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, 4, snored sweetly but powerfully; my younger son, 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 said.
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 now pop up worldwide. In the Pacific Northwest, they have found a particularly 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 cabins).
Yurts’ round structures are 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. You can rent a yurt per night at state parks around Washington and Oregon, as well as at private resorts and properties that rent them to visitors during the year.
Yurts 101: No pitching required
It seems categorically wrong to use “yurt” as a verb, especially considering what a passive experience it is. There is no pitching a yurt, no work needed beyond driving up to your prebooked dwelling, turning the lock and throwing your bags down on the beds (yurts usually sleep up to six in a combo of bunk beds and futon couches). But yurting does require nearly as much on the front end as camping, depending on how isolated the yurt site is and how you want to accommodate hungry stomachs.
Because yurts are extremely popular — in many of the most sought-after, high-season locations around, such as state parks on beachfront property — it’s wise to take advantage of the fact that you can reserve in advance — up to nine months for Washington state parks, for example. The greatest challenge is therefore not necessarily how to yurt, but where and when to yurt. Note: During the high season, you may be required to book for at least two nights.
Deluxe vs. rustic yurts
There’s yurt camping and then there’s yurt glamping — in a deluxe yurt. A rustic yurt will provide basic accommodations for four–five people, and are relatively affordable ($49–$89 a night). Deluxe yurts, even those found in generally bare-bones state parks, will provide you with the extra perks that lean toward glamping, including everything a rustic yurt has, plus a stand-alone kitchen, bathroom and showers right inside the yurt. They can cost quite a bit more.
Best family yurt sites in the Pacific Northwest
Just 40 minutes north of Seattle, Kayak 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. Cost: $55–$73
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. Cost: $40–$59
With 7,449 feet of direct access to the beach 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. Cost: $59–$89
A 1,882-acre camping park on 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 beaches and rough seaside forests, an historic coastal fort, two lighthouses and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Cost: $59–$69
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. Cost: $49–$69
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 6–12. Cost: $44 year-round
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. Cost: $44–$54 (higher price for a pet-friendly yurt)
A lesser-known state park on the Oregon coast, William Tugman is near Lakeside on Eel Lake, about three hours 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 osprey, crane, eagle and deer are highlights, and the Oregon Dunes Recreation area is less than a mile away. $43 year-round.
Private yurts and resorts
Is your favorite yurt site in the Pacific Northwest booked already? AirBnB offers access to a variety of yurt properties. A quick search of “resorts with yurts” should yield other options online.
If the point of camping is time spent in fresh air and the incomparable closeness that comes from taking a break from routines, then yurting offers the best of camping without the vulnerability of tent camping. You can still wake up to the sound of birds, the crisp crackle of logs burning on a fire and the sweet feeling of the full day ahead. And you can rest assured that your tent won’t blow over.
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.
- 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 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 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.