It's the oxymoron of the summer: glamorous camping.
For many of us, camping has involved cramming a car with gear, pitching a tent (often by flashlight), pumping the Coleman stove to spark a tiny blue flame and, of course, the dreaded middle-of-the-night treks to the spider-infested campground bathroom, flashlight waning, untied shoelaces dragging through the pine needles. To glam things up, you could hang a mirror from a tree branch and bring along a whisk broom to keep the dirt off the tarp walkway that leads to the tent—the tent with the zipper that’s been greased with a bar of Ivory.
Yes, as humorist Dave Barry once wrote: “Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business.”
These days, vacationers can mix the joys of the great outdoors with the comforts of a hotel. There’s even a word-melded term for such an experience: glamorous plus camping . . .
Glamping can run the gamut from slightly better than roughing it to downright luxurious, but most of the time it means you don’t haul along your own tent or gas-hogging RV, maybe not the sleeping bags, and often not the camp stove and boxes of food, either. Think pre-pitched tents or yurts, possibly outfitted with indoorplumbing, and likely complete with soft beds dressed in clean linens and cozy blankets. Or perhaps your “tent” is a stationary Airstream, kitchen sparkling, stocked with provisions. Maybe it’s a treehouse—with a front door that closes and actual heating. Or it could be just a step above do-it-yourself—a canvas tent beside a rippling river, clean cots awaiting your mummy bags. Sometimes a glampout involves additional adventures, such as whitewater rafting or mountain biking. If you’re lucky, gourmet meals are included—imagine waking up to the smell of crackling bacon and real coffee. No sifting through an ice chest for milk to splash over cold cereal, no barely potable water and Folgers crystals. No cleanup.
It might be a stretch to say that Northern California is home to glampgrounds galore, but there are several worth checking out. Kampground of America sites tend to have cabins and lots of amenities for families, and many of us had our first faux-camping experiences in the tent cabins at Curry Village in Yosemite National Park. Reservations at any glamping area can be tough to nab—hate to say it, but you might be looking at next summer rather than this one. Take a look at a few we uncovered, and refer to the websites provided (this page, bottom right) for more options.
TREEBONES RESORT, BIG SUR
Treebones was named in the ’60s for the sun-parched wood hauled onto the property by Patrick Cassidy, a local who had cut a deal with the U.S. Forest Service to collect the silvery artifacts on the property. Now a resort with 16 yurts, most overlooking the stunning Big Sur coastline, Treebones operates “greenly,” with reuse and recycle as basic tenets of its business practice.
Reserve a full-ocean-view yurt ($229 a night double occupancy) and you’ll enjoy a cushy queen-size bed wrapped with quilts and topped with pillows beside a gas-burning fireplace. A vanity with hot and cold water makes minor cleanup easy, although for anything more, you’ll be walking a couple of minutes to restrooms and showers at the lodge. Compostfriendly cups are provided; the water comes from Treebones’ own mountain source. Relax in the Adirondack chairs on a redwood deck overlooking the sea. Partial-ocean-view and mountain-view yurts also are available.
For a different glamping option, try out the Human Nest ($110 a night for two). It’s less glamorous than the yurts, for sure, but what it lacks in luxury it makes up for in access to nature and sheer uniqueness. You tote your sleeping bags and pillows up the ladder to a wood-woven nest and plop them down on the full-size futon mattress. Created by Big Sur artist Jayson Fann of the Spirit Garden arts and cultural center, the Human Nest is an elaborate rack of twigs. Down below, the ocean laps the cliffs, a soothing sound as night sets in.
All stays include a full breakfast buffet (waffles, eggs, granola, yogurt) with coffee, tea and juices. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, join the free morning yoga class. Take a swim in the pool and warm up in the hot tub. Lunch and dinner, not included in the nightly rate, are available at the on-site Wild Coast Restaurant & Sushi Bar, with organic farm-to-table meals and an outdoor sushi bar with astonishing ocean views. There’s nothing like gnoshing on raw fish while you’re staring at the restless sea.
71895 Highway 1, Big Sur; (877) 424- 4787; treebonesresort.com
BIG SUR CAMPING CABINS, BIG SUR
A great family option, the Big Sur Camping Cabins sit beside the Big Sur River. The tent cabins ($155 per night double occupancy; additional fees for more), with wood walls, corrugated roofs and curtained windows, have queen-size beds with blankets and linens. Beyond that, it’s pretty rustic— no heating, no electricity; you’ve got a picnic table and fire pit just like a regular campground, plus communal restrooms and showers (hot ones!). The place sells out every summer and teems with families who come to relax under the towering redwoods and float down the river on inner tubes (available for rent). Quiet time is enforced at 10 p.m., a welcome rule for campers still reeling from the last encounter they may have had with a raucous campground crowd somewhere else.
