6 Unforgettable Yurt Trips Near Boise

This yurt is in Boise, but there are plenty of great ones in Utah, too.
This yurt is in Boise, but there are plenty of great ones in Utah, too. Pete Zimowsky
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You don't have to be a hard-core Nordic skier or snowshoer to spend a couple of nights in Idaho's snowy backcountry and enjoy the amazing outdoor experiences that winter offers. 

Six backcountry yurts located in the Boise Mountains, about 90 minutes northeast of Boise, provide unique opportunities to enjoy "winter camping" with all the comforts of home, so to speak: such as bunks, gas stoves, wood-burning stoves and the toasty shelter of a circular Mongolian-style yurt. The yurts are administered by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation and available for rent year around. But, by far, winter is the most popular time for these yurts.

Picture yourself peering out the frosty window of a yurt and seeing the rose-colored light glowing over the surrounding snowy mountain peaks at dawn. Sure, it's minus 6 outside and the air is so cold it's crystallizing and sparkling in the faint sunlight. But, you crawl out of your sleeping bag inside a yurt that is 70 degrees from the heat of the wood stove and gaze out across the distance mountain ranges.

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It's easy to step over to the propane stove and get the coffee pot going and then huddle up in a chair next to the fire and look at topo maps of trails that you want to explore.

Even the morning's walk to the outhouse can be an adventure. Although a little frigid, you soon forget about it as you see fresh tracks left in the snow by a nocturnal snowshoe hare. Maybe small snow drifts were sculpted during the night.

Like I said, the yurts provide an easy way for snowshoers and Nordic skiers to “camp” in the backcountry in the winter and take in these experiences in relative comfort. They are equipped with bunks, cookware, a propane stove, and firewood for easy and convenient overnight stays. Visitors only have to bring personal items, sleeping bags, and food.

Staying in a yurt is a whole different experience from city life. First, get the sausage, eggs, and hash browns sizzling in a frying pan over the propane stove. Most yurters haul their gear and food in on a sled that can be as simple as a kids' plastic toboggan or an elaborate sled used by ice anglers, hunters, or backcountry guides.

Pete Zimowsky

After breakfast, it’s time to think about chores, which might be something new for urbanites: You’ve got to haul snow and melt it over the wood stove for cooking water, washing dishes, and drinking. Remember to boil it for drinking. You also have to bring in a load of firewood from the storage shed so you’ll have a warm, cozy fire for your whole stay. You need to shovel the deck and pathways to the outhouse and woodshed, but you get into a rhythm as the days go on.

Soon, it’s time to head out on trails right out the front door. The yurts make great jumping-off points for hitting rarely traveled trails way off the highway. They lead to woodsy hollows, open ridges, and viewpoints that most folks wouldn’t see in the winter. The snowy terrain seems endless—and what a way to spend the day.

Most skiers and snowshoers have their favorite yurts and terrain, but with six yurts to choose from in the area near Idaho Highway 21 northeast of Idaho City, there’s a chance to try out different ones each winter. However, you have to be ready to book a yurt nine months in advance. All weekends are booked this winter but you can still find openings on week days. There are also cancellations during the winter and you have to keep tabs on Reserveamerica.com because cancellations are posted immediately.

If you want a winter weekend booking, you'll have to start booking in March for December openings. Winter interest in the yurts tapers off in April and you can usually get reserve a couple of nights during that month. There's still plenty of snow at the yurts through the end of April.

The yurts, structurally, are all basically the same—circular, Mongolian-style domed tents about 20 feet in diameter. They have plywood floors, canvas-and-lattice sidewalls, and a skylight. They have bunks, chairs, a table, cooking area, and pantry, and plenty of hooks to hang wet clothing and gear.

But yurt locations are different and the terrain can be very different. They are located on unique knolls and ridges, and offer different experiences with unique views, trails, and terrain. They are spread across 10 square miles in an area between Idaho City and Lowman near Beaver Creek and Mores Creek summits.

