Tent-like dwellings ready for campers at Cloudland Canyon

Tent-like dwellings ready for campers at Cloudland Canyon

January 29th, 2013 by Barry Courter in Life Entertainment

The pine-floored yurts at Cloudland State Park are 20 feet in diameter and sleep up to six people. Each unit has two chairs, a table/serving bar, a couch and a couch-bunk combo.

Photo by Connor Choate/Times Free Press.

Does the concept of camping sound appealing, but the idea of sleeping in a tent doesn't?

Or maybe you like being in the out of doors, but think staying in a cottage is like showering in a raincoat.

For those who fall in between these categories, four Georgia state parks have added yurts.

What's a yurt? They're circular, tent-like structures traditionally used in central Asia.

"It's for the in-between market," says Bobby Wilson, park manager at Cloudland Canyon State Park on Lookout Mountain near Trenton, Ga. "It's between tent camping and staying in a cottage."

With 10 yurts built in an undeveloped area of the park last year, Cloudland has more yurts than the other three Georgia parks with the structures. It is the latest Georgia park to offer them, with the first going up in Red Top Mountain State Park in 1996.

Cloudland's yurts opened to the public on Dec. 1 and, since that time, 74 nights have been booked, bringing in $4,000 in revenue, Wilson says. The yurts, the landscaping, a shower/bath facility, paving, picnic pavilion and playground were all constructed with a $1 million federal grant, he says.

"We expect them to pay for themselves within nine years," he says. The structures themselves have a lifespan of between 20 to 25 years and are easily repairable, he adds.

The yurts are 20 feet in diameter and are big enough to sleep up to six people. They feature pine floors, two chairs, a table/serving bar, a couch and a couch-bunk combo. There is a front door and a back or side door that leads to a spacious deck with a couple of Adirondack chairs. There is electricity for plugging in a coffee maker or your electronics.

They also have space heaters. Wilson says the heaters were upgraded in the last couple of weeks after the first models turned out to be too small.

"These (yurts) are not insulated," he says. "We tell people that whatever temperature it is outside is pretty much what it will be like inside without the heaters."

Cooking is done outside on a fire pit since no open flames are allowed inside the yurt. Rental costs for the yurts are $70 a night with a two-day mininum and a 14-night maximum.

Rene Everette is a secretary at the Cloudland Canyon and her husband and sons, age 20 and 18, were among the first to stay in one of the yurts.

"It was very unique," she says. "It was like camping, but you don't have to pitch a tent. They do have furniture and you can bring coffee. We really enjoyed how comfortable it was."

Everette says she wanted to see what the experience would be like so she could give campers a good idea of what to bring and what not to bring.

"A pillow and a sleeping bag are the easiest things to bring," she says. "I pre-prepared some of the meals and then cooked them on the fire pit."

The idea for putting yurts inside a few Georgia state parks came out of budgetary and needs discussions among park administrators and state officials, Wilson says. Managers originally discussed adding new cottages at Cloudland, but decided they were expensive and not what was needed.

He says he has been pleasantly surprised at the level of interest in the yurts, considering the cold, wet weather that has been blanketing the region over the past couple of months and that it is the off-season for camping in general.

Wilson says he anticipates that families and groups such as church or school organizations will appreciate the amenities and the closeness of the yurts' layout. Each structure is no more than 100 yards from the shower and bathroom facility and, while the yurts are close to each other, there is a sense of privacy, especially when the foliage returns.

Contact staff writer Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6354.