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Bullards Beach State Park Family Vacation Fun - Biking, Hiking, and Sleeping in a Yurt. Quick, easy, and fun yurt camping family-style is one of the best-kept secrets in Oregon. In spite of the weather and last minute planning the Gourleys found the perfect location and have insider information to share. We were nearing the end of a weeklong spring school break with an unkept promise to take the kids away for a few days of fun. Checking the weather forecast revealed a near certainty of heavy rains for the next 48 hours. There was only one logical choice - yurt camping.Bullards Beach State Yurt Camping

We're not masochists. We had absolutely no interest in recording the down-in-the-mud trouble-starting-the-fire generally-wet-and-miserable experience that some would predict for a spring campout in the Pacific Northwest. Rather, we knew where we could find a selection of turn-on-the-light dry-your-clothes-by-the-heater enjoy-the-rain-on-the-roof alternatives: In any of 19 Oregon State Parks.

The Oregon State Park "Yurt" program started in 1994 as a way to provide protection from the elements for campers who lack the resources of a RV or tent trailer. Beginning with the coastal state parks, park planners started converting selected campsites into Yurt-sites. Today, there are more than 150 Yurts scattered throughout the park system from the Pacific Coast to the Idaho State Line.

Representing a huge historical departure from their 13th century nomadic Mongolian predecessors, each modern Yurt-site includes a circular (16 foot diameter) domed waterproof tent (10 foot ceiling) with plywood floor, structural support, electricity, heating, coffee table with lamp, a clear Plexiglas skylight, windows, and a locking door. Each yurt is optimized to sleep five people -- but up to eight are permitted -- on a combination of bunk bed and fold out couch (each with covered foam mattresses).

Cooking and smoking not permitted inside the Yurts but all of the structures have outside picnic tables, fire rings, and occasional awnings that permit the establishment of comfortable camp kitchens. Campers need to bring sleeping bags or bedding, flashlights, matches, water containers, an ax or hatchet (the camp hosts normally sell firewood), cooking and eating utensils, and a towel.

The weather reports, unfortunately, were right on the mark and it absolutely poured for our first two days. Undeterred, we donned a modicum of rain gear and cycled off on the one mile paved path from the campground to the beach. The path itself is great for family riding -- relatively level with the exception of one small section of hills and curves marked by an amusing array of miniature highway caution signs. Bonus points: Bullards offers some wonderful family bicycling opportunities so we threw a family's-worth of bikes on the car racks and headed off.Bullards Beach State Park Beach Trail

The beach parking lot is protected by a single row of vegetated high dunes and we opted to carry our bikes over to the beach side (this is where you develop a real appreciation for lightweight titanium bike frames). Since the rain had eased to a constant drizzle, we were able to do a little beach combing on the largely deserted expanse of sand and driftwood. Here and there, the boys turned over rocks that presented beautifully preserved fossilized scallops. One local natural historian identifies them as species "Lyropecten" and dates them to the Pliocene or Miocene epochs.

Rainy day bike exploring is fine if you can dry off and warm up back. We had already gone that far and gotten that wet so it seemed like a good idea to ride the additional 1-2 miles due south along the park road to the Coquille River Lighthouse. Originally built in 1896, the Oregon State Parks Division leased the deteriorating structure and surrounding acreage in 1963 from the Army Corps of Engineers. The lighthouse was restored in 1978 and today it stands as one of 8 lighthouses remaining on the Oregon coast.

We lucked out and caught state park volunteers Hugh and Kathy MacDonald on their first day as interpretive guides (tours open Saturdays and Sundays with the last tour up to the light room at 3:45 p.m.). Up in the light room, Hugh MacDonald pointed through heavy panes of storm-spattered glass as he identified the mouth of the Coquille River as "One of the most dangerous bar crossings on the West Coast." To emphasize that point, he directed visitors' gazes to the south side jetty where a 300-foot freighter crashed in 1953. After initial salvage operations the remaining hull was sunk and filled with rocks to further extend the jetty protection. Today this jetty extension supports the foghorn that provides life-preserving services on this frequently shrouded coast.Lighthouse at Bullards beach State Park in Oregon

Downstairs, Hugh's wife Kathy showed lighthouse guests around a series of historical photo displays in the structure's main room. "There was a fireplace over here," she said, pointing to a feature in the north wall. "But it was pretty well destroyed by vandals over the years prior to the restoration."

The 2 1/2-mile bike ride back to the campground can present one or two family challenges even when it's not raining. Wind, for example, should be one parental consideration. Although protected from the worst buffeting by the dune line the ride north to the parking area and bike trail intersection can expose young riders to some strong wind conditions.

Wet and tired, we returned to camp in the late afternoon. This is when Yurts are priceless. Within a few minutes we had secured our bikes, changed our clothes, and even started a game of Monopoly while wet attire began to dry near the Yurt heater. Now THIS was comfortable camping. For a truly decadent Yurt camping experience, families can even leave their cooking gear at home. Many of the yurt locations are within a few miles of resort communities so it's fairly easy to just lock the door jump in the car, and head for a nearby restaurant.
 
Make it happen. Bullards Beach is a large, family-oriented park located just two miles north of Bandon. The campground is nestled among shore pines and well protected from the strong ocean breezes. Besides three loops of campsites, the park boasts quite a few yurts, making year-round camping a very popular choice. The horse camp features easy access to the beach and dunes for our equestrian campers. Reserves full hookup, electrical and tent campsites at 28 parks. Reserves yurts, cabins, tepees, covered wagons, group areas, horse camps, picnic areas and meeting halls where available. Bonus points: There are 19 per-friendly yurts, with an option $10 per night contribution to help the park cover the additional cost of maintaining pet-friendly units. There is a limit of two pets per yurt, and pets are defined as dogs or cats. Sites may be reserved from two days to nine months in advance. Toll-free 1- 800-551-6949, (503) 986-0707, for reservations toll-free 1-800-452-5687 or www.oregonstateparks.org
     
Content and images provided by Scott Gorley. Updated copyright 2014.
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