How to plan a yurt adventure in Colorado's beautiful wild spaces
You don’t have to travel to Mongolia to spend the night in a yurt. Yurts in Colorado are found in several of its most beautiful state parks, so this unique camping experience comes with stunning scenery and access to outdoor adventure. And unlike traditional tent camping, Colorado’s state park yurt rentals are available year-round.
Yurts have been used for thousands of years by nomadic herders in central Asia. And camping enthusiasts have caught on to the benefits: staying in a yurt puts you in the midst of beautiful natural environments while requiring a lot less gear than traditional camping.
My family has taken three yurt camping trips in Colorado; we love the gorgeous mountain surroundings and access to outdoor activities. My husband and sons like sitting around a campfire under the stars. I like returning from a hike and warming up inside with a cup of tea… and knowing I will get a good night’s sleep. I consider myself adventurous but I find traditional camping hard on my finicky back.
Yurt camping is ideal in the autumn when traditional camping gets really cold for all except the heartiest campers. In winter it’s perfect – all of Colorado’s state park yurts are heated, and there are far fewer people in the parks.
Yurt Camping in Colorado
Six of Colorado’s state parks offer yurt rentals, all located in the mountains. Some are in open mountain meadows and others are set in forests of pine and aspen trees. There are trails for hiking in summer and snowshoeing in winter. Some overlook lakes, and all come with gorgeous views.
The closest to Denver is Golden Gate Canyon State Park, less than an hour away. It has two yurts available year-round and each sleeps six. (State parks with yurts are marked on the Google Map above & more information on all of the parks can be found at Colorado Parks & Wildlife.)
If you aren’t sure about yurts, Colorado also has cabin rentals in seven of its state parks. And if “roughing it” isn’t your style, I recommend the gorgeous log cabins at Mueller State Park. We have rented there a couple of times and the setting is beautiful. I love it for a winter holiday as you have direct access to the nordic skiing in the park. These cabins are more expensive than the simple camper cabins available at most parks, but they are ideal if you want to splurge on a special vacation.
State Park Yurts
The yurts in Colorado state parks are canvas tents on wooden platforms, and have skylights and windows providing natural light. Each is furnished with bunk beds with foam mattresses, and a table and chairs, perfect for cards and board games.
They have electricity and lights; a few even have mini-fridges, apparently. I haven’t lucked into one of those yet. They do not have running water. Park yurts are heated by a wood stove or natural gas heater, so you will be toasty warm on a chilly morning.
Booking a Colorado Yurt: What to Consider
Accessibility to the yurts varies greatly. In some cases, you can park next to your yurt campsite. Others are more remote and a hike is required to reach them.
Because they are located in state parks, most yurts offer the chance to see wildlife. Some have access to swimming, boating and fishing. Winter activities include hiking and snowshoeing, and some state parks, such as Golden Gate, offering groomed nordic skiing. (Check snow conditions if you want to ski at Golden Gate; its close proximity to Denver means conditions vary with the milder temperatures we get.)
Some yurts are so remote you won’t see anyone else and others are located in busy campgrounds. In winter, some yurts will have the entire park to themselves as all other camping closes in the fall. That was the case when we visited Pearl Lake State Park; other than a few day visitors we were on our own in the park. In other parks the yurts are located next to cabins which are also open in winter.
How to Reserve a Yurt
All Colorado State Parks require advance reservations for yurts, either by phone or online. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance and up until your day of arrival. Note that as of 2020 self-service camping permits are no longer available, so you can’t reserve at the park entrance.
Popular locations book up well ahead, especially in summer and on holidays. The typical cost is between $60 and $90 a night depending on the season and most yurt rentals require a two-night minimum.
Call the state park directly if you have questions when booking. I have found they are more than happy to fill you in on what to expect and help you choose a campsite.
My Favourite State Park Yurts
State Forest State Park
We visited this state park in northwest Colorado in autumn when the leaves of the aspen trees had turned to gold, a gorgeous setting which reminded me why our state is nicknamed “Colorful Colorado”. We had to hike to reach the yurt which made it more of an adventure, and we were truly away from everything.
The downside of a remote yurt is the need to carry so much gear, and water. We took a lot of water for a three-day stay and still ran short. Because there are 13 yurts to choose from in this park, you can select a yurt that works for your group. Several yurts have parking located right next to them.
