Camping has gone posh. While most will happily rough it old-school style this summer, a fortunate few will enjoy a vastly more upscale fresh-air experience. Rather than hefting backpacks and pitching tents, they’ll travel with overnight bags and luxuriate in deluxe lodgings that resemble tents in name only. Tiled ensuite bathrooms eliminate toe-stubbing trips in the dark to the latrine. Mattresses topped by crisp sheets substitute for mildewed sleeping bags. And instead of a campfire hotpot of wieners and beans, chefs prepare multi-course meals fit for fine restaurants.
“Glamping is a new brand of camp-ing that mixes creature comforts with the pleasures of overnighting in nature,” says AMA manager of product development Elaine LeJambe. The term first came into vogue in England and has been embraced globally by resort and campground operators looking to broaden market appeal.
“Glamping appeals to busy travellers who don’t have time to plan a camping trip or buy equipment,” says LeJambe. “They can just show up and all the details are taken care of.”
Today, dozens of holiday retreats in the U.K., Europe, Africa and North America offer glamping experiences that range from rudimentary to regal, to downright unusual (like the dozen customized chrome Airstream caravans parked on the roof of a hotel in Cape Town, South Africa). Certainly “glam” is the word for The Resort at Paws Up south of Glacier National Park in Greenough, Montana. Here butlers are on call to serve guests staying in elegant canvas tents featuring hardwood flooring, area rugs, comfy chairs and jetted bathtubs. Craving s’mores after a smashing meal in the dining pavilion? No problem, and it’s the resort’s pleasure at a high-season daily rate of US$820 per couple.
Yet the definition of glamping is also loose enough to include camping spots that offer novel, affordable and family-friendly tents, tipis and yurts. Sundance Lodges in the Kananaskis Valley lets visitors choose between colourfully decorated Sioux tipis or white-canvas trapper’s tents with awnings. Everyone brings their own camping gear or rents it on the spot, then settles into roomy lodgings equipped with wood-frame beds, hanging lanterns and heaters.
Jasper National Park offers large “cottage tents” complete with bunk beds, electric wall lights and space heaters. Rustic tipi experiences, meanwhile, can be found at Blackfoot Crossing Historic Park southeast of Calgary, Tipi Camp Nature Retreat on the edge of Kootenay Lake and, also in B.C., historic Hat Creek Ranch near Cache Creek, west of Kamloops.
At the definitively luxe end of the spectrum is Clayoquot Wilderness Resort on the western seaside edge of Vancouver Island’s Strathcona National Park. For about $10,000 per person for a week, guests (who once famously included actors Ryan Reynolds and Scarlett Johansson) expect the best – and they get it, with haute cuisine, activities galore (whale-watching, spa treatments, horseback outings), charter flights from Vancouver and, new for 2011, ensuite bathrooms in a dozen of the 20 lavishly appointed pavilion tents.
While RVs aren’t typically considered in the glamping boom, a home-on-wheels ranks as a definite upgrade from the average pup tent. Relatively fuel-efficient “Class B” motorhomes with plenty of mod cons – bathrooms, showers and ergonomic sleeping layouts included – are becoming increasingly popular. RV parks, especially in the southwestern U.S., are tempting snowbirds with unexpected perks: the Springs at Borrego RV Resort in southern California, for instance, offers a nine-hole golf course, mineral hot springs and wellness centre.
Glamping, in any of its iterations, is likely to appeal to those eager to try camping for the first time – and those who opted out decades ago for more comfortable alternatives, yet still miss the twinkling stars overhead and the crackle of an open fire.