Canvas Castles


By Liza Long

Spectacular views, comfortable camping and the solitude of Idaho’s wilderness are all a part of Idaho’s backcountry yurt experience. Add in a few good friends, some great food and good beer, and you’ll have a weekend to remember regardless of the time of year.

Idahoans and tourists alike enjoy yurts as a way to return to nature without abandoning the comforts of home. Four Idaho State Parks—Winchester, Harriman, Lake Cascade and Castle Rocks—all feature Mongolian-style yurts, complete with plywood floors, canvas and hardwood walls and a central skylight. The yurts can sleep up to six people and are ideal for camping year-round.

Boisean Frances Scott remembers her trip to the Lake Cascade yurt fondly, “It had been pouring our entire trip,” she said. “When we stumbled inside, it was like a little piece of heaven.”

Although you can’t drive up to and park at the yurts, it doesn’t take much physical effort to enjoy the peace and solitude of nature that Idaho’s yurts provide. During the winter, a two-mile ski or snowshoe trip will get you to the front door; and in summer, a one-mile hike is all it takes to trek into your home away from home.

If you’re looking for something a little closer to Boise, the Elkhorn yurts near Idaho City are less than two hours north of Boise on Highway 21. The Banner Ridge backcountry yurt is another popular choice, given its breathtaking views of the South Fork of the Payette River and its access to skiing in winter and hiking or biking in summer. A nearby backcountry road descends to Kirkham Hot Springs, a popular soaking destination near Lowman. Jason Grundy of Eagle remembers one winter trip to this yurt, “It was the first time I had ever cross-country skied,” he says with a grin. “I towed the beer sledge.”

The yurts are fully equipped with two sets of single bunk beds, a futon, mattresses and sheets, a dining table with six chairs, a propane cook stove, two propane lanterns and a wood stove to keep you warm at night. Pots and pans, eating utensils and towels are also provided. Solar lighting was recently installed in all six backcountry yurts as well. Outside, you’ll find a primitive toilet, a fire pit, a picnic table, deck chairs and a woodpile.

Frances Scott recommends yurts to anyone who hasn’t tried them. “It’s like having your own canvas castle.”

Idaho’s backcountry yurts are available May 1 – October 31 at $55 for a weekday night or $65 for a weekend night. During the winter months, November 1 – April 30, they run $75 for a weekday night, $90 for weekend nights. There is also a $10 (+ tax) non-refundable reservation fee charged at the time of booking.

Dogs are allowed year-round at all yurts with one exception; from Dec 1st to April 15th dogs are NOT allowed at Banner Ridge or Elkhorn yurts.

For more information or to make a reservation, visit