47000 Highway 1, Big Sur; (831) 667- 2322; bigsurcamp.com
COSTANOA LODGE, PESCADERO (SOUTH OF HALF MOON BAY)
At Costanoa, a resort along the Pacific Coast about 25 miles north of Santa Cruz, accommodations choices range from pitch-your-own to a heated room at the luxurious lodge. The tent bungalows (starting at $89 a night during peak summer season) fill the in-between nicely, with waterproof canvas walls, sliding windows and front doors that lock. Electricity, too. Of the four types of bungalows available, three come with queen-size beds and down bedding—a far cry from the old smelly sack from Big 5. Like a hotel room, tent bungalows come with personal care items, towels and maid service. “Comfort stations,” with restroom facilities, heated floors, hot showers, dry saunas and outdoor fireplaces, sit steps away from the bungalows. Guests staying in the Cypress bungalows have access to the outdoor hot tub, and all glampers can dine in the on-site restaurant, Cascade Bar & Grill (coastal cuisine and good wines), or create their own meals in the picnic/ barbecue area and pamper themselves with treatments at the Costanoa spa. While you’re in the area, visit Año Nuevo State Park across the highway, where elephant seals heave themselves onto the beach during the winter to breed, and again during the summer to molt. It’s a beautiful three-mile walk round-trip out to the coastline. Other highlights in the area include the Pigeon Point Light Station, Pescadero State Beach and Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve (great for bird-watching).
2001 Rossi Road, Pescadero; (877) 262- 7848; costanoa.com
MOUNT MADONNA COUNTY PARK, WATSONVILLE
Reserve a 16-, 20- or 24-foot yurt at Mount Madonna County Park, and you’ve got a cheap, cozy way to house six to 10 people beneath the Santa Cruz Mountains redwoods. Fold-out futons and bunk beds with mattresses await your sleeping bags. You’ve got a wooden floor, a roof over your head, an outdoor picnic table, a fire pit and a deck—for less than $100 a night (nightly rates begin at $50 for a six-person yurt). Spend your days traversing the numerous trails in the park—on foot or on horseback, if you prefer—and exploring the ruins of Miller House, the estate left behind by Henry Miller. This Henry Miller is not the novelist with a library named after him in Big Sur, but a Gold Rush-era immigrant who grew rich off the sheep and cattle industries and kept his vacation home on Mount Madonna, away from the rigors of his business.
7850 Pole Line Road, Watsonville; (408) 842-2341; sccgov.org
EARTHTREK EXPEDITIONS, LOTUS
Here you get some adventure with your glampout—whitewater rafting on the South, Middle and North forks of the American River. A two-night raftingcamping trip starts at $229 a person and includes two nights standard camping, meals cooked and served by river guides (including hot breakfasts both days), and two days of rafting. The first day of the South Fork American River trip starts with floating in the Lower Gorge, where a mellow current makes paddle practice easy before you hit the more challenging water after lunch. (Spots along the river called Satan’s Cesspool, Bouncing Rock and Hospital Bar Rapids give you an idea what you’re in for.) After a shuttle ride from Folsom Lake back to camp, enjoy beer, wine and appetizers before a barbecued dinner. Save room for some of the specialty Parmesan fried bread. The next day’s rafting, a wild eight-mile run, starts at Chili Bar and careens through rapids with names such as Meatgrinder, Triple Threat and Troublemaker. For the glamping option, pay $50–$90 a night for a riverfront mini-cabin tent with padded beds (bring your own sleeping bag) and a deck that juts out over the water.
7308 Highway 49, Lotus; (800) 229- 8735; earthtrekexpeditions.com
TWO MORE GLAMPGROUNDS
Fallen Leaf Lake, near Lake Tahoe, has six yurts for rent at $84 a night. With electric heaters and lamps, futons and bunk beds, and your very own bear locker, these provide a sweet night’s sleep under the cottonwoods and pines and. Big Basin Redwoods Park Co., deep in the shady Santa Cruz Mountains, is a popular spot for tent cabin campers. From $79 a night.
Enjoy luxury camp food, stargazing and outdoor movies at Sacramento Valley Conservancy’s first-ever Summer Sunset Glamp-Out at Camp Pollock, an 11-acre site on the bank of the American River (June 6, 5:30 p.m. to past sunset). It’s free for kids 15 and younger. sacramentovalleyconservancy.org
If you’re looking for a glamping option in Northern California or beyond, try these websites: