreat to stable camping by night.
A 1,882-acre camping park on Washington's Long Beach Peninsula, Cape Disappointment offers dramatic scenery of steep cliffs overlooking the spot where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. Draws include long stretches of sandy beach and rough seaside forests, a historic coastal fort, two lighthouses and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.
Ideally placed near Mount St. Helens, this park has more than a mile of shoreline directly on Silver Lake as well as a one-mile wetland trail and six miles of woodland trail fit for hiking and biking.
This beach park, near the family-friendly town of Manzanita, is home to 18 yurts and two miles of biking trails, and offers great access to fishing and crabbing sites. In July, the park’s interpretive site provides junior ranger programs for kids ages 6–12.
South Beach boasts the largest collection of yurts in one place in Oregon, as well as great accommodations within walking distance of pristine beach, a bike trail to the Rogue Ales brewery and the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and an on-site playground. A pet-friendly yurt is available.
A lesser-known state park on the Oregon coast, William Tugman is near Lakeside on Eel Lake, about a three-hour drive from Portland, a site with outstanding fishing, swimming, canoeing, sailing and boating set amid a forest with many smaller lakes and inlets. Fauna such as ospreys, cranes, eagles and deer are highlights, and the Oregon Dunes Recreation area is less than a mile away.
Tips for planning your yurt adventure
- Early birds win. You can make yurt reservations at state parks as far as nine months in advance. Beyond that, it’s first-come, first-served. Yurts are pretty popular, so it pays to plan ahead.
- Check the location. Some yurts are better positioned than others for privacy and ambiance. You can call and ask or check a map of the site online (as you would for tent camping).
- Bring a blanket. If your children need absolute dark to go to sleep, bring something to cover the skylight so they’re not up until 10 p.m. and wide awake at dawn.
- Make a food plan. Many parks with yurts are located near small towns, in case you don’t want to cook everything on site. You may not cook on stoves or burners inside the yurts, but many have outside outlets.
- Plan for pets. Most yurt sites are pet-friendly, but many require an additional fee per night and limit pets to certain yurts.
- Close your door. Even the most well-trafficked site can be home to wildlife scrounging for crumbs, just like camping.
- Try the off season. Prices are cheaper in the shoulder season and off season, and yurts are even more cozy when it is storming outside.
More camping shortcuts (you know, to lessen the hassles a wee bit):
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2015 and updated for 2019.