Colorado’s Backcountry Yurts

Yurts—they’re not just for Mongolia anymore. These circular-shaped shelters created to withstand the extremes of central Asia’s grasslands, have gained a cult popularity in the American mountains. Like their alpine cousin, the backcountry hut, backcountry yurts provide a cozy destination for a winter trip, but they typically offer a more intimate setting than huts and they tend to offer fewer amenities. Yurt trippers should expect a rustic experience (although some yurts can be very nicely decked out) and be prepared to chop wood, use a wood-burning stove, bring lanterns and melt snow for drinking water.

Sound like your ideal vacation? Fortunately, Colorado is home to many yurt rentals, ranging from the luxurious Tennessee Pass Sleep Yurts, to the drive-up, family-friendly Yurt Village at Snow Mountain Ranch outside Granby. We checked out the privately operated Never Summer Nordic Yurts in State Forest State Park, located near Walden, 80 miles west of Fort Collins. This hidden gem of a park offers 71,000 acres of pristine forest dotted by lakes and connected by trails, plus lots of solitude.

Five miles from lonely Highway 41, at the end of a powder-covered trail and nestled in a secluded grove of dense firs, sits the Ruby Jewel Yurt, where we opted to spend the night. The Ruby Jewel is one of nine backcountry yurts in the State Forest, accessible in the winter only by skis or snowshoes. The yurts, which run roughly $100 per night, supply propane, firewood, sleep pads and cooking equipment, allowing you to keep your pack relatively light. Still, taking off your boots and huddling around the wood-burning stove with a cup of hot chocolate after the wintery trek feels like the ultimate in luxury. Once there, the forest is your playground. Take your pick of numerous snowshoe trails, watch for the neighborhood moose, go ice fishing, or head out and access some backcountry skiing.

Once evening hits, you’ll be amazed at how the wood-and-canvas yurts retain heat, and you’ll marvel at the silence of the forest, save the sound of snow periodically sliding off the conical roof. That serene effect is exactly what Never Summer owner Greg Graves envisioned when he purchased the company 15 years ago.

“Greg enjoyed the rustic feel yurts offered,” says Bron Austin Deal of Never Summer Nordic. “He wanted to provide the most pleasant outdoor experience in the ideal natural environment.”

 —Melanie Wong


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