Cabin or yurt?

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By Anita Mabante Leach

A park ranger adjusts the skylights on a yurt (shown below) at Lyman Lake State Park.

This is the time of year we city dwellers long to jump in our cars and race north to witness the turning of the leaves — a way of assuring ourselves that the seasons still change.

Ideally, we would get to camp in northern Arizona on a fall weekend, but for many travelers, packing up tent, gear, food, and other stuff is exhausting before you even get behind the wheel.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore communing with Mother Nature, a tactic my family employs once or twice a year in an attempt to retrieve our sanity, to re-center our spirit. Living in a metropolis will do that to you.

But we’re talking about relaxing, taking in the beautiful fall colors, and breathing a sigh of relief.

So, with that in mind, let’s talk about cabin camping, a somewhat more civilized approach to vacationing in the wild.

There are different levels to cabin camping. At the top is borrowing your Tio’s luxury summer home in the White Mountains or house-sitting your cousin’s mobile home in Flagstaff. Yet there are cabins that are rustic enough to make your family really feel they are roughing it, without sacrificing too much convenience. After all, you may only have two days in the forest, and you’ll want to make the most of it. You might also consider booking for off times, instead of weekends.

First, it’s most important to figure out when you’ll want to reserve a cabin. Like San Diego in the summertime, the nicest places get booked early. And talk with other drivers in your family about how far you want to travel. Then, check out cabins online or by calling to see what’s available (in your budget and in the desired area).

There are a number of “citified” cabins to consider; many are found online. At Mormon Lake Lodging & Cabin Rentals north of Flagstaff you’ll find rustic cabins ($50 to $145 per night) that sleep two to six, have private baths and sometimes include kitchenettes. Or try the Cabins at Strawberry Hill, a group of 14 knotty pine cabins equipped with basic housekeeping items plus the luxury of a bath/shower combo and a microwave oven (current nightly rates run $150 for two up to $190 for 6). There are a couple advantages to renting cabins at Strawberry, as the town’s local restaurants are short walks away, and the drive from Phoenix is fairly brief, I-17 traffic permitting.

In the next level of comfort, there are the state park cabins and something unique: yurts.

At Lyman Lake State Park in eastern Arizona, campers can rent rustic cabins with covered porches and comfy features such as a pair of bunk beds with mattresses, a full-size bed with mattress, a table, four chairs, electricity, lights, heat, air conditioning and a lockable door. The cabins and yurts sleep four; Add picnic tables, charcoal grills, and nearby restrooms and showers – who needs to set up or strike camp when it can be this easy? There is a two-night stay minimum on the weekends, three nights during holiday weekends; cabins can be rented for up to two weeks. All this for 50 bucks a night!

But if you are more adventurous, try renting a yurt at Lyman Lake. These $35-per-night circular structures are actually sturdy tents with lockable doors measuring 16 feet in diameter. A lockable door and a skylight come with each yurt, as well as two futons, a table, four chairs, a charcoal grill and electricity. Showers and restrooms are nearby.

You’ll need to pack food, flashlight and matches, bedding/sleeping bags, cooking/eating utensils and perhaps a radio/CD player. A seasonal camper supply store is located in the park. While Lyman Lake’s cabins are available year-round, the yurts are open for renters from mid-March to mid-November.

If you want to take it down to the next level, consider Canyon Point Campground situated along Highway 260 between Payson and Show Low beside the Mogollon Rim. This is a great place if you’re RV-ing, using a tent or popup, or even car camping because it offers warm, clean showers and restrooms, electricity hookups and fresh water. (There are 88 sites, 33 with RV electrical hookups.)  Rates generally range from $20 – $24 per night. Nearby Willow Springs Lake attracts anglers and boaters while hiking trails wind through tall Ponderosa pines. It’s best to reserve as early as possible because this is a popular spot for those who like to catch the Aspens and Ponderosa trees as winter approaches.

Trip Tips


Cabins on Strawberry Hill
HC 1 Box 302 Strawberry, Arizona 85544
Toll-free (480) 575-7866 or Call (928) 476-4252

Mormon Lake Lodging & Cabin Rentals
Main Street, Mormon Lake AZ 86038
Reservations: 928-354-2227

Lyman Lake State Park
PO Box 1428
St. Johns, AZ 85936
(928) 337-4441

Canyon Point Campground
Along Hwy 260 between Payson and Show Low along the Mogollon Rim
Operator: National Forest Service
Phone: (928) 535-9233; Reservations: (877) 444-6777

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