Winter can be one of the best times to explore the Northwest. Whether watching thunderous swells pummel an empty beach or gazing out onto a frozen lake— it’s just you and Mother Nature at her finest. And what better way than yurt camping to enjoy an extended beach or ski weekend. Whether you’re a beach bum or a snow bunny, a yurt getaway is the perfect way to shake off mid-winter cabin fever. Here are seven that make it worth getting out of the house.
On the Coast
Nehalem Bay State Park, Oregon Two hours west of Portland, outside the little town of Manzanita, sits Nehalem Bay State Park. Its location on a 4-mile sand spit that separates open ocean from river outlet allows for choose-your-own-adventure water views. On the ocean side, walk along the expansive beach and watch winter swells charge the shore. Beachcombers can find agates, shells and occasionally glass floats. Or enjoy the view by horseback with Oregon Beach Rides.
A bayside walk affords a more tranquil stroll along Nehalem Bay’s calm waters. Don’t miss the paved bike path that weaves through wooded lowlands, where you may spot deer or elk in their wintering grounds.
The 18 yurts and campground are tucked into a grove of shore pines, where beach access is a short walk over the sand dunes. The yurts sleep five, and include a deck with picnic table and on-site fire pit. Reserve at oregonstateparks.org.
Vista Park, Washington
This 74-acre park is uniquely situated on the Washington side of the Columbia River outlet, near three conjoined wildlife refuges. The refuges are a birder’s paradise this time of year, with many wintering species you wouldn’t be able to see during warmer months. The river estuary, riparian forests, fields and wetlands of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Complex are home to more than 200 bird species, and many fish and mammals, including the Columbia white tail deer and Roosevelt elk.
Vista park is located north of the complex in the small town of Skamokawa, which means “smoke on the water,” as you’ll soon see. A short hike through a forested trail takes you down to the beach, where you can spend the morning watching the fog roll in from the valley. The misty veil typically burns off by noon, but you’ll still want to have a raincoat handy to watch the many ships coming into the busy riverport. Warm up in one of the park’s five heated yurts, identical to those found in Oregon State Parks. vista-park.org, reservations by phone only, 360-795-8605.
Kayak Point Regional County Park, Washington
Once slated to become an oil refinery, this 670-acre park, less than an hour north of Seattle, is now home to abundant wildlife and migrating birds. The park’s yurt village is located on a forested bluff adjacent to the campground and a short walk to the beach.
Meals always taste better outdoors, and that’s still true in the winter when the crisp air aids your appetite. The cook shelter is equipped with a barbecue grill, electric outlets and sink. Or let the salted ocean air season your cooking on one of the open firepits along the beach. You’ll also find several covered picnic areas nearby if it starts to drizzle.
What’s better than cooking your own open-air meal? Catching it. Try your luck fishing off the 300-foot pier. Cast out into Puget Sound, where the high tide depth reaches 50 feet at the pier. Flounder, sole, true cod, rockfish and walleye pollock can be fished year-round. snohomishcountywa.gov
Umpqua Lighthouse State Park, Oregon
Don’t forget to stock up on some of the coast’s best oysters in nearby Winchester Bay before checking into this state park. Then enjoy them in one of six deluxe yurts (two rustic yurts also available), which sleep seven, and include kitchenette, bathroom, shower and TV—not that you’ll need one. There’s plenty to do at this family-friendly campground and surrounds.
Less than a mile from the Umpqua River’s outlet, Umpqua Lighthouse State Park is situated around Lake Marie. A short path leads down to a small sand beach and another winds around the tree-lined lake. Take a break on a trailside bench, canopied by conifers and rhododendrons, and listen to the gentle plink of raindrops on the lake’s surface.
History buffs will enjoy checking out the working Umpqua River Lighthouse, a short salt-scented walk from the park. Its 65-foot tower sends out a unique signal with red and white beams. Learn all about its history in the adjacent museum.
Adventurous spirits looking to avoid ski lift lines can instead sled the towering sand dunes of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, surrounding the park. Or rent dune buggies to scale the sandy slopes. oregonstateparks.org
Doe Bay Resort and Retreat, Washington
If you’re looking for a little more luxury in your yurt vacation, Doe Bay Resort and Retreat on Orcas Island is the place to go. What’s more relaxing than a spa getaway in the midst of winter? Soak in the ocean views while soaking in their covered and heated salt-water tubs. Then get warmed to the core in the sauna. Deepen your relaxation with a massage. Or channel instant calm in a yoga class, where your sun salutations greet the island-dotted bay.
Views abound from their 10 yurts, each with whimsical names like faery and gnome. Some yurts are off-grid, without electricity and beds in the off-season, while on-grid yurts have heat, electricity, and a queen bed and bedding included. Other on-site accommodations include cabins, campsites, geodesic domes and a treehouse.
Guests can cook their own meals in a fully-equipped kitchen or enjoy the local and organic menu at their “seed-totable” café (limited winter hours). Many of their ingredients are picked from the onsite garden. doebay.com
Wallowa Lake State Park, Oregon
Surrounded by the majestic Wallowa Mountains, Wallowa Lake State Park sees large crowds in the summer, but is close to barren in winter months. Yet there’s no reason to stay away in the off-season. The paved roads are maintained year-round and the two heated yurts are beefed up with wood, instead of canvas sides.
Despite cold temperatures (expect 10 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, dropping another 20 at night), the region sees many sunny days, making it an attractive trek for west-siders tired of rainy gray skies. Take to one of the many park trails and the only sound around will be the shush of your skis or crunch of snowshoes against glistening white snow.
The gentle slope down to the lake is perfect for a sled. Visions of the lake’s ice age beginnings are easy to conjure up while standing on its shores, surrounded by the 900-foot snowencrusted moraines—the mounds of glacial drift that dammed the lake. Many enjoy ice fishing when the lake is fully frozen.
When the sun goes down, the real show starts. The lake sits in one of the few remaining dark spots, thanks to its remote location and low light pollution, making it a stargazer’s paradise. Layer up and enjoy the celestial display twinkling through the clear mountain air. oregonstateparks.org
Three Creek Lake, Oregon
The more adventurous can ski a 6-mile trail to a yurt on Three Creek Lake and be rewarded with a spell in a woodfired sauna. Even if you’re not up for the exercise, you can still enjoy the sauna and solitude of this remote region in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area. Three Sisters Backcountry (threesistersbackcountry.com) operates the yurts and will trek your gear in on a snowmobile, or shuttle your entire party, along with a keg from a local brewery.
The two hand-crafted yurts sit at an elevation of over 6,000 feet nestled into the trees just below Tam McArthur Rim. Both yurts are wood-fired, have full kitchens, dining and lounge areas and six bunk beds.
Skiing is as simple as binding up and heading out the door with close-up views of Broken Top and the Three Sisters Mountains. Guides are available to lead all levels of skiers through a variety of terrain, including open bowls, treed glades, couloirs, gentle meadows and steep chutes. threesistersbackcountry.com
|Yurt Basics & Tips
The standard rustic yurts found in Oregon State Parks sleep five and include:
>> sturdy canvas walls with windows and a skylight
>> plywood floors
>> futon and bunk bed
>> table and chairs
Many have electricity and heat, though you’ll want to be prepared for cooler indoor temperatures. Most campgrounds included hot showers and toilets. Check park policies for pet-friendly yurts. What to Bring