Pete Zimowsky: Unwind, and unplug, in backcountry yurts

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comJanuary 23, 2014 

The orange-blue glow of the fire in the wood stove matched the color of the sky across the Boise Mountains during the frigid January sunset.

The thermometer on the wall of the Rocky Ridge Yurt, in lodgepole and ponderosa pine snow country about 20 miles northeast of Idaho City, registered 70 degrees inside and 24 degrees outside.

There wasn’t a sound outside except the deep stillness of night setting in across the snow-muffled landscape.

Winter in snow country, a few miles from the nearest highway and 20 miles from the nearest town, offers the most solid of solitude.

Winter camping, and I use the term loosely, in one of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation’s backcountry yurts in the Idaho City trail system, is the ultimate way to get away from it all.

There is no cell service at Rocky Ridge Yurt and when you’re back there, you’re off the grid.

Don’t get the jitters. Don’t have a meltdown.

Yup, it’s a strange feeling in this day and age. As you all know, I’m connected a lot of the time, even when camping. Most of the time, even in the remote desert of eastern Oregon and northern Nevada, I can wake up in the camper and get my emails and tweet about birds tweeting at sunrise. I can send a text from a ridge overlooking the Gospel Hump of north-central Idaho.

I’ve written about using the WiFi at state parks and about making phone calls, or posting on Facebook, from 10,000-foot mountain ridges somewhere between Elk City and Darby, Mont.

But to find places without “signals” is getting more and more difficult.

That’s why spending three nights at Rocky Ridge Yurt last week was total cold turkey from Twitter, Facebook, emails, and checking for news at I didn’t know what was going on out in the world.

It was refreshing, and the backcountry yurts are the way to do it, especially in winter.

No cell service? Don’t worry. There’s still plenty to do to take your mind off your mobile device.

You’re packing firewood, tending to the wood stove, hauling snow to melt it for drinking water, skiing or snowshoeing several miles each day, planning and cooking meals over the propane stove, and having an entire evening with nothing to do except read, play a harmonica, guitar or mandolin, or play any of the board games provided at the yurt.

There are six yurts in the Idaho City Nordic and snowshoe trail system and spotty cell service through Verizon.

There is intermittent service at Stargaze Yurt and possibly at Banner Ridge Yurt. You’ll be able to get cell service on parts of the Stargaze, Elkhorn and Banner Ridge trails. But, I haven’t heard of anyone getting service at Whispering Pines, Elkhorn and Rocky Ridge yurts.

So, if you want to unplug, you might consider those yurts. Go to

It really is possible to get along without texting and posting. Heck, it’s relaxing just to stand on the yurt deck and listen to nothing out in the black-and-white night.

You can spend hours watching the winter light change across the mountains at dawn and dusk. You can haul firewood and snow for drinking and kitchen water.

Try it and find a way to unplug and relax in nature.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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