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Age-Old Tents Evolve As Glamping Option Since Companies Like Pacific Yurts & Colorado Yurt Company Have Built Luxuries Within The Structures, Such A/C, Kitchem, Bathrooms, Ceiling Fans & TVs.

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Pioneer Yurt Manufacturers Change The Glamping Game

With 40 Years In The Biz, Pacific Yurts Founder Alan Bair Can Attest To The Growing Popularity Of Yurts Since The 90s For The Unique Experience They Provide

Tugaloo yurt overlooking lake in beautiful Georgia landscape [Photo Credit: GA State Parks]

Yurts have come a long way from their humble beginnings on the plains of Central Asia. A round portable tent, originally covered in felt, the yurt was the dwelling of choice for the nomads who roamed the steppes following their herds, and yurt villages can still be found in Mongolia.

Today, yurts have gone high tech, and are the darlings of the glamping, or luxury camping, crowd. Numerous campgrounds and parks now offer yurts as an alternative to cabins and tents.

“Yurts are a nice segway into camping for people who haven’t tried it before,” says Kim Hatcher, a representative of the Georgia State Parks system. Yurt camping is sort of a middle ground between camping in a cabin and camping in a tent. Hatcher says they started offering yurt accommodations years ago at Fort Yargo near Atlanta, and they’ve proved so popular that Georgia added them to five other state parks. "Our yurts have electric outlets, ceiling fans and space heaters, so they are pretty comfortable."

Some Delaware State Parks also offer yurt rentals. “We saw it as an interesting addition to our park and erected two from Colorado Yurt Company kits in the late ‘90s,” says Mike Moyer, park superintendent at Lums Pond State Park. The Delaware yurts are even air-conditioned, although, Moyer notes, “due to the thin walls that yurts traditionally have, they aren’t as cool as you would expect a well-insulated building to be on the hottest summer days. We still get calls every year from people who want to know what a yurt is.”

The first yurts sold in the United States back in the 1970s were simple structures of canvas over a lattice wood frame, but many improvements have been made over the years. Alan Bair, who founded Pacific Yurts 40 years ago on the Oregon coast, says he’s seen his small company, the first to manufacture these camping accommodations in the U.S., grow into an international business. “We sell to customers all over the world, now,” he says. “A yurt can be used for so many things… campgrounds, lodges, retreats, studios. We even see people use them as their primary home.”

Pacific Yurts has introduced many improvements to the basic yurt design over the years, including a solar arc panel to light the interior, dome-style skylights, ceiling fans, a water catchment system, gutters, curved windows, screens and French doors. The materials used on the yurts’ exteriors have been upgraded as well to provide additional insulation and durability, with special adaptations for wind, cold and tropical conditions.

Yurt accommodations at High Falls State Park [Photo Credit: GA State Parks]
Rustic yet pleasant interior of a Fort Yargo yurt [Photo Credit: GA State Parks]

The Pacific Yurt website allows potential customers to custom design a yurt in 3-D that is right for them, along with all the options and their respective prices. Sizes range from 16 to 30 feet in diameter, with dozens of optional add-ons and colors available. Bair say it’s been a tremendous marketing tool.

Pacific Yurts installed the first yurts in the Oregon State Park system in 1993. Since then, the popularity of yurts has spread to parks and resorts across the country. Alan Bair finds that yurts are especially popular with young people, single parent families, disabled individuals and retirees who have sold their RV but don’t enjoy tent camping.

“We find that yurts are real income producers,” Bair says. “Our campground and resort customers report an average 80% occupancy rate.” Bair attributes the popularity of yurts to the unique experience they provide. “It’s really a romantic idea,” he says. “You’re in this round space. You can see the stars at night through the roof hole. You’re closer to nature, but also warm and cozy. It blows people’s minds.”

Although originally designed to be highly portable, many yurts today are designed to stay put. “Our yurts are more permanent than most,” says Ivy Fife of Colorado Yurts. “They are intended to be erected on a permanent platform, which means that they can be heated and cooled more efficiently. Lots of our yurts are found in ski areas in Colorado and elsewhere.”

The Colorado Yurt Company also began back in the 1970s and originally made Sioux-style tipis. Later it expanded into hand-crafted yurts, developed in association with structural engineers. Each yurt is tested and certified by an outside engineering firm and guaranteed to withstand extreme weather, including high winds and heavy snow.

Ivy says that many of the company’s customers are choosing to install kitchens, bathrooms and sleeping lofts in their yurts. Radiant in-floor heating is also a popular option.

Several Umpqua Yurts at a campsite community [Photo Credit: www.yurts.com]
Vintage photo of Mongolian version of yurt shelter [Photo: Wikimedia]
Serious glamping accommodation from Pacific Yurts as shown from their site's 3D display [Photo Credit www.yurts.com]

Nantahala Wildwater, one of the top whitewater rafting companies in the Southeastern U.S., has a long and successful relationship with yurts at both its Bryson City, NC, and Long Creek, SC, locations. “We started our yurt village in Bryson City in 1988,” says Trey Barnett, stationed at Wildwater’s Falling Waters Nantahala resort overlooking Fontana Lake. “We have eight yurts, currently, spread across the property. They are far enough apart to be private but close enough to use a central bathhouse.”

Trey says the yurts are popular with guests, to the point where people get possessive of “their own” yurt. “The yurts are just awesome,” he admits. “A lot of people say that they never knew camping could be so fun.” The yurt village at Falling Waters has been featured on Time.com as one of the nation’s ten most unique glamping locations.

Far from the simple huts of yesteryear, yurts in the age of glamping have electricity, heating and air conditioning. Some even boast TVs, refrigerators, microwaves and bathrooms. Services such as Airbnb and GlampingHub.com list yurts available for rent around the world.

Although yurts began their history as simple structures for herders, the new glamping craze is not their first brush with luxury. According to National Geographic, Genghis Khan reportedly traveled in a huge yurt mounted on a wheeled cart pulled by 22 oxen. The Mongol ruler not only founded history’s largest empire, he invented the RV (hahaha). 


Renee Wright 

A graduate of Franconia College in Social Psychology, Renee has worked as Travel Editor for Charlotte Magazine and has written three travel guidebooks for Countryman Press among other writing assignments. She enjoys food and camping.

Fort Yargo State Park

Make Sure To Stay At:

Fort Yargo State Park, located between Atlanta and Athens, this popular park features a 1792 log fort built by settlers. Visitors can reserve lakeside yurts.  Each yurt has furniture and electricity inside and a fire ring, picnic table and grill outside.

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