Camping in the Round

While State Parks offers more than 8,100 campsites, 825 cabins, and 136 full-service cabins across New York, in the western part of the state, there is another kind of camping option available – yurts.

A yurt is a round fabric shelter on a raised platform, with a roof, door, and windows that provides more shelter and room than a ground tent yet is a simpler accommodation than a traditional wood-framed cabin. The history of yurts traces back about 3,000 years to central Asia, where nomadic peoples used these portable homes as they moved around vast treeless grassland plains, known as steppes.

Yurt is a Turkish adaptation of the Mongolian word “ger” (meaning “home”) originally used to describe such residences, which were meant to be easy to assemble and disassemble as their owners moved with their horses and livestock throughout the seasons. Yurts are formed by a circular wooden lattice wall that supports wooden rafters attached to a elevated center ring, with the structure draped in fabric, originally felt, wool or hides. Being round, yurts were perfectly designed to resist high winds common in the region, since the shape has no corners or flat spots to catch wind gusts.

According to historians, the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan led his vast armies from his command post in a large yurt that moved from battlefield to battlefield.

The historical importance of the yurt to the region is represented in the official flag of the republic of Kyrgyzstan in central Asia. The flag consists of a red field charged with a yellow sun that contains a depiction of a “tunduk,” the opening in the center of the roof of a yurt. This view is what someone might see looking up upon awakening in a yurt

The state flag of Kyrgyzstan, featuring a representation of the center opening in a yurt’s roof. (Photo Credit – Wikipedia)
A Mongolian ger on the steppe at Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park in southern Mongolia. (Photo Credit- Wikipedia Commons, Uploaded by Adagio at English Wikipedia)

Easy and quick to build, this ancient design arrived in America during the 1970s as part of the simplified “back to the land” movement, slowly developing a following as an inexpensive form of housing that could be assembled in a day. The structures have been gaining popularity in recent years as a camping accommodation that puts its residents close to nature, while offering more comfort and sturdier protection against the elements than a tent. Modern yurts are meant primarily to be kept in place as semi-permanent structures, although they still can be taken apart and moved if necessary.

Three state parks in western New York now offer yurts as places to camp _ Four Mile Creek and Golden Hill state parks in Niagara County, and Evangola State Park in Erie County. Made from wooden lattice and rafters covered with heavy-duty fabric and insulation, these yurts feature a domed roof, windows, and bunk beds, as well as a refrigerator, microwave, and heating/AC units.

The yurts at both Four Mile Creek and Golden Hill at located closed to Lake Ontario and offer beautiful views. Golden Hill’s yurts are situated so that the decks provide a view of both sunrises and sunsets with Golden Hill’s Thirty Mile Lighthouse in sight. Take a slideshow tour of the Golden Hill yurts below…

At Evangola, the yurts are located next to a fishing pond, and just a short walk to the park’s Lake Erie shoreline.

Campers who have stayed in the yurts tell State Parks that they like it because it’s “in-between” camping in a tent and a cabin, being particularly useful for those who might not have all the gear needed for tent camping.

When the first yurts went up in 2013 at Four Mile Creek, New York State Parks joined a growing number of state parks across the country embracing this form of shelter as a camping alternative.

A yurt at Four Mile Creek State Park with an ADA accessible ramp.

According to industry accounts, the first two yurts in a state park in the U.S. went up in Oregon in 1993. Now, some two dozen state park systems across the country have added yurts.

The yurts in New York’s state parks are 20 feet in diameter, which results in about 330 square feet of interior living space and plenty of head room. While that might seem spacious for those used to maneuvering around a tent, that is a far cry from the largest yurt in the world. The so-called “White Building” (Ak Öýi) in the Turkmenistan capital of Ashgabat, dedicated in 2015, is in the form of a yurt more than 200 feet in diameter that stands about 100 feet high, with three separate stories holding a café, offices, apartments and an auditorium with 3,000 seats!

So, when considering camping at State Parks in western New York, think about trying out a yurt. Three thousand years of history can’t be wrong!

A traditional yurt on a cart in contemporary Kazakhstan. (Photo Credit- Wikipedia Commons/Creative Commons)

Cover Shot- A yurt at Four Mile Creek State Park. All shots credited to NYS Parks unless otherwise noted.

Post by Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, NYS Parks

Resources

All reservations for New York State Park yurts, campsites, cabins, and full-service cottages are handled through the ReserveAmerica website.

One thought on “Camping in the Round”

  1. In New England in the 70s I knew a family with 2 smallish children who lived in a yurt for over a year as they built their permanent home nearby. They attributed their success at living and working in such a small space to the psychological effect of the round living space.

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