Seven Luxury Camping Spots From the Smokies to Big Sur
Who needs to rough it after a long week at work? These luxury camping spots feature high thread counts, deep-tissue massages, and a s’mores-fetching butler.
1. Mountain bike in the Rockies
Eight 640-square-foot canvas safari-style tents cluster around a restored 19th century farmhouse in an alpine clearing in southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. The new spread, known as Cresto Ranch, is located only 4 miles downriver from its sister property, Dunton Hot Springs, and expands the company’s mission of pioneering luxury in the Rockies. All of the tents are appointed with enormous beds, en-suite bathrooms (showers and 6-foot soaking tubs), gas stoves, and private porches that look out on 1,600 acres of wilderness. Outdoor activities include hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and fly-fishing. Wind down back at the farmhouse, where Executive Chef Carrie Eagle uses chanterelles from the 120-acre on-site farm to prepare dishes such as bison tenderloin with roasted Brussels sprouts. Meals are served at fixed times at a long table at the center of the farmhouse, in keeping with the cowboy tradition. 877 228-4674; crestoranch.com; from $1,400 per night (airport transfers $150 to $300 each way); open June 1 through Oct. 31.
Tip: Pedal 4 miles to Dunton Hot Springs and take a dip in the natural, sulfur-free hot springs any time of day.
2. Zip through the Smoky Mountains
Falling Waters Adventure Resort, set on 25 acres deep in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains, features eight circular yurts (round canvas tents favored by Mongolians and hippies). They’re appointed with queen-size beds, pine floors, French doors, coffee makers, refrigerators, and private decks. Each has its own theme (think African safari, Victorian era, and so on). But don’t expect fine dining—in fact, meals aren’t provided, and neither are en-suite baths. The focus is on simple pleasures—smoking trout on one of four shared grills—and active pursuits—zip lining, mountain biking, and Jeep tours through historic communities such as Nantahala, a village that cropped up in the mid-1800s along the wagon trail from Asheville to Copperhill, Tenn. 800 451-9972; fallingwatersresort.com; from $89 per night per yurt (maximum four people per); no pets; open from March through Thanksgiving.
Tip: The resort teams up with the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad to offer seasonal three- to seven-hour guided excursions that combine rail transportation to the Nantahala River and 8-mile rides down its rapids—ideal for beginners and families.
3. Herd cattle in Montana
Test your riding skills with a (mini) cattle drive at the Ranch at Rock Creek, on the outskirts of Philipsburg, a former silver mining town. It’s a working dude ranch, spread over 6,600 acres in a Montana valley. Skip the nine suites at the Granite Lodge in favor of the Trapper Cabin (half-cabin, half-tent) or the eight luxury canvas tents with decks that face the shore of the property’s namesake creek. Four of the tents measure 630 square feet, and the other four are built for families, at 810 square feet with two rooms separated by a curtain. All have bathrooms. Riding is the thing to do, with more than 60 horses at the ranch, and there are trails suited to every skill level. 877 786-1545; theranchatrockcreek.com; from $950 per person, per night, with a four-night minimum.
Tip: Be prepared to dress in layers—locals say the weather changes every five minutes.
4. Sleep in a tricked-out trailer
In June, former Airstream Chief Executive Officer Richard “Dicky” Riegel III launched Airstream 2 Go with Montana-based adventure tour operator Off the Beaten Path. For the first time, you can rent an Airstream (buying one costs more than $130,000) and get a GMC Yukon Denali tow car with customized hitches and rearview cameras as part of the deal. Expect the kind of upscale comforts usually found in hotels, such as flat-screen TVs, Egyptian linens, C.O. Bigelow toiletries, and recessed LED lighting. Here’s how it works: Choose a 23- or 28-foot-long Airstream and pair it with one of three OTBP packages—the straight-up rental; the rental, plus campsite recommendations and reservations; and customized itineraries to explore Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and other national parks. Airstream 2 Go has locations in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, but Riegel plans to expand to Northern California, the Texas Hill Country, Florida, the Carolinas, and the New York area. 800 780-9880; airstream2go.com; from $3,850; five-day minimum for custom trips.
Tip: If you’re a park fan, ask for a bespoke trip that includes descending into Zion’s slot canyons, white-water rafting in the Westwater Canyon of the Colorado River, and touring the Grand Canyon alongside a Navajo guide.
5. Kayak in the Adirondacks
Camp Orenda, a collection of five canvas tents set well apart (translation: no accidental eavesdropping) on 40 acres in the southern Adirondacks, is a four-hour Zipcar drive from Manhattan. Down comforters, wood-burning stoves, and 1,000-thread-count Egyptian linens ensure modern comfort, while maple syrup buckets repurposed as garbage pails and headboards made of wood from 130-year-old barns lend a rustic-chic aesthetic. Food is simple and tasty: Buffet-style meals are farm to table, prepared on cast iron over an open flame. Hike 4 miles to Crane Mountain, pausing for a picnic, or kayak the 2-mile-long Garnet Lake. 347 287-7359; camporenda.com; from $170 per person, per night (limited to 13 people on-site at a time); includes accommodations, activities, meals but not alcohol. (Take advantage of the BYOB policy.)
Tip: The camp offers world-class spinning-reel fishing for trout in Mill Creek, with its 150-foot three-tiered waterfall.
6. Fly-fish in Blackfoot Valley
The Resort at Paws Up, which sits on 37,000 acres in Montana’s Blackfoot Valley, has 28 homes but is best known for its 30 luxury heated tents (from 405 square feet to 1,030 square feet), which are set back from the main resort and organized in clusters of six across five camps. The latest, Cliffside Camp, opened in June with tents featuring jetted tubs. Wine Spectator recently bestowed its Award of Excellence on Pomp restaurant, or try the more casual Trough for the grilled black angus rib-eye or elk short loin in a spice-berry rub. For s’mores around the firepit, ask the camping butler for the fixings. Spend the days fly-fishing for trout or white-water rafting on the Blackfoot, participating in a cattle drive, clay shooting, exploring the ghost town of Garnet on an ATV, or rappelling down a 167-foot rock face. 800 473-0601; pawsup.com; from $1,075 per night, double, including three meals daily, airport transfers, and on-property transportation; four-night minimum June through September.
Tip: Book the Montana Gold Rush massage treatment, which incorporates oil with gold flakes, at the spa—a cluster of white tents connected by a boardwalk and surrounded by pines.
7. Do yoga in Big Sur
Sushi and camping don’t go together, unless you’re at Treebones Resort, located off California’s Highway 1 on a bluff 400 feet above the Pacific Ocean. The compound consists of 16 yurts, a treehouse, five campsites, and, if you’re feeling brave, an artsy “human nest” made of eucalyptus branches that house a mattress. Perks vary but include queen-size beds, electric lighting, heat, hot and cold running water (showers and toilets are close by in the main house), and decks with Adirondack chairs. There’s the Wild Coast restaurant (try the oatmeal stout from nearby Firestone Walker Brewing), a heated pool and Jacuzzi, and the open-air sunset sushi bar. Outdoor yoga sessions are held three mornings a week, and Treebones can arrange a 5-mile Big Sur hiking trip. 877 424-4787; treebonesresort.com; from $199 per night, including daily breakfast; most accommodations have a two-person maximum and a two-night minimum; no children under 6.
Tip: Walk a few minutes to Treebones’ spa studio for a one-hour massage using jade stones from Willow Creek Beach, a quarter of a mile up the road (from $130).