A winter getaway

Idaho yurts offer cozy solitude, backcountry fun

Stargazing is great at the Stargaze Yurt in the Boise Mountains northeast of Idaho City, Idaho, which is situated at 6,569 feet with great backcountry skiing and snowshoeing opportunities nearby. Enlarge photo

Pete Zimowsky/The Idaho Statesman

Stargazing is great at the Stargaze Yurt in the Boise Mountains northeast of Idaho City, Idaho, which is situated at 6,569 feet with great backcountry skiing and snowshoeing opportunities nearby.

BOISE MOUNTAINS, Idaho

Daybreakís rose-colored light glows over the snowy mountain peaks surrounding Stargaze Yurt in the Boise Mountains.

Itís minus 6 outside, and the January air is so cold and clear it crystallizes and sparkles in the sunlight.

Each dawn in one of the Idaho City backcountry yurts brings amazing winter experiences, such as the changing colors of a rose, pink and purple sunrise in snow country, the ultimate silence of the dead of winter and fresh animal tracks in silky snow.

A favorite sight each morning on the way to the outhouse is the trail left by a nocturnal snowshoe hare.

The yurts provide an easy way for snowshoers and Nordic skiers to ďcampĒ in the backcountry in the winter and take in these experiences in relative comfort.

You donít have to be a hard-core winter trekker like those pictured in a Patagonia catalog to see winter in a remote setting.

Despite the temperature outside, a glowing fire in a woodstove keeps the yurt around 70 degrees.

The yurts also are equipped with bunks, cookware, a propane stove and firewood for easy and convenient overnight stays.

Visitors have to bring only personal items, sleeping bags and food.

It doesnít take much effort to crawl out of a sleeping bag in the morning when the wood fire is roaring to get sausage, eggs and hash browns sizzling in a frying pan over the propane stove.

After breakfast, itís time to think about chores. Yes, there are chores at the yurts, and they are a unique experience for urbanites.

Youíve got to haul snow and melt it over the wood stove for water for cooking, washing dishes and drinking. Remember to boil it for drinking.

You also have to bring in a load of firewood from the storage shed so youíll have a warm, cozy fire for your whole stay.

You need to shovel the deck and pathways to the outhouse and woodshed, but you get into a rhythm as the days go on.

Soon, itís time to head out on trails right out the front door. The yurts make great jumping-off points for hitting trails way off the highway.

They lead to woodsy hollows, open ridges and viewpoints that most folks wouldnít see in the winter. The snowy terrain seems endless Ė and what a way to spend the day.

Most skiers and snowshoers have their favorite yurts and terrain, but with six yurts to choose from in the area near Idaho Highway 21 northeast of Idaho City, thereís a chance to try out different ones each winter.

Each yurt has different characteristics that attract certain yurters.

The yurts are basically the same Ė circular, Mongolian-style domed tents about 20 feet in diameter. They have plywood floors, canvas-and-lattice sidewalls and a skylight.

They have bunks, chairs, a table, cooking area and pantry, and plenty of hooks to hang clothing and gear. But yurt locations are different and near different terrain. They are located on unique knolls and ridges, and offer different experiences with views, trails and terrain.

They are spread across 10 square miles in an area between Idaho City and Lowman near Beaver Creek and Mores Creek summits.

Plan several winters in advance and give each yurt a try. Hereís a quick look at them:

Beaver Creek Summit

Stargaze Yurt distance: 1.2 miles.

Trail: Not groomed. Breaking trail can be difficult.

Elevation gain: 680 feet. Itís a steady climb all the way in from the parking lot and not for the faint-hearted.

Dogs: Allowed.

Why people like it: The yurt sits on an open point with incredible views of the stars and night sky.

The wide-open views extend from Scott Mountain to Jackson Peak, Wolf Mountain, Steele Mountain, Pilot Peak and the Sawtooth Range.

At an elevation of 6,569 feet, many north- and west- facing slopes are great for Telemark skiing and snowboarding.

