Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites Simplifies Camping for Non-Campers
By Hope S. Philbrick
Tell a friend that you’ll be staying in a yurt and his first question will probably be, “What’s a yurt?”
As if anticipating that this conversation might take place on a cell phone that rings shortly after you stroll into your rented yurt for the first time, the kind folks at Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites have placed an information binder with a helpful description on a table inside each yurt. “A yurt is a circular tent,” the scripted explanation begins, “20 feet in diameter, 12 feet high, featuring lattice wall support, insulation, finished pine floor, a clear dome skylight to look at the stars and clouds, lockable doors, a front and rear deck, picnic table along with grill, electricity and community water source, heat, ceiling fan and easy access to the comfort station (which includes restrooms and showers).”
Your friend may have more questions, but you’re here to enjoy nature so tell him you’ll take photos and chat another time. Then silence your ring tone.
Within the Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites system there are currently 12 yurts available for rent: Five are located at Fort Yargo State Park, six at High Falls State Park and one at Red Top Mountain State Park. The yurts have proven to be popular enough to warrant adding more. Construction on two is already underway at Cloudland Canyon State Park.
Luring a range of guests from savvy campers to curiosity seekers who may be traveling as individuals or groups, “the yurts are very popular,” says Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator for Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites, especially on weekends and during warm weather seasons. “We’ve even had RV owners decide to pay for an overnight stay in a yurt and vacate their camper for the novelty of the experience.”
Though yurts are still a relative novelty in the Southeast, they’re quite popular out West and can be found at several National Parks, including Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. The idea to introduce yurts to Georgia State Parks came from then-director Burt Weerts, who recognized that yurts would fill a niche. “Yurts give some people the opportunity to stay the night without camping,” says Hatcher. “The rental price is lower than cabins or cottages, and yurts appeal to folks who may not own a tent or other camping equipment.” The state’s first yurt, at Red Top Mountain State Park, was opened in the Olympics year of 1996.
Indeed, it’s possible to overnight comfortably in a yurt without packing more than routine essentials like a toothbrush plus towel and a sleeping bag or bedding. If you plan to cook at the campsite then you’ll need to bring more stuff, but nearby restaurants provide an easy alternative. (If staying at Fort Yargo State Park, I highly recommend breakfast at Mike and Val’s in Winder.)
The second phase of yurts in Georgia were constructed at Bobby Brown State Park in Elberton; these yurts were eventually relocated to Fort Yargo State Park, where they are now clustered on a peninsula that juts into a 260-acre lake, the Marbury Creek Watershed, offering peaceful vistas from both the front and back decks. Since the lure of the water is enticing, each Fort Yargo yurt is supplied with its own canoe.
A modern adaptation of portable shelters used for centuries by nomads in Central Asia, “yurts are not that difficult to construct or deconstruct,” says Hatcher. Though classified as a tent, a yurt is much stronger and weather-tight. The yurts in Georgia are elevated and weather-stripped to keep out squirrels and snakes and are guaranteed to withstand up to 100 mile-per-hour winds—comforts and assurances not typical of tent camping.
The fact that yurts stand at the ready is part of their appeal. “So many people who aren’t used to camping may be a little intimidated by putting up their own tent,” says Hatcher. “Yurts are a nice way to introduce people to camping.” Perhaps best of all, there’s no need to sleep on the ground: The yurts sleep up to six (five at High Falls) and are outfitted with a futon chair, bunk and futon couches. One yurt is handicap accessible and, unlike campsites, yurts (like cabins) can be reserved by specific unit.
To determine which of the state parks have yurts, the Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites team evaluates various factors including budgets, staff, campground occupancy rates, and population density. To choose where to locate yurts within a park, key considerations include environmental ambiance, access to water and power, and proximity to a bathhouse. “We like to put them where there’s a nice view,” says Hatcher. While the current 12 yurts face water, “the new ones at Cloudland Canyon will look out over a pretty ridge.”
Some folks—such as couples where one partner adores camping while the other classifies an unrated hotel as “roughing it”—may see lodging in a yurt as a do-able compromise or a fun one-time experience. For others, it becomes a favorite travel experience.
“We had one family that had rented every yurt for Memorial Day [when yurts were located] at Bobby Brown State Park,” recalls Eric Bently, region manager. “When we moved the yurts to Fort Yargo State Park, that family continued their tradition of renting every yurt for Memorial Day weekend every year,” and just relocated their annual gathering.
Rain or shine, staying in a yurt is a memorable experience. And after hearing you talk about yurt camping, your friends will likely want to try it, too.
- Yurt rentals from $65/night, 14-night maximum
- Maximum occupancy is six people (five at High Falls)
- Reserved for humans; pets not welcome
*****Odds of Encountering Children: Odds are high in any national or state park overall, but zero in your private rented yurt unless you bring them.
Cloudland Canyon State Park
Fort Yargo State Park
210 S. Broad St. in Winder
High Falls State Park
76 High Falls Park Dr. in Jackson
Red Top Mountain State Park
50 Lodge Rd. SE in Cartersville
-Photos © HSP Media LLC
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