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Camping, without the pain

Yurts at Mt. Madonna

For all the outdoor adventuring and camping I’d done, I’d never set foot in a yurt—until I caught wind of a new development at the verdant and under-the-radar Mount Madonna County Park. Since last summer, the park, located halfway between Watsonville and Morgan Hill, has installed seven of these neo-Mongolian abodes—the Bay Area’s first. (Plans are under way to build a dozen more in several other parks.) The yurts are round; come in diameters of 16, 20, and 24 feet (sleeps 10); and are a cross between a cabin and a tent. On the rustic side, you have to bring your own sleeping bags and pillows, but you get a few amenities, as well: Our 20-footer had two bunk beds and a futon, plus a wood table just big enough for a lantern and multiple hands of late-night cards. Outside, each yurt has a fire pit and a grill, some boast a wraparound sun deck, and all have showers nearby. My favorite feature was the round skylight, a window to the redwood canopy and evening stars. Behind our yurt, a path dropped straight into the forest, connecting us to the park’s 14 miles of hiking and equestrian trails. If all this is a ploy to bring more money to our struggling parks system (Mount Madonna’s revenue has jumped by more than $40,000 since the yurts opened last year), I’m game. In fact, next time, I’ll stay two nights—and bring a bunch of friends.