With warm weather across the entire nation, and months into the global coronavirus pandemic, just about everyone is itching to get out of the house and do something different. But travel is still a long way from “normal,” and polls, travel experts and common sense all point in the same directions: driving road trips, separated lodging (no crowded elevators or lobbies), and time spent outdoors – active or not – are the biggest trends right now. RVs are the new toilet paper, snatched up and scarce, camping is drawing new recruits, and National Parks are more popular destinations then ever (see these two earlier Forbes pieces on America’s Top 10 National Parks to Visit and the Best National Park Road Trip in the U.S.).
Glamping cuts across these trends and hits all the sweet spots. It’s camping for those used to luxury hotels, or the majority of Americans who simply don’t own camping gear. It’s always in the great outdoors and almost always in the most coveted and beautiful natural destinations. You have your own private space, plus resort-like amenities, lots of activities, and when it comes to food, in most cases you can order it or you cook it – without going into a restaurant (or, if you don’t care, you can often also go into a restaurant).
What is glamping? A combination of “glamorous” and “camping,” it is definitely not a new concept, but it is newer in this country. The model has long been used by top tier safari lodges in Africa, some of which have “tents” that outshine the Presidential suite at your local hotel. Most typically they are enormous canvas structures parked on permanent platforms with running water, and often the kind of bathroom you’d expect at 4 or 5-Star hotel. They are basically houses that happen to be made of canvas, and most have fine linens, porches, firepits and often rustic touches. Other variations on the paradigm include yurts, the round Mongolian-style tents that are usually very large single rooms; cabins; fully featured “tiny houses”; and oddities like fancy treehouses.
Some are small glamping-only spots, and some are glamping compounds within larger resorts, but in every case they combine not exactly roughing it with a camping ambiance that is accessible and enjoyable to even the most inexperienced outdoor person. Most are also pet friendly. Glamping has proliferated in recent years and is all over the country, but there are a couple of really notable standout brand new examples this year, especially timely, just as glamping is seeing greatly increased demand. Here are some of the best options.
Camp Long Creek, Ridgedale, MO: This is an extra-special, all-new glamping destination that is truly one of a kind. Officially called Camp Long Creek at Big Cedar, it is a boutique resort within the much larger Big Cedar resort, one of America’s most well-endowed vacation destinations, a massive 4,600-acre full-service resort in a breathtakingly beautiful section of the Ozarks, right on the banks of 43,000-acre Table Rock Lake. Camp Long Creek just opened Memorial Day weekend and is comprised of 56 free-standing private retreats in the form of canvas glamping tents, cabin huts, larger camp cabins and deluxe two-bedroom cottages.
The 18 glamping tents are for up to two and each contains a king bed crowned by a chandelier, wood stove, heat and air conditioning, “indoor” sitting area and ample privately screened outdoor spaces with stone patio, free-standing tub and outdoor shower, fire pit and additional wooden deck. The huts and cabins vary in size and layout but all have kitchens and many feature spacious screened porches in addition to outdoor spaces. Guests enjoy all the amenities they’d expect at a hotel, including daily housekeeping, complimentary Wi-Fi, a large infinity pool, beach, plus extras like arrival water and S’mores, a bocce court, playground and even a dog park. Camp Long Creek has its own food and beverage outlets, including a poolside pavilion and a food truck serving regional Ozark comfort specialties out of a vintage restored Airstream trailer.
But guests can also use all of the many other amenities of Big Cedar, including five golf courses (with the two top ranked layouts in Missouri) by the likes of Nicklaus, Fazio, Coore & Crenshaw and Tiger Woods (his first public course design in the U.S. and an absolute stunner, read more here), a shooting and archery facility, a must-see cave attraction, a large nature reserve, every imaginable outdoor activity, full service spa and many bars and restaurants. The Camp Long Creek mini-resort is located lakeside, right on the water and next to the resort’s full-service marina. Big Cedar is owned by the founder and owner of Bass Pro Shops and Tracker Boats, and this is probably the best equipped fresh water resort marina in the country, with a full range of boat rentals, world class fishing with all licenses, guides, instruction and equipment available, water skiing and all other water sports. There is simply no other glamping destination on earth that offers so many activities, options and facilities in addition to the accommodations.
