There’s nothing like renting a backcountry yurt in the winter for a guaranteed great time. Get a bunch of friends together, pack in your favorite food and drink, get out for a grand adventure every day on skis or snowshoes, and then return to the warm and cozy yurt for a fun time in the evening.
How can you go wrong?
The only glitch this year is that the approximately 200,000-acre Pioneer Fire in the Boise National Forest caused damage to the Idaho City Park N’ Ski trail system and the six yurts operated by Idaho State Parks and Recreation. Only two of those super-popular yurts will be open this year – Stargaze and Banner Ridge. Fortunately, those two yurts have the best skiing terrain nearby out of the six, so that’s a bonus.
There are a number of other yurts available for rent in the Southwest Idaho area, including six operated by Sun Valley Trekking, the Alpine yurt at Bogus Basin, the Williams Peak yurts operated by Sawtooth Mountain Guides, IDPR yurts at Lake Cascade, Lick Creek yurts operated by Payette Powder Guides, four yurts at Galena Lodge and several near Idaho City called the Mores Creek yurts.
The most important thing is to figure out dates when you and your friends would like to go yurting this winter, and see if you can find any open dates that work for your schedule. Many of the weekend dates are already taken for this winter.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting nearly all of the ski/snowshoe yurts in Idaho, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Let’s go through the opportunities and see what might fit your interests:
▪ Sun Valley Trekking: The variety of yurts available through Sun Valley Trekking has increased over the years to the point where they have one for just about every level of ability. Some are close to the highway, such as the Boulder Yurts, which work great for less-experienced skiers/snowshoers, young children or seniors. Tornak used to be our favorite in the Smoky Mountains, but the snow conditions there can be highly variable. The Bench Lake hut has some great skiing/snowshoeing terrain close to the hut under the shadow of Heyburn Peak, but it’s a five-mile hike to get there. Fish Hook yurt is only three miles from Idaho 75, and the trail climbs gently to the yurt, making it accessible to youngsters or seniors, but it’s still quite a ways from good skiable terrain. The Pioneer yurt in the Pioneer Mountains is the hardest to reach at six-plus miles (one way) and 2,000 vertical feet — allow 4-6 hours to get there. Plan to stay at the Pioneer yurt for several days to really enjoy the skiing/snowshoeing once you have arrived. The scenery is spectacular.
▪ Alpine yurt at Bogus Basin: Alpine sleeps up to 10 people. It’s 1 kilometer from the Bogus Basin Nordic lodge. Like many of the yurt systems, you haul in your own propane flasks for the stove and lantern, but the yurt has a wood stove for warmth and a three-burner propane stove for cooking, plus pots and pans. If you like to cross country ski or snowshoe, the Alpine yurt could be a great option conveniently located next to Bogus’ Nordic trails.
▪ Sawtooth Mountain Guides: The Williams Peak yurt is always popular, and that’s because it’s located next to phenomenal skiing terrain. From the Skier’s Summit above the yurt, you can enjoy a seamless run of 2,000 vertical feet where you can really let it rip in good powder conditions. There are wide-open powder shots and skiing in the trees. Sawtooth Mountain Guides offers avalanche-safety courses for beginners up to experts.
▪ Lake Cascade State Park: At the Osprey Point group-use area next to Lake Cascade, there are three large yurts available for rent that can accommodate up to 30 people. These are ideally suited for people who like to go for low-key snowshoe outings because they are located at low elevation (near 4,900 feet) near the Tamarack Resort base area. There are plenty of places to snowshoe in the vicinity, but you’ll need to break your own trail. Call 888-922-6743 to check on pricing and availability.
▪ Payette Powder Guides: The Lick Creek yurts at the top of Lick Creek Pass are next to some excellent powder-skiing terrain. It’s a vast area around the yurt, with 30,000 acres of skiable terrain. The yurts are at nearly 7,000 feet elevation, so the snow conditions are usually superb. The only catch with the Lick Creek yurts is that it’s a long ways on Lick Creek Road to reach them. You either rent or borrow snow machines to get to the yurts, or you hire a snowcat provided by Payette Powder Guides. Both options add expense to a yurt trip. Having snowmobiles at your disposal is a good thing because then you can ride to the base of where you want to ski, and climb from there. But there’s enough skiable terrain directly adjacent to the yurt to keep most people happy for several days. Payette Powder Guides offers avalanche courses during the winter.
▪ Galena Lodge: There are four yurts, and all are relatively close to the parking lot (less than an hour ski/snowshoe into the yurts). That’s a bonus. If you like to skate ski, cross country ski or snowshoe, you’ve got a world-class Nordic system outside the door with 50 kilometers of groomed cross country ski trails and 25 kilometers of marked snowshoe trails. For backcountry skiing, you’re not far from Galena Summit. But for this experience, it’s best to go snowshoeing, skate skiing or cross country skiing on Galena trails and enjoy the convenience of everything being close. Galena Lodge serves warm lunches, and it has a full suite of services for cross country skiers, including lessons, waxing and tune-up services.
▪ Mores Creek cabins: This is a new service north of Idaho City that rents a wall tent, teepee or small cabins for overnight accommodations. You’ll be close to the Springs in Idaho City or cross country and snowshoe trails near Mores Creek Summit, but there aren’t any trails immediately adjacent to the cabins.
Enjoy your yurt outings. Remember to carry avalanche-safety gear (avalanche beacon, probe and shovel) and know how to use it.
Also, dress warm for the conditions, and make sure all of your ski or snowshoe gear is in good condition. There’s nothing worse than having an equipment breakdown when you’re in the midst of a great powder day.
Longtime outdoors writer Steve Stuebner writes occasional columns for the Idaho Statesman. He writes weekly outdoor tips on his blog, Stueby’s Outdoor Journal.