Yurts at Mount Madona County Park
What started as an experiment at a Bay Area park has become a revelation.
At Mount Madonna County Park, five new yurts (with two more expected soon) – the first available in the Bay Area – have been a smash hit. Another six yurts are planned at the park.
“We’re selling them out every weekend,” said Vincent Ontiveros at the reservation center for campgrounds run by the Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department.
The yurts resemble the tent-like structures used by nomads in central Asia. They are round canvas structures perched on wood decks, each with a small porch. They have a door that locks, windows and a Plexiglas skylight, and bunk beds and futons that sleep 6 to 10 people, depending on the size of yurt (and people).
“You can stay in them all four seasons,” said Tamara Clark-Shear of the parks department. “A lot of people do not even know how to camp. A yurt make it that much easier for them. My favorite is the 20-footer.”
At Mount Madonna, yurts include a table and four chairs. Visitors bring sleeping bags, pillows, and typical camping equipment, like coolers, flashlights, camp stove and lanterns (flames not permitted inside). A picnic table and barbecue are outside for cooking. Piped drinking water and restrooms with showers are nearby.
At Mount Madonna, a 16-foot diameter yurt that sleeps six costs $50 a night. Two larger models, a 20-footer that sleeps eight and a 24-footer that sleeps 10, cost $70 and $90, per night, respectively.
Yurts have long been popular at state parks in the Pacific Northwest, where a rainy night can make a leak-proof roof seem priceless. Until now, park districts have never made yurts available in the Bay Area or Northern California. That’s changing as park supervisors look for new sources of revenue and visitors clamor for a low-cost alternative to sleeping on the ground.
In Santa Clara County, the Board of Supervisors voted to fund the installation of 24 yurts at five parks: Mount Madonna, Grant, Sanborn, Uvas Canyon and Harvey Bear (near Coyote Lake), Clark-Shear said. Most will set up within two to three years. Projections show they will generate $1.5 million in income in 20 years, according to the park district.
Yurts might do the same on a much larger scale for California’s troubled state park system, where the department runs a deficit. Camping fees are high, yet many parks sell out summer weekends far in advance – and could easily fill many yurts with vacationers.
State parks could sell out thousands of new campsites each summer night if rangers were allowed to build them. But required environmental studies, along with new water systems, make the costs too high and the timeline too long, state parks chief Ruth Coleman said in a past interview. Yurts could provide an answer because they are simply perched on wood platforms and do not require environmental studies or any additional infrastructure.
Mount Madonna County Park is in the Santa Cruz Mountains on the ridgeline west of Gilroy. Redwoods encompass much of the landscape, especially the west-facing mountain slopes. A small herd of white deer kept in a pen is a highlight for youngsters. This month, it’s the yurts that are capturing the attention.
If you go
Where: Mount Madonna County Park, 3,688 acres, southwest Santa Clara County.
What: Seven new yurts available for camping.
Cost: $50 per night for 16-foot diameter yurt that sleeps 6; $70 for 20-footer that sleeps 8; $90 for 24-footer that sleeps 10.
Campground: 118 campsites, both drive-in and walk-in sites available, $24; 17 sites have partial hookups for RVs, $30.
Reservations: (408) 355-2201, weekdays 8:30 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m., or gooutsideandplay.org ($6 reservation fee).
How to get there: From San Francisco, take Highway 101 south for 74 miles to the Masten Avenue exit. Go right on Masten, then merge onto Fitzgerald and continue 0.7 miles to Santa Teresa Boulevard. Turn left on Santa Teresa and go 2.9 miles to Highway 152/Hecker Pass Road. Turn right and go 8 miles to Pole Line Road. Turn right (sharp turn) on Pole Line Road and go 1.1 mile to park headquarters. Trip distance: 90 miles.
Scenic route: From San Francisco, take Highway 280 to Daly City and Highway 1, exit right on Highway 1 and drive south to Watsonville. Take the Airport Boulevard exit, turn left (cross the highway) and go 3 miles (becomes Holohan Road) to Highway 152. Turn left and take a curvy drive to the ridge at Pole Line Road. Turn left and drive to park headquarters.
Contact: (408) 842-2341, parkhere.org.