Idaho Outback 

Eight reasons to yurt until it hurts

Tucked away in a saddle of the Smoky Mountains outside of Sun Valley is a little yurt owned by a valley outfitter. Clusters of wildflowers color the mountainsides, and a panorama of three mountain ranges stretches across the skyline. It's a quiet place. If such stillness doesn't suit you, you can go to the yurt and yodel your heart out. Because yurts in the summertime are all about versatility and options in the backcountry, and if you're smart enough to stay in one this season, you can personalize your own yurtiful adventure.

A few friends and I were fortunate enough to spend a couple of nights "yurting" over the Fourth of July weekend. Most people think of yurts for winter stays, when it's too cold or too much of a bother to pitch a tent outside. Why would you opt for shelter in a big, comfortable eight-sided construction when you can sleep under the stars?

I'll tell you why. Admittedly, yodeling is not exclusive to a yurt weekend but there are several summer experiences that can be had only in a funny-shaped hut. Here are eight good reasons to yurt in the summer:

Yurts are comfortable. They generally come equipped with a full kitchen, pots and pans, sleeping pads and beds—most everything you need to be cozy. I stayed in Coyote Yurt, owned by Sun Valley Trekking, with three friends for a couple of nights. In addition to all of the basics, the yurt has a fire pit, an outside picnic table and barbeque, and what I refer to as a "reading deck." (You, however, might choose to call it your yoga deck, the beer deck or the Scrabble deck. It's your yurt experience, after all.)

You can backpack lightly. If you stay in Coyote Yurt in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, you'll need only a sleeping bag, food and clothes. Ten miles into a backcountry yurt goes by much faster when you don't have to carry a stove, tent or sleeping pad. Once you're settled in, there are plenty of trails nearby for day hiking, too.

You can mountain bike to your yurt. Several great biking trails lead to Coyote Yurt, and most summer yurts have biking opportunities nearby. Bikers can ride in with only the overnight essentials and still sleep in luxury at the yurt.

Yurts are cheap. Backcountry yurts are more secluded and fun than a rented cabin, and much more affordable. Most yurts will cost you less than $30 a night in the summer.

Yurts have character. When you stay in a yurt, there is always the sense that many have yurted before you. There is usually a journal for visitors to write down adventures or poetry, and various yurt accoutrements suggest the stories of those who have come prior. It's neat to stay in a place so temporary, yet with so much history. Hanging from the skylight at Coyote Yurt, there was a devilish looking Barbie doll fashioned with wings and an aluminum foil dress. You simply wouldn't find that at a cabin in Ketchum.

It's beautiful. From 8,600 feet in the Smoky Mountains, we had a spectacular view of the Boulders and the Pioneer Mountains. Wildflowers dotted the hillsides, and the hike in and out was gorgeous.

Yurts are romantic. Maybe the word "yurt" doesn't exactly scream romance, but yurts are certainly more comfortable than a tiny backpacking tent. And especially in early season (when the mosquitoes are terrible), lovers might prefer the luxury of a yurt rather than sleeping out in the open under the stars. Coyote Yurt has a skylight, so you can still see the night sky without being eaten alive by bugs.

It's a "choose your own adventure" experience. If you yurt with a group, people can drive, hike or bike to the destination. Since Coyote Yurt is at least 10 miles into the backcountry, you can avoid the car camping crowds and still be able to invite friends who are less than thrilled about backpacking or mountain biking. The first night at Coyote, we had a few friends drive in with beverages and food, while the rest of us packed or rode through a beautiful, wildflower-filled gulch to access the yurt. If you're the hiker in this situation, you'll be thankful for the lighter pack. If you're the driver, you'll be glad to access the backcountry without having to hoof 10 miles. Either way, the yurt is a good way to divert.

For more information about Coyote Yurt visit www.svtrek.com. For more information on yurts throughout the state visit www.idahoparks.org.

Questions? Comments? E-mail rec@boiseweekly.com.

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