Toss the tent: Discover a better way to sleep in the wild |

Toss the tent: Discover a better way to sleep in the wild

Katie Coakley
Special to the Daily
Less solid than a cabin but with the outdoor feel of a tent, yurts are portable, round structures native to the steppes of Asia that are covered with canvas or other materials.
Special to the Weekly |

Try it out

Ready to toss the tent and test some optional sleeping arrangements? Here are some spots in Colorado to (not) stake your tent.

• Piney River Ranch, Vail — Cabins, yurts and glamping tents; cabins start at $359; yurts start at $429; and glamping tents start at $199 per night. Call 303-905-4439, or visit

• Sweetwater Lake, Gypsum — Cabins, campsites and motel; cabin rates start at $140 per night; motel rates start at $85 per night; camping sites are $15 per vehicle. Call 970-524-7344, or visit

• Sylvan Lake, Eagle — Cabins and yurts; small cabin is $80 per night, large cabin is $180 per night, yurts are $80 per night. There’s an additional reservation fee of $10 and additional fee of $10 per night for pets (yurt No. 3 and cabins No. 2 and No. 8 only). Call 800-678-2267, or visit

• Snow Mountain Ranch, Granby — Cabins, yurts, lodge rooms and campgrounds; cabins start at $159 per night; yurts start at $99 per night; and lodge rooms start at $79 per night. There’s a two-night minimum stay for cabins, except for Labor Day weekend and then it’s a three-night minimum, and a four-night minimum stay for yurts until after Labor Day. Call 888-613-9622, or visit

• Kent Mountain Adventure Center, Estes Park — Cliff camping; $800 per person for two people or $1,200 for one person. Call 970-586-5990, or visit

• Vail Collective Retreat, Wolcott — Glamping rates start at $500 per night for two people. There’s a two-night minimum for weekends; three-night minimum for holiday weekends and no minimum for weekday stays. Call 970-445-2033, or visit

Of all the activities that are enjoyed in the summer in the Vail Valley, camping may be the most idolized and anticipated. The idea of sleeping under the stars, cooking on a campfire and experiencing nature in all its wonder and glory is one that beckons to many visitors and residents. It’s a quintessential mountain experience, one that is discussed and planned out to the Nth degree: where to go, who to go with and what to bring.

Though many of these idyllic adventures conjure images of finding the perfect campsite and pitching a tent, there are more options for slumber than two poles and some fabric. Cabins, yurts and even ledges suspended from a cliff are options for enjoying the outdoors overnight. And for those who still crave a tent, but want to eschew the elements of manual labor, there’s glamping for the win.


Starting at the easy end of the spectrum, cabins are perhaps the most “set it and forget it” option for camping. Available at scenic sites around the valley and the state, renting a cabin is an easy, low-key way to experience the great outdoors. Perfect for those who are craving a bit more comfort (hello, real beds) or are coping with camping newbies or large groups, cabins can be an ideal way to ease your way into the wilderness.

There are lodging options dotted all around the wilderness, from the well-known 10th Mountain Division Hut Association huts to the cabins that are situated on picturesque lakes around the valley. The benefit to a structure, though, is evident when the famously fickle Colorado weather rolls in. Not only are you sheltered from the rain, but you get an elevated camping experience that’s welcome for folks with kids. Sweetwater Lake in Gypsum, Sylvan Lake in Eagle and Piney River Ranch in Vail all have cabins for rent.

“The Sylvan Lake cabins are great,” said Edwards resident Melanie Malloy in a Facebook post. “We’ve stayed there twice. They are cozy. Sitting by the fire at night is amazing, and the stars are just perfect.”

Molloy said renting the cabins is a matter of going up, just slightly, in comfort level when camping with kids. Mary Shoemaker-Gorski, who lives in Gypsum, agreed.

“We did it because of comfort, and we have an infant,” she wrote on Facebook. “It rained that night, and it was great that we had the cabin. It was also nice being able to put the baby down like we do at home and still enjoy the camping feeling while sitting in the mountains enjoying the fire.”

Shoemaker-Gorski and her husband are already planning to rent a cabin in the winter for a date night. But renting a cabin is not just for families with small kids.

Marybeth Bahan rented a yurt and cabin at Piney River Ranch for a family group of 25 people.