Snowshoers have miles of off-trail exploring. The trek to Stargaze Point above the yurt is worth the views.

Banner Ridge area

Banner Ridge Yurt distance: 2.5 miles.

Trail: Groomed.

Elevation gain: 750 feet. Itís a steady climb to a ridge where the terrain mellows out a little across the ridge.

Dogs: Not allowed in winter.

Why people like it: The yurt offers beautiful views of the South Fork of the Payette River drainage.

Skiers who like groomed trails have an 8-mile ski loop to enjoy. Telemark skiers and snowboarders can explore the open bowls and slopes off the ridge near the yurt.

There are plenty of woodsy treks for snowshoers who enjoy the backcountry.

Elkhorn Yurt distance: 3.5 miles.

Trails: Groomed to within about 200 yards of the yurt.

Elevation gain: The climb is the same as for Banner Ridge Yurt because you pass the turnoff to that yurt. Once past that point, you continue on the groomed trail through rolling terrain. Itís the longest trek of all the yurts.

Dogs: Not allowed in winter.

Why people like it: Itís got a huge party deck. Well, thatís part of it.

The Elkhorn Yurt is located off the Elkhorn Loop Trail for Nordic skiers who want to go the distance.

There is plenty of terrain for snowshoers who want to get off trail, too.

This yurt is the most remote of all the Idaho City yurts, and if you want to be really secluded, this is the place. The 270-degree view to the east, south and west offers views of Jackson Peak, Wolf Mountain, Steele Mountain, the Trinity Mountains, Sunset Peak and Pilot Peak.

The open, rolling terrain below the yurt provides off-trail skiers a chance to practice without going far from the wood stove.

Gold Fork trails

Whispering Pines Yurt distance: 2.4 miles.

Trail: Groomed.

Elevation gain: 300 feet. Itís a long, but gradual climb to the yurt.

Dogs: Allowed.

Why people like it: Thereís plenty of Nordic skiing on an 8-mile groomed loop. Snowshoers like the woodsy backcountry trekking and trails that crisscross through the forest.

The yurt is secluded and tucked under tall ponderosa pines.

Skyline Yurt distance: 2.5 miles.

Trail: Groomed.

Elevation gain: 650 feet of steady climbing.

Dogs: Allowed.

Why people like it: Itís located on a knoll surrounded by pine trees right off the groomed Skyline Trail, a popular loop used by Nordic skiers and snowshoers.

The yurt also provides easy access to more than 20 miles of groomed trails and more marked Nordic trails.

It offers great views that some say are the best in the Boise National Forest. You can see Pilot Peak from the outhouse.

Whoop Um Up trails

Rocky Ridge Yurt distance: 1.75 miles.

Trail: Not groomed. Breaking trail can be difficult.

Elevation gain: 150 feet. Most of the elevation gain is right out of the parking lot. Most of the trail is level with a few gradual ups and downs. Itís great for beginner snowshoers.

Dogs: Allowed.

Why people like it: Itís easy terrain for off-trail snowshoe trekking. Youíll find lots of rock formations in the Crooked River drainage. There arenít too many hills for Telemarking, but you can ski the ungroomed trail from the yurt back toward the parking lot.

The yurt is in a woodsy area, but it sits on an open knoll with mountain views.

The parking lot is shared by skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers.

The Idaho City yurts are equipped with an outhouse a short walk away. Inside the yurts are bunks, a woodstove, a propane stove, cookware and firewood. Enlarge photo

Pete Zimowsky/The Idaho Statesman

The Idaho City yurts are equipped with an outhouse a short walk away. Inside the yurts are bunks, a woodstove, a propane stove, cookware and firewood.

Comfortably warm with a wood fire roaring, it doesnít take much effort to get breakfast cooking on the propane stove. Enlarge photo

Pete Zimowsky/The Idaho Statesman

Comfortably warm with a wood fire roaring, it doesnít take much effort to get breakfast cooking on the propane stove.