Yurt Camping at Cuyuna State Recreation Area
I learned this summer, while visiting Glendalough State Park, that some Minnesota State Parks have yurts for rent. Only three state parks feature yurt rental including Glendalough State Park, Afton State Park, and Cuyuna State Recreation Area. I decided this would be a fun adventure, so I set out to rent one at Cuyuna State Recreation Area. However, as it turns out, the yurts are pretty popular, so there were no reservations until late October. I nabbed the available reservation, which was for Monday, October 26th. At $70, the rental is not exactly cheap for one person, but would be a pretty good deal for a group. The yurt at Cuyuna State Recreation Area can sleep up to seven people! In my case, I had the whole unit to myself.
Winter came early to Minnesota, so there was snow on the ground and cold temperatures by mid-October. The night that I planned on camping was particularly cold, with a low of 16 degrees F. I was a little worried about the wintery conditions. But, I set out anyway, hoping for the best. The park itself was a former mining area from the early 1900s to 1960s and is pocked with deep mining pits. It was also the site of the deadliest mining accident in Minnesota history, when a mine shaft of the Milford Mine suddenly filled with water and mud on Feb. 5th, 1924, killing forty one miners. There is still mining equipment, historical markers, old buildings, and of course, the landscape itself, which mark decades of mining history in the park. Some of these historical areas were closed for the season.
The Cuyuna State Recreation Area is located about 100 miles west of Duluth. Many of the trails at Cuyuna State Recreation Area were closed until the ground was frozen, as to avoid damage. In better weather conditions, the park is known for its mountain bike trails. I had thought of bringing my bicycle, as there are also flat trails, but, it worked out better that I didn’t. During my visit, I was the only person in the park. The yurts are located at Yawkey Lake, where there are three yurts and a few trails. My yurt was named Manganese. It was the furthest from the parking lot and the outhouse restroom. Campers can use a cart found at the yurt to haul in their items. Instructions of where to find the key are sent with the reservation, so there is no need to check in at an office. I carted in my items from my car, grabbing firewood along the way. There is a firewood station near the outhouses, where free firewood is available for the wood stove during the winter months. A hand pumped water spigot is also located in that area, but I packed my own water. I was definitely glad that there was plenty of free firewood to use in the stove!
My first order of business was setting up LED candles in the yurt. Actual candles are not allowed and I wanted some source of light during the dark evening ahead. I set up a dozen LED candles, unpacked some things, took a few photos, then set off to do some hiking before sunset. As I had mentioned, many trails were closed, but there were a few nearby trails which I explored before it got dark. Upon my return from hiking, I started up a fire in the wood stove. That was my first time using a wood stove, but it was pretty easy to figure out, with a single lever used to control the oxygen to the fire. The stove was small and it took over six hours for the yurt to become semi-comfortably warm. I also started a fire outside in the fire pit, where I joined a weekly socialist meeting via zoom and ate s’mores. I was happy that my cell phone actually had reception and it is interesting how a person can be in the middle of the woods but also on a video conference.
After sunset, it definitely felt cold. The yurt has a pretty large area to heat, so I found myself huddled by the wood stove for hours in my winter jacket. I even pulled my mattress off one of the bunks so that I could sleep on the floor by the wood tove. It was also dark. The many LED candles, my camping lantern, and small flashlight didn’t provide nearly enough light. I managed to spend a few hours reading, but the room beyond my book was very dark and cold. Outside the yurt, I could hear many nature noises, such as the yipping of dogs or coyotes from across the mining lake and the flutey call of a saw-whet owl. I didn’t sleep well, as I woke up throughout the night to feed wood to the stove. A few times throughout the night, I stepped out into the cold and looked out at the stars. By morning, the yurt was toasty and comfortable. I went for another hike in the morning, then packed up my things. I made the mistake of trying to clean out the ashes from the stove, which only brought them back to life and filled the yurt with smoke. I had to fan out the smoke with the door. Outside the yurt, the sun shone brightly on the cool morning and there were many chickadees and juncos fluttering about the campsite, perhaps eating leftover crumbs from my s’mores.
Overall, I had a fun time. It was my first time “camping” in cold weather and my first time using a wood stove. Although many of the trails were closed, I enjoyed the time spent hiking alone. There wasn’t a single car in the whole park. The early cold weather really seemed to scare people away from nature. I was happy to hear a saw-whet owl and would try winter cabining again. My main advice would be to bring plenty of light. The night is long and dark. While the LED candles provided some ambiance, they did not shed a lot of light. I relied on my camp flashlight for my reading. Another thing I learned was not to clean out the ashes in the morning. I was trying to be thoughtful, but it ended up being a smoky mess. Also, I went through a lot of wood! I used almost all of the wood that I had carted in, which was more than I expected to use. So, I would definitely try to overshoot the amount of wood needed, as it wouldn’t have been fun to fetch more in the middle of the night. On the way home, I stopped in Aitkin, where I ate lunch at the Block North Brew Pub. I had a PLT sandwich (portabella, mushroom, and tomato) and it was great! They also have a wild rice black bean burger. I would definitely recommend Block North for a post-camping meal.