Terramor Outdoor Resort, Mt. Desert Island, Maine: This island is all the best of Maine in one idyllic spot. It’s got the quintessential New England coastal town, Bar Harbor, full of great restaurants, smaller charming towns like Southwest Harbor and Northeast Harbor, with lobster shacks all over the place, and the big attraction, Acadia National Park. Acadia is one of the ten most popular in the National Park System, and for good reason (read more about it here).
Brand new, Terramor opens August 1 and is a 60-acre wooded property with 64 luxury canvas tents hidden in the trees, surrounding a central restaurant, bar and store. Most tents have full en suite bathrooms, some also have outdoor showers, some have fireplaces, and they all feature Wi-Fi, fans and heated blankets, Different models hold two to five people, each tent comes with a cooler backpack and they sell drinks and picnic lunches for you to do your own gourmet wilderness outings. The bar is stocked with local craft beers and ciders, and they also offer a special “grilling experience,” where you are provided with everything needed to cook your own gourmet chef designed open-fire meal outdoors, including ingredients and tools. Mt. Desert is a great destination for those who do not want to eat indoors or want to stick to their tents, with tons of seafood shacks, fresh lobster and shellfish to go, as well as world class ice creams shops. There is a pool, hot tub and onsite adventure outfitter concierge with rental gear and contacts for guided kayaking, fishing, biking and other excursions. It’s five minutes from the National Park, and pet friendly.
Dunton River Camp, Dolores, CO: Glamping does not get more luxurious than this! Dunton Hot Springs is one of the most acclaimed luxury boutique resorts in the country, fashioned from a real Old West ghost town, with lodging in individual restored period building like blacksmith shop and stagecoach office. I’ve been and it’s crazy good, over the top all-inclusive, and priced accordingly. Year-round Dunton Hot Springs is not glamping, it’s just glam, but after much success, the owners opened a second seasonal (June to October) tented property four miles down the road, with an emphasis on world class fly fishing. Dunton River Camp sits on a private stretch of the Dolores River and has just eight luxury tents, each spanning 640 square feet with full bathrooms and six-foot soaking tub – these tents even have towel warmers! They also come with two private mountain bikes so you can explore the resort’s trails or surrounding dirt roads, and there is plenty of amazing hiking from the property. Both resorts sit near awesome Telluride, Colorado, in a region amazingly rich in National, State and Native American Parks and gorgeous wilderness.
Dunton River Camp occupies the former 19th century Cresto Ranch, with 500-acres of meadows and forests. The original farmhouse is now the resort’s main lodge, surrounded by firepits where evening cocktails are served. As a luxury all-inclusive, rates include all meals and beverages – alcoholic and non-alcoholic – the sauna and mountain bikes. Many ingredients are locally sourced organic foods, including nearby free-range lamb, chanterelles, tree-ripe fruit and plump vegetables from the resort’s farm. There is free flowing single malt whisky and the wine list includes first growth Bordeaux, California classics, super Tuscans, Australian favorites, and the very best of Colorado, such as acclaimed Sutcliffe Vineyards. NOTE: Dunton reopened this month on an exclusive use single party model as a reaction to the pandemic, and it remains unclear when it will go back to normal individual tent rentals.
Fireside Resort, Jackson, WY: Unique among glamping spots – and pretty unique period – Fireside was one of the very first properties anywhere to embrace the new “tiny house” movement several years ago. While it is not really a camping product like a tent, it is the most affordable and turnkey private, self-contained lodging option in one of the most popular outdoor destinations in the country, the stunning town of Jackson (prices start at just $250 per night). In summer Jackson is the gateway to both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks (both Top 10 in U.S) while the town itself is a major draw as well, full of Old West charm, unique shopping and great food. In winter it is home to what many experts consider America’s top ski and snowboard resort, “The Big One,” Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, and Fireside is open all year round.