Reserving Yurts in State Forest State Park
The yurts in State Forest State Park are managed by a private company, Never Summer Nordic, so you will book through them rather than Colorado Parks.
The yurts here are slightly more expensive than other state parks, starting at $90 a night, and they range in size from 200 to 450 square feet. A detailed description of each yurt can be found at Never Summer Nordic.
Pearl Lake State Park
This was my favourite yurt camping experience and we liked it so much we’ve visited twice. The park is located north of Steamboat Springs and there is lots to do nearby. One of the two yurts sits high on a ridge that overlooks Pearl Lake.
In winter, the campground is closed, other than the two yurts so you will have the whole park to yourself, other than the occasional day visitor. The hike up to the yurts is about a third of a mile: far enough that you can’t see the car but close enough that carrying all the gear in feels like an adventure, not a slog.
We stayed at the Pearl Lake yurts with another family in winter, each of us taking a yurt. The snow was so deep that getting around anywhere other than the main path – shoveled by the park service – required snowshoes. It was a really fun family holiday.
Two State Park Yurts on My Colorado Bucket List
Ridgeway State Park
The area in southern Colorado near the town of Ouray is known as the Switzerland of America, and it’s at the top of my list for a summer yurt camping trip. The park has great hiking and a reservoir for fishing and swimming.
The three yurts are as outfitted as it gets at a state park: they have wood stoves for chilly nights and mini-kitchens – a countertop for food prep, a microwave oven and a small refrigerator. This would be great in summer for keeping the food cold and my rosé chilled.
Ouray, about 15 miles from Ridgeway, is considered the heart of outdoor adventure in southern Colorado. And the mountain town of Telluride is only an hour away, perfect for when you need a dose of civilization. A few nights at a yurt combined with a stay in Telluride would make for a great summer holiday.
Sylvan Lake State Park
We visited this park a few years ago and stayed in a cabin. It was autumn and the hills around Sylvan Lake were colored gold by the vast groves of aspen trees in this part of the state. The hiking was beautiful and the location was great, about three hours from Denver. The three yurts at Sylvan are located nine miles away from the main campground, so would provide a more private experience if you visited in summer, when campgrounds are often busy.
What to Bring Yurt Camping
You will need your own sleeping bags and pillows. And typically the yurts do not provide any dishes or cookware. (Bring a pan that you can use over a campfire – cast iron is great for this.) And oven mitts are helpful for handling hot pots.
You will also need something to wash dishes in, dish soap and a drying towel. I also like to bring an electric kettle so we can make tea and coffee at times when the campfire isn’t lit. Flashlights or headlamps are handy for nighttime trips to the bathroom. All yurt campsites have vault toilets nearby.
Each yurt comes with a campfire ring and a picnic table and you will have to bring your own firewood and matches. (Sometimes you can purchase firewood at the visitors center in the state park. Call for details before you arrive.)
In the summer, showers and water refill stations are available near many of the yurts. But not all yurts have water nearby. If you haven’t camped before, you will be shocked by how much water you go through in a day: drinking it, cooking with it, washing hands, and doing dishes. It’s important to calculate the appropriate amount of water required for your group, and to know where the closest water refill station is. Ask about drinking water access, so you can plan for it. In winter, we melt snow for washing dishes
Good to Know
Park Pass: You will have to purchase a state park pass when you arrive at the park entrance. It’s typically $9 a day. Annual passes are also available.
Cell service: State parks rarely have cell service or it’s very spotty. If you might need it on your trip, find out how far you will have to drive to get a signal.
Dogs: Some yurts do allow dogs and others don’t. Sometimes one yurt within a site will be designated as permitting dogs so be sure you are booking the correct site, if you want to bring your furry friend.
Bears: The Colorado mountains are bear country so you will have to be “bear aware”. Most Colorado black bears are active from mid-March through early November; it’s important to know how to store food safely and what to do if you see a bear. The state parks provide information in this brochure: Camping & Hiking in Bear Country. The same info is available at every State Park Visitors Center. And you will see signs posted in the park and at campgrounds, with information pertaining to bear safety.
There are also private lodging companies that offer yurts to rent. Some are simple and some are luxurious. I am all for glamping and if you are interested in tent glamping, we had a great experience recently at Under Canvas Yellowstone (story coming soon).
They may not be fancy, but I love the state park yurts because the locations are amazing. Yurt camping offers a little dose of adventure, shared by Mongolian herders and anyone else lucky enough to spend the night in an open space under a starry night sky.