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IN THE BOISE MOUNTAINS, Idaho — Daybreak’s rose-colored light glows over the snowy mountain peaks surrounding Stargaze Yurt in the Boise Mountains. It’s minus 6 outside, and the January air is so cold and clear it crystallizes and sparkles in the sunlight.

Each dawn in one of the Idaho City backcountry yurts brings amazing winter experiences, like the changing colors of a rose, pink and purple sunrise in snow country, the ultimate silence of the dead of winter and fresh animal tracks in silky snow.

A favorite sight each morning on the way to the outhouse is the trail left by a nocturnal snowshoe hare.

The yurts provide an easy way for snowshoers and Nordic skiers to “camp” in the backcountry in the winter and take in these experiences in relative comfort. You don’t have to be a hard-core winter trekker like those pictured in a Patagonia catalog to see winter in a remote setting. Despite the temperature outside, a glowing fire in a wood stove keeps the yurt around 70 degrees.

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The yurts make great jumping-off points for hitting trails way off the highway. With six yurts to choose from in the area near Highway 21 northeast of Idaho City, there’s a chance to try out different ones each winter.

Here’s a quick look at some:


Distance to Stargaze Yurt: 1.2 miles.

Trail: Not groomed. Breaking trail can be difficult.

Elevation gain: 680 feet. It’s a steady climb all the way in from the parking lot and not for the fainthearted.

Dogs: Allowed.

Why people like it: The yurt sits on an open point with incredible views of the stars and night sky. The wide-open views extend from Scott Mountain to Jackson Peak, Wolf Mountain, Steele Mountain, Pilot Peak and the Sawtooth Range. At an elevation of 6,569 feet, many north- and west- facing slopes are great for Telemark skiing and snowboarding.

Snowshoers have miles of off-trail exploring. The trek to Stargaze Point above the yurt is worth the views.


Distance to Banner Ridge Yurt: 2.5 miles.

Trail: Groomed.

Elevation gain: 750 feet. It’s a steady climb to a ridge where the terrain mellows out a little across the ridge.

Dogs: Not allowed in winter.

Why people like it: The yurt offers beautiful views of the South Fork of the Payette River drainage. Skiers who like groomed trails have an 8-mile ski loop to enjoy. Telemark skiers and snowboarders can explore the open bowls and slopes off the ridge near the yurt.


Distance to Whispering Pines Yurt: 2.4 miles.

Trail: Groomed.

Elevation gain:300 feet. It’s a long, but gradual climb to the yurt.

Dogs: Allowed.

Why people like it: There’s plenty of Nordic skiing on an 8-mile groomed loop. Snowshoers like the woodsy backcountry trekking and trails that crisscross through the forest. The yurt is secluded and tucked under tall ponderosa pines.


Distance to Rocky Ridge Yurt: 1.75 miles.

Trail: Not groomed. Breaking trail can be difficult.

Elevation gain: 150 feet. Most of the elevation gain is right out of the parking lot. Most of the trail is level with a few gradual ups and downs. It’s great for beginner snowshoers.

Dogs: Allowed.

Why people like it: It’s easy terrain for off-trail snowshoe trekking. You’ll find lots of rock formations in the Crooked River drainage. There aren’t too many hills for Telemarking, but you can ski the ungroomed trail from the yurt back toward the parking lot. The yurt is in a woodsy area, but it sits on an open knoll with mountain views. The parking lot is shared by skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers.

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