Yurt in the country with a sign.

What Is A Yurt? Everything To Know About Camping Or Living In A Yurt

Miranda Crace5-Minute Read
December 21, 2022

Those looking to escape civilization for a few days typically find solace in a quiet, natural setting that’s miles away from the hustle and bustle of their normal lives. While cabins, RVs and tents have been the common shelter for these retreats to a simpler life, yurts have become a popular new option that fit somewhere between resort-like cabins in the woods and simple camping tents.

Read on to learn more about what a yurt is and whether it’s the right option for your next getaway, guest house, secondary home or even primary residence.

What Is A Yurt?

A yurt is a tent-like style of house once used by ancient nomadic tribes in Central Asia, particularly Mongolia. Yurts are traditionally built with a circular structure and one-room layout that houses multiple people.

Mongolian Yurt in a field near the mountains

Inside a yurt, you’ll see the structure’s skeleton, with lattice walls (made from crisscrossed pieces of wood) and roof poles attached to a ring in the center, known as the crown. To circulate air inside the yurt, the crown typically remains partially open.

A traditional yurt, used as a home, will contain what a normal living space would – beds, seating, a table and a coal- or wood-burning stove for heating and cooking set up in the middle. Yurts used for short-term stays may be set up in a similar way, with the wood-burning stove moved to the side and only used for heating and aesthetics.

interior of a yurt with a bed and a dresser

History Of The Yurt

Yurts have been used for as long as three millennia. They were originally used by people throughout the Eurasian Steppe, the largest temperate grassland in the world spanning from Hungary to China. Different cultures throughout the region have different names for a yurt, including the Russian “yurta.” Many people in Mongolia today continue to live in yurts.

A man named William Coperthwaite introduced yurts to the United States in the 1960s after reading about them in National Geographic. Today, there are yurt manufacturers throughout North America.

Traditional Vs. Modern Yurts

The yurt has been a popular home design in Central Asia for thousands of years and has more recently been popularized by the glamping industry. To truly appreciate these structures, it’s important to know more about how traditional yurt houses have been modernized in Western cultures.

Here are the main differences between traditional yurt homes versus modern yurts.

Traditional Yurts

Yurts were the traditional dwelling for Mongolian nomadic tribes, as well as surrounding areas on the Central Asian steppe – a flat grassland area with no trees. Steppes usually have an extreme temperature range and often experience high winds in the spring. Known as a “ger” in Mongolian, the yurt was built to be resilient against the high winds on the steppe.

Layers of felt, typically made from sheep wool and yak hair, covered the exterior of the yurt to help insulate the structure from harsh winter weather. Because nomads in this area moved several times a year, the yurt was made to be easily assembled, dismantled and transported. Traditional yurts are still the popular housing option in Mongolia today and a huge part of the cultural identity in Central Asia.

traditional yurt in a field near mountains

Modern Yurts

Yurts have gained popularity in the Western Hemisphere – especially at North American campgrounds and ski resorts. While the general structure and design has remained the same, some of the characteristics popular in traditional yurts have changed. Often built permanently on a wooden platform, modern yurts aren’t made for mobility. Thus, many have a metal frame instead of wood and are covered with high-tech fabric instead of felt.

Most yurts in the U.S. are outfitted with heating, electricity and plumbing, and have additional amenities like windows and a skylight in the central ring. Instead of permanent living spaces, modern yurts in the West are more popular as lodging options for vacations, glamping weekends and tourism.

modern yurt surrounded by snow

How Is A Yurt Different From A Tent?

Developed for nomadic living, yurts can be portable and put up or taken down within hours. They’re typically made from easy-to-transport materials. Their frames are collapsible, and they’re made of light wood materials and covered by carpets, hides or felt. More recent and permanent structures, typically found in the U.S., are made with metal and covered in durable, waterproof canvas.

Because of its design, materials and transportability, a yurt is often compared to or put in the same category as a tent. While they do have some similarities, a yurt differs from a tent in that it’s more structurally sound than a regular tent. A yurt is supported by its lattice wall and with rafters fortified by a compression ring in the center of the roof. A tent is supported by tension between various poles and anchored to the ground with stakes.

A modern yurt is also designed with actual windows and door frames, while a tent typically has windows and doors that are part of the structure and zip open and closed.

How Is A Yurt Different From Other Structures?

Though yurts can be permanent dwellings, they differ from a house or cabin in that they’re round and covered in fabric on the outside. They’re also usually one room (though more modern layouts may have multiple rooms) and one floor. This makes them a popular option for those who wish to live in a unique house or for year-round minimalist living. They’re also better for the environment than campers and RVs – other popular options for minimalist, unique or mobile lifestyles.

Need a real estate agent?

Match with a local expert.

Yurt Camping Vs. Yurt Living

Two of the most popular uses for yurts are camping and living – yurt camping for short-term enjoyment and yurt houses for long-term living. Let’s dive a little deeper into the perks of utilizing a yurt for occasional camping or buying a yurt for permanent use.

Yurt Camping

Yurts are increasing in popularity for camping in the U.S. thanks to their spacious layouts. While tents are designed specifically for camping and with portability in mind, yurts were designed to be homes, so they have much more space than tents. You can set up your own personal yurt for camping, but there are also many locations throughout the U.S. that have yurts available for rent specifically for camping.

Yurt Living

While yurts have been particularly popularized for camping and getaways, they’re an option for permanent use in North America as well. People desiring a tiny home may be attracted to a yurt’s layout, which provides ample space. A yurt can be great as a secondary home, a guest house or a studio on your primary property. Whatever their use, they allow for many opportunities for personalized home decor styles.

The most important consideration when building a yurt to live in is to ensure the construction materials are appropriate for the climate in your area. Once that’s taken care of, you can customize your yurt to meet your needs. You can choose to have an AC unit or fireplace installed, as well as a wood-burning stove or even a bathroom.

Where Can I Find Yurt Homes For Sale Or Rent?

Yurts can be purchased like any other property you plan to live in. However, since yurts are less popular, there may be slim pickings on the MLS or other listing sites – especially if your desired location is more urban than rural.

When buying a home and considering a yurt as your permanent or primary residence, it may be best to find a real estate agent who specializes in these types of listings or at least knows your area well. If you’re thinking of building a yurt, you can hire a builder or purchase a kit.

Portable camping yurts can be purchased online or in outdoors stores. However, their designs may vary greatly from the standard layout. If you’re looking for a weekend getaway or interested in testing out a yurt before you build or buy one, review the various accommodations at your local campgrounds or check out Airbnb.

The Bottom Line

Yurts, though originally traditional structures used to house nomadic people throughout Mongolia, have become modernized in recent decades. In North America today, yurts are popular for camping, but they can also be utilized for full-time living.

If you’re interested in finding a yurt or another type of nontraditional housing, get started by matching with one of our Verified Partner Agents.

Need a real estate agent?

Match with a local expert.

Miranda Crace

The Rocket Homes blog is here to bring you all you need to know about buying, selling and making the most of your home. Whether you’re thinking about becoming a homeowner, selling your current home or looking to keep your place in tip-top shape, our writers and freelancers bring their experience and expertise to meet you right where you are.