A late afternoon storm rolled in off the lake. Rain came down in waves and wind lashed the wooded bluff at the water’s edge, but I was snug as a bug in my yurt.
Pomme de Terre State Park in southwest Missouri has added two rental yurts to a campground at its Pittsburg area on the west side of the park. The campground is on a peninsula, and the yurts sit close to a bluff overlooking the lake.
The storm left at dusk, leaving behind a few clouds that were turning orange, then crimson. A short walk through the trees behind the yurt ended at the bluff, where a fiery sunset reflected on the lake as a solitary boater churned home. Darkness followed, with more stars than you’ll ever see in the city.
Missouri State Parks offer 40 campgrounds, all of which remain open in winter. Many parks also have traditional cabins, which are open seasonally. In addition, several parks now offer alternative lodging that is economical and comfortable.
Camper cabins, which are a compromise between a housekeeping cabin and camping, are hot items at four state parks. Johnson’s Shut-Ins and Mark Twain state parks have six camper cabins, Stockton has five and Wappapello has four. Lake of the Ozarks State Parks also has eight Outpost Cabins, which are similar.
The camper cabins have electricity, heating and air conditioning, but do not include water or restrooms. A central shower house and restrooms are a short walk away. Shower houses may close during the winter, but vault toilets remain open.
In a bit more exotic option, Lake of the Ozarks State Parks has two yurts for rent, and Pomme de Terre added two this summer. They are kind of a cross between a tent and a traditional cabin or RV camper.
“Providing these types of alternative camping options allows visitors to have a new experience in our state parks,” said Bill Bryan, parks director. “A yurt is a great way to experience the outdoors while still having the comforts of climate control, protection from the elements and a locking door.”
The yurts at Pomme de Terre are a modern adaption of an ancient shelter used by the nomadic tribes of Central Asia. A durable fabric is stretched over a wood frame that includes a lattice wall and rafters that resemble spokes. The structure has a wood floor and is fastened to a railed deck that sits on concrete footings.
The yurt has a front door that locks, and three mesh screened windows that open for light and ventilation but also seal shut with clear vinyl framed in Velcro. The dome skylight is like a sunroof in a car. The interior is spacious and airy when the outside flaps that cover the windows are rolled up.
The yurt has electricity, air conditioning and heat, a small refrigerator and a microwave. The furnishings include a log futon, futon bunk bed and coffee table. A concrete pad out front has parking space, a picnic table, pedestal grill, fire ring and lantern post. There is no running water, and guests bring their own linens and coffee maker.
The result is a sturdy, weather-tight structure that didn’t budge when the storm rolled in, and let in nary a drip in the pounding rain.
The yurt would comfortably accommodate a couple with three kids, and has a maximum occupancy of six. It rents for $50 a night on weekdays, and $55 on Fridays and Saturdays. One is a “canine cabin,” with an extra charge of $10 a night for a dog. Both yurts are ADA accessible.
The yurts at Pomme de Terre are available year round, although the shower house at the campground closes for the winter. Vault toilets and running water remain available.
The yurts have proven popular, especially on weekends. Reservations for camping, cabins or yurts at state parks can be made online at mostateparks.com, or by calling 877-ICampMo (877-422-6766)
“They are going to be really neat in the wintertime,” said Dave Herigon, natural resource manager at Pomme de Terre State Park. “You’ll have fantastic views of the lake when the leaves are off the trees, and plenty of solitude.”
First Time in a Yurt
Pomme de Terre State Park is a busy place in summer. The park consists of 734 acres in two sections of wooded hills on both the Hermitage and Pittsburg sides of the 7,800-acre manmade lake. The park has three shower houses, two sand beaches , a marina and four free concrete boat ramps.
Pomme de Terre is popular for all water sports, especially fishing. It is known as the “muskie capital of the Midwest” because the Department of Conservation stocks the clear waters with up to 4,500 muskie each year.
The park also has two hiking trails, and I headed out on the three-mile Indian Point Trail, which is a loop that leads to a rocky point perfect for a picnic. Like many state parks, prescribed burns are used periodically in the forest to mimic natural conditions. As a result, the open woodlands feature tall trees with grasses and wildflowers in the understory.
Goldenrod and asters were still blooming, and sumac had turned purple as fall approached.
The two yurts are located at the end of Loop 400, one of four blacktop roads lined by more than 240 campsites scattered in the woods. In the campground, I was joined by Paul Weis, 75, who was occupying the other yurt with Otto, his German shorthaired pointer.
Weis, a retired engineer from St. Louis, was on a three-day fishing trip to the park, and trying out a yurt for the first time.
“I have an RV, but it’s kind of hard to tow my boat behind it,” he said. “I saw the yurt online and decided to try it. I like the convenience of not having to pitch a tent.”
“The RV isn’t big enough the grandkids,” he added. “So next time I come, I thought I’d bring the RV, and let the grandkids stay in the yurt, and everything’s cool.”