“It was awesome,” she said on Facebook. “The yurt can accommodate I believe 17 bunk beds that were placed circular and left a communal area in the middle. Perfect. Cabin was clean, beds were comfortable and we even brought an extra air mattress. Outdoor grills, porch by yurt was perfect for family dinners, fire pit for singing, s’mores, area surrounding was perfect for whiffle ball competition. Lake, moose sightings — highly recommend.”

From large groups to families that aren’t quite ready to rough it, cabins are a great opportunity to experience nature year-round in a more user-friendly way.


Moving up the scale of comfort and ease, yurts are the next step. Less solid than a cabin but with the outdoor feel of a tent, yurts are portable, round structures native to the steppes of Asia that are covered with canvas or other materials. In Colorado, these pseudo-tents are used year-round, and while they provide the roofs and walls found in cabins, there is still an element of the outdoors with the fact that they’re not insulated.

Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby provides a wide variety of camping options, from lodge rooms to campsites to cabins to yurts, with yurts being one of the popular options. The Burgher Yurt Village opened in 2010 and was so desired that the 12-yurt Schlessman Village opened earlier this summer.

“We use them as an intro for camping,” said Kristen Spronz, brand manager for Snow Mountain Ranch. “They are lower-cost lodging options. You don’t have to bring a tent, but there are walls and a floor.”

While yurts are a popular option for families (the ones at Snow Mountain Ranch have bunk beds), they’re also attractive to groups: A group recently booked a yurt for a 40th birthday party.

“They stayed in a yurt and thought it was really cool,” Spronz said.

At Snow Mountain Ranch, the yurts are equipped with a refrigerator, microwave and ceiling fan, as well as a charcoal grill and picnic table. Each yurt village has a shade tent and fire pit ring, plus a bathhouse with eight bathrooms.

“We’ve had so many compliments on how nice the bathrooms are,” Spronz said.

Yurts have been adopted in many locations around the state, including places closer to home such as Piney River Ranch and Sylvan Lake.

Portaledge camping

For those who are ready to eschew the structure altogether, consider portaledge camping. Essentially a ledge strapped to climbing ropes on the face of a cliff, portaledge camping is a necessity that has been endured by wall climbers for years, yet recently entered the mainstream for extreme campers.

If sleeping anywhere from 150 to 350 feet above the ground on a sheer cliff face is something to which you aspire, then Kent Mountain Adventure Center in Estes Park can make your dreams come true.

Well-established in the guided rock-climbing business, Harry Kent, owner of Kent Mountain Adventure Center, set up his first portaledge camping experience for a television show. However, after the attention that the experience received, the company started offering this “on the ledge” option for anyone who had the nerve to try it.

“The cool thing is, you don’t have to be an extreme athlete to do that (portaledge camping),” Kent said. “(The guest) can choose to climb up a 5.8 or 5.9 pitch ledge or rappel down. The cliff is about 300 feet high. Another spot is about 150 feet on the wall. You have to have some physical ability, but it’s not like you have to be a good climber — you don’t have to be hard core.”

Sleeping on a portaledge is not like a traditional camping experience. Weather, nervousness and all sorts of other elements play into the experience. However, if you can brave the unknown, then the result is simply amazing.

“Partly, it’s an attitude thing. You’ve gotta be willing to be uncomfortable. Let’s face it, it’s not like playing golf. …” Kent said. “You have to have a good attitude for trying something new and something out of your comfort zone.”


But then again, sometimes tents are best — if you can make it the best possible experience. Enter glamping: a portmanteau of “glamour” and “camping.” Taking the stress (and planning) out of camping, glamping is the best of all worlds: tents with all of the amenities of a five-star hotel.

At the Vail Collective Retreat at 4 Eagle Ranch in Eagle, it’s a full five-star luxury experience for guests, but with tent accommodations. From a king-sized bed with a wood-burning stove to an outdoor deck and full bathroom, the accommodations at Vail Collective Retreats are above the typical tent situation.

“We appeal to a broad range of guests, but … our main clientele is people who are looking for a five-star luxury hotel experience, but they don’t want to go the traditional route,” said Chloe Todd, marketing manager at Vail Collective Retreat. “They want something more unique and an experience that they won’t have anywhere else.”

From five-star tents to ledges on the edge, camping can be as luxurious or as extreme as the occasion calls for. So toss the tent and experience something a bit more exotic this weekend.

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