The rain and snow are here. But tucked under a canopy of coastal giants against the serrated edge of the Pacific Coast, a string of eight, canvas-topped yurts in Sunset Bay State Park offer respite from the Rogue Valley's winter weather.
Warmed at the switch of a heater, electrically lighted from within and protected from coastal winds by their location in the heart of the park, these sturdy shelters provide the antidote to cabin fever.
Thanks to the Oregon State Park system, no longer does winter signal the end of camping season in Southern Oregon.
My family and I have weathered our share of storms, sure, but always from within the cozy confines of our yurt bunks, a game of Monopoly sprawled across the wooden table, a desk lamp lighting our path around the board. We've also enjoyed springlike temperatures, blue skies and seal sightings. But with a campground nearly to ourselves, a breathtakingly beautiful beach unmarred by crowds and nearby Coos Bay and Bandon largely tourist-free, we consider ourselves lucky no matter what Mother Nature has in store.
Reservations are easy to make through Reserve America (www.reserveamerica.com) and while yurts can be hard to come by during the peak season (I recommend trying nine months in advance if you want a stay between May and September), this popular park empties in the off-season, allowing families to enjoy spontaneous, last-minute, weekend getaways and midweek escapes. Packing is easy, too: Amenities in "rustic" yurts (available at most coastal state parks) include electricity, heaters, covered porches, bunk beds with mattresses and even a broom to sweep out all that sand. "Deluxe" yurts (available at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park) include kitchens and interior bathrooms, as well as televisions.
At Sunset Bay, kids can be cut loose to explore the family-friendly campground on bike or on foot. Entire campsite loops often are closed for maintenance during the off-season, allowing plenty of space for play without disturbing other campers. Dry firewood available for purchase on site ignites your winter bonfire (s'mores just taste better in January!), and beachcombing is always best when you have the entire coastline to yourself.
Two additional state parks (Shore Acres and Cape Arago) are situated within hiking distance; our family always packs a picnic lunch to enjoy in the covered shelter overlooking the coastline at Shore Acres, where we can look for whales and seals while eating.
If the weather is lousy, do some storm-watching, then warm up in your yurt (or enjoy the heated, well-maintained showers). Head into nearby Charleston, Coos Bay or Bandon for a no-mess dinner.
What you need to know: Bring your own bedding or toss some sleeping bags in the car. Extra towels and blankets are a must in the off-season, and storing camping gear in waterproof plastic totes ensures easy meal preparation.
Directions: Take U.S. Highway 101 (Oregon Coast Highway) to Coos Bay and follow the signs to Charleston/State Parks. Sunset Bay is 12 miles southwest of Coos Bay and a couple miles past Charleston on Cape Arago Highway.
Nightly rate: Off-season yurt rates start at $36.
Want to make it a day trip? If your overnight plans do not include yurt camping, stop by Sunset Bay State Park's beach to allow kids to stretch their legs, then hike to Shore Acres (trailhead at Sunset Bay common pavilion) to picnic in the gardens. Or head a few miles south in your car to observe hundreds or even thousands of seals at Simpson Reef from a scenic lookout on the way to Cape Arago.
Amy Whitley is a freelance travel writer and administrator of the family travel website Pit Stops for Kids (www.pitstopsforkids.com). She and her husband and three kids make their home in Medford.