Last weekend, my family and I had the opportunity to camp for two nights in an Arkansas state park, in a yurt. Don’t know what a yurt is? I’ll explain.
A yurt is a circular domed tent. Portable yurts do exist, but the yurt where we stayed was a permanent structure. The yurt has a wooden frame and a super-sturdy tent to protect inhabitants from the elements. Our yurt had four screened and zippered windows for circulation. The inside was also surprisingly aesthetic with angled beams making diamond shapes on the walls and beautiful beams circling the dome at the top.State parks across America are seeing the benefit of building yurts for state park visitors who may not be ready to camp in tents but don’t want hotel rooms or cabins, either. Staying in a yurt is an outdoor experience, but I call it “diet” camping, which is perfect for staying outdoors with kids.
Because we have three young children (ages 8, 4, and 2), we are just now getting to the camp-as-a-whole-family stage. We don’t have a lot of camping equipment, and we weren’t sure how the five of us (plus our ever-present 70lb golden retriever) would work in a tent. Enter, the yurt. Here are a few things that made the yurt perfect for us:
- A large space. Tents are tiny, and when there are five of us (and our dog and all our gear) in one tent, sanity and tempers deteriorate quickly. The yurt was approximately 200 sq. ft., which is positively a mansion compared to a tent. We had room for all our stuff and more, plus a nice wood floor!
- Electricity (thus, fans). Leave your electronics at home, y’all, but by all means, bring every electric fan you can get your hands on AND extension cords to make sure they can reach your bed. It doesn’t matter if your smart phone is fully charged or if the kids want to play games for hours on the iPad while you’re out in nature (just say “no” to electronics and camping!)…but bring the fans because in the summer, it would be hotter than three hells to try to sleep in a yurt without it. You can thank me later.
- Bunk beds. If your kids are like mine, they firmly believe that sleeping on bunk beds is what angels must do in heaven. They love bunk beds. Climbing a ladder to your bed is just magical when you’re a kid, and mine felt like they had won the yurt lottery. Our yurt slept six (three sets of bunk beds). Even better? A sleeping bag on a bunk bed. It’s the simple things, right?
- A door. Though I know that no one camping is really there to steal stuff or be scary to fellow campers, it was nice to be able to leave our stuff in the yurt, lock the door, and drive off to hike and swim. It was also nice to lock ourselves in at night (our boys sometimes like to escape…I know, UGH.)
- We “pimped our yurt.” I saw online pictures where people brought rope lights or Christmas lights to decorate their yurts inside and out, and of course, we had to bring our lights, too. If you thought bunk beds were magical, wait until you see them in the soft glow of Christmas lights. It was a move that made our little 2-night-stay extra special.
Staying in a yurt is a fun, economical family vacation that we will take again. The most important element was, of course, the quality time we spent with each other, but the setting was just different and fun and unlike anything we had ever done before. Our kids believed we had the most amazing digs in the whole park, and we had to agree.
If you’d like to check out the exact place where we stayed, it is Petit Jean State Park in Morrilton, Arkansas, and the link to booking a yurt is here. Please note that all state parks don’t include the same amenities as Petit Jean, but I have to mention how amazing they were at PJSP. Our yurt included one electric fan, a canoe with paddles and four life vests, a lantern, a beautiful deck overlooking the lake, a picnic table, a grill, and a propane stove. All for $55/night. Yes, I couldn’t believe it either.