If you're indoors, is it still camping?

You can ponder this question at state park cabins and yurts.

rphillips@idahostatesman.comMay 16, 2013 

Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation wants to make your camping life a little easier.

The agency has a variety of nontraditional camping options at its parks, including rustic cabins, luxury cabins and yurts.

Maybe nontraditional isn't technically correct. Cabins have been around a lot longer than RVs, and Mongolian nomads slept in yurts for centuries before the tents were reborn in the U.S. and modern versions were placed in parks.

So don't consider yourself cushy campers, consider yourself modern pioneers with comfy beds, heating and AC, great views, and more.

In the era of luxury RVs and hi-tech tents and camping gear, it might seem odd that parks would be renting yurts and cabins, but it was public demand that got them going.

"We asked our customers, and they told us that's what they wanted," said Jennifer Okerland, communications manager for parks and recreation.

Convenience is one of the big benefits. You're guaranteed a warm, dry comfortable place to sleep.

You also have to pack less gear. Depending on which accommodations you choose, you may only need to show up with clothes and food.

And you get to wake up in a state park, or in the backcountry.

"It's a great place to take your family and reconnect with nature and have a comfortable overnight experience," Okerland said.

The accommodations vary at different parks, and what you need to bring depends on what you rent.

Want the lap of luxury? Check out the deluxe shoreline cabins at Ponderosa State Park on Payette Lake or at Farragut State Park on Lake Pend Orielle.

Even Okerland concedes they're more like vacation homes than cabins. They include all the comforts of home and "million dollar views." Just show up with food, clothes and toys and everything else is there.

With basic cabins, you will essentially be bringing everything you would bring for camping except a tent, but you will be snug in a cabin with heating and AC, although cooking outside with your camp stove.

Yurts vary. Some include most furnishing and cooking equipment, others you bring your own.

Prices also range between the accommodations, starting at about $50 per night for a basic cabin at parks.

You also don't have to go to a state park to enjoy a yurt. If you want to feel like you're roughing it in comfort, rent a backcountry yurt in the Idaho City area.

The yurts are most popular during winter for skiers and snowshoers, but their popularity is growing as a spring-through-fall destination.

Most will require at least a short hike to reach them, which limits what you can bring. But once you get there, you have spacious accommodations and amazing views. If solitude is a priority, you will find it at the backcountry yurts. Your nearest camping neighbor is bound to be miles away.

Yet another option for groups, including family reunions and other gatherings, are the yurts at Lake Cascade State Park. There are several in a segregated area near the lake, and you rent them all. There's also space for RVs and tents at the same spot.

So there are obviously lots of sleeping options at state parks beyond of pitching a tent or hauling an RV. But here's the fine print.

Park accommodations are popular, and they can be reserved up to nine months in advance.

If you want one, better try to make your reservations now, because they may already be booked for summer weekends.

If you can go midweek, your odds of snagging one improve, and it's not too early to start thinking about fall or even next year.

Next time you're at a state park, check out what they have to offer, mark the specific cabin or yurt that you want, and then book it later in the season, or get it early for one of those peak periods next year.

Do it at parksandrecreation.idaho.gov. You can also call the individual parks and ask about accommodations they have. Be sure to ask their advice on what accommodations will best suit your needs.

Also, make sure you know what's provided and what you will need to bring because they differ depending on where and what you rent.

Remember, when you book a night in a yurt or cabin, you don't have to worry about the weather. If it rains (or even snows), you will be snug indoors with a heater or wood stove going and asking yourself "is this still camping?"

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

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