Surrounded by trees on an eight-acre property, between the town of Jackson and slopeside Teton Village at the ski resort, Fireside is a rustic-chic, all-cabin resort just 6-miles from the gates of Grand Teton National Park. The one-bedroom cabins are sustainably built, LEED-certified, tiny houses manufactured by industry leader and design whizzes Wheelhaus. There are four styles, with amenities like free Wi-Fi, kitchenettes, HVAC systems, dining areas, living rooms with flat-screen TVs, pull-out sofas and gas fireplaces. All provide decks featuring propane BBQ grills and picnic tables, as well as gardens with fire pits. Larger cabins add sleeping lofts and sleep up to 6 people and pets are welcome. The resort accurately describes itself as” a hybrid between camping, a luxury hotel suite, and a private vacation rental cabin.” While there is no onsite dining, it sits adjacent to and within easy walking distance of one of Jackson’s oldest and most beloved eateries, the Italian American Calico Bar & Restaurant.
Greater Zion, Utah: America is awash in natural wonders and fantastic National Parks, but if you had to pick just one single area to showcase the most amazing outdoor sites in the country, it would be the Southwestern corner of Utah around Zion (fourth most popular in U.S.) and Bryce Canyon National Parks – plus Cedar Breaks National Monument, Snow Canyon State Park, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, and Kodachrome Basin State Park. As a bonus, the area is a hidden gem for golfers, with a dozen standout courses, including the state’s Number One (Sand Hollows) and brand-new Copper Rock, one of the premier openings of 2020 in the entire world. Read more about why this particular region is a true Bucket List Road Trip here. The amount of hiking, biking, slot canyons, golf, and staggeringly beautiful scenery here are amazing, but without a main population center, the lodging, food and retail option most convenient to all of this is an area known as Greater Zion. Greater Zion is also home to not one, not two, but three notable glamping resorts.
Open Sky is brand new (opening this September) and will feature enormous multi-room canvas African safari-style tents on raised wooden platforms with big decks, fireplaces, bathrooms with oversized soaking tubs, outdoor showers, bamboo linens and even spa treatments in dedicated spa tents. Also new is the just opened Wild Flower, a “glamping community,” with several unique options including canvas tents, Old West-style covered wagons, and bungalows, plus amenities like outdoor yoga classes.
Finally, there’s the big hitter of the bunch, the Greater Zion outpost of Under Canvas, the nation’s leading glamping brand. A few years old, this location occupies nearly 200-acres just 20 miles from the gate of Zion National Park, and is open June-November. Tent amenities include daily housekeeping, organic bath products, wood stoves, and battery pack USB chargers. There are half a dozen different tent models sleeping 2-6, most with private bath. Zion Under Canvas offers 2,3 and 4-night packages with dining, coffee and daily adventure activities (one, two or three depending on package) from private jeep tours to stand up paddleboarding to guided canyoneering.
Under Canvas, Nationwide: Under Canvas is sort of the Hilton or Hyatt of the glamping world, the biggest chain or brand name, and operates seven seasonal locations, all keyed to being close to important National Park/Monuments. In addition to Zion above, there is Glacier, MT; Mt. Rushmore, SD; Grand Canyon, AZ; Yellowstone, MT; Great Smoky Mountains, TN; and Moab, UT near both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. All are operated spring to fall, though seasons vary, with Tennessee having the longest and Glacier the shortest.
Likewise, while the tents themselves, packages and resort operations are similar, the number of options and activities vary. For instance, Zion has six kinds of tents, Glacier hasmore seven models and the Grand Canyon has five. Glacier and Great Smoky Mountains feature water based options such as rafting, canoeing and fly fishing, while the Grand Canyon has helicopter tours and horseback riding. But otherwise the locations are very similar – other than the main attractions, the local nature and National Parks, which vary greatly.
Under Canvas has announced upcoming new locations at Acadia National Park, ME and Joshua Tree, Yosemite and Catalina Island, all in California.
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