Winter yurt life on PA public land: A different way to see PA forests

It’s a Tent! It’s a Cabin! No, It’s a Yurt!

Are you the type of happy traveler that’s looking for a funky spot to overnight in Pennsylvania? If you’ve already had a cabin escape this year, or if you’re looking for something a little more weather-proof than a tent, yurts might be for you.

Yurts aren’t quite cabins, and they’re certainly not tents. 

The word might make you smile even if you already know that a yurt is a round-walled, hard-framed and fabric-wrapped shelter that man has used going back centuries to the nomads of Central Asia.

Newfangled ones — substituting vinyl laminates for animal hides — began popping up at Pennsylvania state parks in 1999 and have proven to be very popular shelters in a sweet spot that’s not quite camping and not quite a cabin.

Erected on wooden platforms, the state park yurts are like tents but with a lockable hard door and windows, including one on the dome top with a view of the stars. Guests can use a fire ring and picnic table outside, where they also get their water and use the bathrooms. But the interior has amenities that include a bunk beds to sleep four or five or six people, a refrigerator and a stove top and maybe a microwave, electrical outlets, even electric heat.

 

Cool in the summer months. Warm and cozy in the cooler months. 

Even in cool weather, a yurt is a very cozy place to hole up for a two-night stay, which is the state parks’ off-season minimum, starting in 2020 at $36.75 a night. Off- season is roughly late August to the mid-June. Guests bring their own bed linens or sleeping bags and cooking and eating utensils. Some yurts allow dogs (for an additional $3 to $15 a night). For fun, you could bring ingredients for a Mongolian-inspired noodle dish — with or without the traditional mutton or lamb.  

Fourteen state parks now offer a total of 34 yurts. But you have to reserve early, because the yurts are almost always full. Some stay open as late as mid-December, but state park yurts close mid-winter and then reopen in as early as March.

Some private campgrounds and other places across the state, such as Presque Isle Passage Yurts, near Erie, and Lake Raystown Resort, near Altoona, also offer this funky and funny-sounding accommodation, sometimes spruced up from camping to “glamping,” April through November. 

One yurt that can be booked deep into Pennsylvania winter is wood-walled The Yurt at Rafferty Manor in Ohiopyle.

 

Where can you find a yurt in Pennsylvania?

State parks where yurts are open into cold weather include: 

Find and reserve yurts at all the parks that offer them at the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website. Or, if you’re looking for something a little more traditional, check out some of the cabins and B&Bs Pennsylvania has to offer. 

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