Plan several winters in advance and give each yurt a try. Here’s a quick look at the advantages of each yurt:

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1. STARGAZE YURT
Located: Off Beaver Creek Summit.
Distance: 1.2 miles.
Trail: Not groomed. Breaking trail can be difficult.
Elevation gain: 680 feet. It’s a steady climb all the way in from the parking lot and not for the faint-hearted.
Dogs: Allowed.
Why people like it: The yurt sits on an open point with incredible views of the stars and night sky. The wide-open views extend from Scott Mountain to Jackson Peak, Wolf Mountain, Steele Mountain, Pilot Peak, and the Sawtooth Range. At an elevation of 6,569 feet, many north- and west- facing slopes are great for Telemark skiing and snowboarding. Snowshoers have miles of off-trail exploring. The trek to Stargaze Point above the yurt is well worth the views.

2. BANNER RIDGE YURT
Located in the Banner Ridge Park N' Ski Trail System.
Distance: 2.5 miles.
Trail: Groomed.
Elevation gain: 750 feet. It’s a steady climb to a ridge where the terrain mellows out a little across the ridge.
Dogs: Not allowed in winter.
Why people like it: The yurt offers beautiful views of the South Fork of the Payette River drainage. Skiers who like groomed trails have an 8-mile ski loop to enjoy. Telemark skiers and snowboarders can explore the open bowls and slopes off the ridge near the yurt. There are plenty of woodsy treks for snowshoers who enjoy the backcountry.

3. ELKHORN YURT
Located in the Banner Ridge Park N' Sk Trail System.
Distance: 3.5 miles.
Trails: Groomed to within about 200 yards of the yurt.
Elevation gain: The climb is the same as for Banner Ridge Yurt because you pass the turnoff to that yurt. Once past that point, you continue on the groomed trail through rolling terrain. It’s the longest trek of all the yurts.
Dogs: Not allowed in winter.
Why people like it: It’s got a huge party deck. Well, that’s part of it. It's located off the Elkhorn Loop Trail for Nordic skiers who want to go the distance. There is plenty of terrain for snowshoers who want to get off trail, too. This yurt is the most remote of all the Idaho City yurts, so if you want to be really secluded, this is the place. The 270-degree view to the east, south, and west offers views of Jackson Peak, Wolf Mountain, Steele Mountain, the Trinity Mountains, Sunset Peak, and Pilot Peak. The open, rolling terrain below the yurt provides off-trail skiers a chance to practice without going far from the wood stove.

4. WHISPERING PINES
Located in the Gold Fork Park N' Ski Trail System.
Distance:   2.4 miles.
Trail: Groomed.
Elevation gain: 300 feet. It’s a long, but gradual climb to the yurt.
Dogs: Allowed.
Why people like it: There’s plenty of Nordic skiing on an 8-mile groomed loop. Snowshoers like the woodsy backcountry trekking and trails that crisscross through the forest. The yurt is secluded and tucked under tall ponderosa pines.

5. SKYLINE YURT
Located in the Gold Fork Park N' Ski Trail System
Distance: 2.5 miles.
Trail: Groomed.
Elevation gain: 650 feet of steady climbing.
Dogs: Allowed.
Why people like it: It’s located on a knoll surrounded by pine trees right off the groomed Skyline Trail, a popular loop used by Nordic skiers and snowshoers. The yurt also provides easy access to more than 20 miles of groomed trails and more marked Nordic trails. It offers great views that some say are the best in the Boise National Forest.

6. ROCKY RIDGE YURT
Located in the Whoop Um Up  Trail System.
Distance: 1.75 miles.
Trail: Not groomed. Breaking trail can be difficult.
Elevation gain: 150 feet. Most of the elevation gain is right out of the parking lot. Most of the trail is level with a few gradual ups and downs. It’s great for beginner snowshoers.
Dogs: Allowed.
Why people like it: It’s easy terrain for off-trail snowshoe trekking. You’ll find lots of rock formations in the Crooked River drainage. There aren’t too many hills for Telemarking, but you can ski the ungroomed trail from the yurt back toward the parking lot. The yurt is in a woodsy area, but it sits on an open knoll with mountain views.

Idaho City yurts are popular, and weekends are booked through March. However, if you can break away during the week, there are openings available. The yurts are located between 56 to 63 miles from Boise. Price ranges vary. From Nov. 1 to April 30, $85 for a weeknight and $100 for a weekend night. Prime weekends are $115 a night Friday and Saturday nights from Dec. 12 - March 14 and also holiday weekends. There is an additional $12 fee per person, per night for more than six people, with a maximum of nine people allowed.

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