Monday, January 18, 2016

Yurts at Afton State Park or "Lets shiver in a rustic manner"

So this past week Butch mentioned that he had reserved one of the yurts at Afton State Park, which is located about 15 miles from our house in eastern Minnesota. This caught my attention because I have been looking for some activities to do with the boys during the winter. I was unable to find any useful information about the yurts on the DNR website other than:
  • They were available to use in the winter for $55/night
  • The yurt sleeps 7 and is heated by a woodstove
  • Firewood was supplied
  • You can't cook inside the yurt
Then Sunday morning Butch texts me that it is too cold to take the kids, and that he was cancelling his reservation. So, I just had to go investigate further, to see if these yurts were deep winter habitable by normal people.
I stayed in Gray Fox

Fire that puppy up

Temp inside when I started the fire

Temp outside when I started the fire

The power of positive thinking decreases in a linear fashion as you move away from the equator.
 When I got to the Yurt at about 3pm, the temp inside was about 14F. I immediately started a raging fire in the woodstove, and then went for a hike down along the St. Croix. I got back around 6pm, and the yurt had only warmed up to about 25F. Once I switched out my boots for down booties I was pretty comfortable. I was wearing a mid wt Capilene base layer under wranglers, a wool shirt and an insulated vest.
Took a hike while the yurt warmed....or tried to warm.

I had Cake lyrics stuck in my head

The day before I made a Cassoulet, and I heated (outside!) it up over a double boiler using a Vargo alcohol stove.

Nighttime falls on the hall of the dirtbag king

Before I went to bed I managed to get the yurt up to about 35 degrees F
 The Yurt was well apportioned. 2 sets of twin bunk beds, and another full futon bunk bed let these yurts sleep 7, but it would get pretty tight. All the furniture had that rough cut, northwoods style to it. The mattresses were comfortable, and while its was really cold, I slept very well in a -20F down bag. I did get up once in the middle of the night to pee and stoke the fire. (Pro tip: never go winter camping without a pee bottle)
While I worked pretty steady to keep the fire stoked, I was never able to get the temp in the yurt above 35F. Maybe if I was going to be here multiple  days in milder weather I could get the temp up into the comfort range, but it seemed a struggle when it was this cold and I was the only person there. 
I should also point out that the woodstove is about half the size of anything that I have ever seen or used. It was cute, but failed to heat the space. I was sort of surprised to see that they insulated the flue pipe almost as soon as it exited the stove, which usually is a significant source of heat exchange with wood stoves. I imagine that this has something to do with safety, but I was too cold to really care. 
This morning the temp in the yurt was about 10 F. Note the frozen water jug. I had to sleep with my camera batteries, and my work laptop was not happy when I started working on irrigation BMPs 

Which was slightly better than the temp outside.
 After I heated water and got the fire going again, I went for a hike on the St Croix
looks like there was some high water at some point this winter.

Hog drops

St. Croix heading north
Final thoughts: These yurts are a really cool, slightly more rustic, way to enjoy Afton State Park. My main goal was to ascertain at what level would kids (and parents) be comfortable staying in these structures during the depths of winter in Minnesota. Given the fact that I was only able to bring temps in the yurt about 40 degrees above outside temp, I would say that the outside temperature "comfort limit" is about 20F. If we could get the temp inside up to about 60 F I would totally take the boys here.
That being said, if you are well prepared and want a bit of adventure, these yurts are a ton of fun  when the mercury falls below zero. Here are a few tips:

  • Down booties or some other warm footwear. The yurts have no subfloor insulation. 
  • Liner gloves and mittens 
  • Bring a foam pad to kneel on while you stoke the fire. The wood that DNR provides is so dry and the firebox is so small you will be spending a lot of time down in front of it. 
  • Pee bottle: its a 80 yard walk to the vault toilet 
  • Have winter rated sleeping bag
  • Make sure everyone has a head lamp, since there is no power or lights in the yurts. Gas lanterns are not allowed.
  • You have to cook outside so focus on meals that just require boiling water and don't require you to stand out there tending it. Bring thermoses or some way to store hot water.
  • You are gonna need a cooler to keep things from freezing.
  • Bring your classic skis. the yurts are ski in and ski out.

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