Lauren Gay’s first experience tent camping left her cold.
“The temperature plummeted that night,” says Gay, who blogs at the Outdoorsy Diva. “We didn’t own sleeping bags, we just had tons of blankets, and it was not sufficient. It was a long miserable night.”
These days, glamping—camping with amenities, whether with a real bed, electricity, or a touch of glamour—is more her style.
Ever since pandemic guidelines indicated outdoor spaces were safer than indoor ones, families have been packing their cars and heading for the hills. The call of the wild rose to a roar as typically “indoorsy” folks went in search of space to breathe—comfortably.
“One of the best glamping experiences we had gave us fur electric blankets for overnight and gourmet chocolate to use for the s’mores,” Gay recalls. “I like that I can still hear the sounds of nature and walk right out and see the stars in the sky or sit around a fire, but I’m still comfortable and not roughing it.”
The glamping surge
A 2019 North American Glamping Report found that couples with children led the way among glampers (45 percent) and almost half (42 percent) were non-white, but the pandemic seems to have hastened the trend.
The 2020 KOA Camping Report notes that 25 percent of North American campers went on their first camping trip in 2020. Among them, millennials (55 percent) and families (82 percent) were on their first trip. One in three prospective campers is interested in trying glamping and nearly half of current tent campers say they’re now more likely to try a deluxe cabin (full service with a bathroom), the study found.
National parks are seeing a surge in interest too. Fifteen U.S. National Parks set new visitation records last year despite the rolling closures and blackouts. This year, securing an overnight site at a park might feel a lot like winning the lottery.
A recent survey from Campspot found that more than 80 percent of Americans are saying they might go camping this spring or summer. Campspot reservations, as of February, were already 38 percent higher than they were in 2020.
For new campers, options that aren’t dependent on their ability to pitch a tent or start a fire by rubbing sticks together, are appealing.
Margaux Bossanne, of Huttopia, describes it as the “wild side of glamping, or the more polished side of camping.” The company says they are already seeing triple the bookings of previous years, “even for stays in September or October.”
Easy entry also makes it more appealing to communities that haven’t traditionally camped, notes Hipcamp founder Alyssa Ravasio. “We’re really interested in making the outdoors feel accessible and safe and welcoming for people, even if they weren’t fortunate enough to be raised with the outdoors as part of their culture and upbringing,” says Ravasio. “So the majority of our business is either glamping or RV sites.”
While unprecedented interest has meant less availability overall, Hipcamp has been working with private landowners to create new spaces. Partnerships with farms and ranches to build canvas tents on lands in areas where there is increasing demand allow for more outdoor overnight stays. In March, the company added 6,500 campsites to its offerings. “That’s about half the size of California State Parks’ entire system today,” says Ravasio.
Craft beer and saunas
Many of the glamping options on the market would make a traditional tent camper cringe. In Arizona, you can tuck into a safari-style expedition tent, a retro trailer on a family farm, or an earth hogan on Navajo land. In Maine, you can be spoiled with post-hike craft beer, waterside lobster bakes, or specially packaged kits which ensure that even novices become grill masters.
In British Columbia, an A-frame cabin in the Great Bear Rainforest comes with sauna access and glacier views. In Northern B.C., a VIA Rail train drops you at the door of a 122-year-old salmon cannery turned glamping camp on the Skeena River.
Even Canada’s National Park System is upscaling some of its options. Parks Canada representative Eric Magnan says there is an increasing interest in the parks’ “unique accommodations.” In B.C. alone, these include two historic 1896 homes in Fort St. James National Historic Site, “micrOcube” tiny houses in Mount Revelstoke National Park, canvas A-frame Otentiks in Kootenay National Park, and more. This summer, Ontario will get its first Oasis, a teardrop-shaped duplex on stilts.
“By offering a broader range of accommodation, we’re able to help people get to our site and have the possibility of staying overnight without all the hassle of pitching a tent,” says Magnan. “It’s really a matter of accessibility.”
Building a nature-loving community
But don’t be fooled by these seemingly fancy stays and amenities, says Ravasio. They all work toward the greater good: building a community of people who care about climate change and biodiversity loss.
“My belief is people only protect what they love, and they only get to fall in love with nature if we get them outside,” she says.
A new offering from ROAM Beyond helps forge those connections by including curated and self-guided activities at the company’s mobile dwellings in Washington and Montana this summer, with plans to expand into Utah, Arizona, and Southern California.
“We’re reimagining what adventure travel can be by providing elevated lodging combined with adventures in some of the most remote and beautiful destinations in the United States,” says co-founder Corey Weathers.
Whatever your glamping choice, be prepared to act on it quickly. Parks Canada’s reservation system went from handling about 100,000 reservations annually to 400,000 in recent years, and park locations still sell out within days of being released. Being flexible with your choices as you book and understanding each site’s COVID protocols will help.
“We’re outdoorsy people, but we also appreciate a good bed,” says Howard. “After a big day of adventures, I’m tired. I don’t want to be trying to figure out how to make my WhisperLite stove work.”
The Howards became such fans that they literally wrote the book on it. Comfortably Wild features over 70 destinations across nine countries at a variety of price points.
“We have places in there for as little as $35 a night. We also have places that are $2,000 a night. You’re paying for an experience, but it doesn’t have to be expensive.”
Gay recommends bunking with friends to split the cost or checking out yurts and state park accommodations for more affordability. She scoffs at those who argue that anyone seeking luxury should stick to hotels.
“A luxury hotel won’t allow you to still feel the closeness to nature,” says Gay. “It’s the immersion into nature that makes glamping so wonderful.”
And if these new offerings kill the image of the outdoor space as a place where only the tough survive, so be it, says Ravasio.
“There is this growing awareness that the outdoors is just so good for you physically, mentally, and spiritually,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be a hard experience. It can be really comfortable.”
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted travel. When planning a trip, be sure to research your destination and take safety precautions before, during, and after your journey. Click here for National Geographic reporting on the pandemic.