Why you should care

Love the idea of the great outdoors more than actually staying in it? Nowadays, tenting it doesn’t necessarily mean roughing it. 

Some of us just have to scratch our Neolithic itch by camping — to drive a tent stake in the ground, light a fire and sleep in the dirt. And then there are the rest of us, who have distanced ourselves from this ancestral DNA. The outdoors sounds nice but it’s just so exposed. It requires skill to survive in it. And peeing in the dark really sucks.

Given that the number of people camping is dropping, this latter non-survivalist group seems to comprise the majority of Americans. Luckily, life is looking sweet for the prissy among us. Tentalows , also known as glamps — or a way to camp without getting too much dirt under your nails — appear to be opening their flaps in record numbers.

…when your tent looks like the inside of Harry Potter’s at the Quidditch World Cup.

“Traditional camping is losing people, because it requires time and it requires knowledge,” says Scott Hale, who is the chief experience officer at Wanderlust Hospitality. With a tentalow, the outfitter or hotelier does the work.

Tentalows mimic the idyllic African safari set-up seen in glossy travel brochures, heralding the pre-nylon, romantic days of canvas when families loaded wagons and headed into the outdoors. Kilim rugs and Native American weaves lie on the ground. Indoor plumbing brings flushable toilets and hot water. Heating comes from a Franklin stove that requires no savvy with kindling or matches. In the case of Wanderlust, Hale uses a company that has been making tents since the 1890s. Call it primitive chic. This is in sharp contrast from camping REI-style, where outdoor survival can seem like an extreme sport

But it’s less extreme when your tent looks like the inside of Harry Potter’s at the Quidditch World Cup.

Take Sweet Grass at Ranch at Rock Creek, one of 10 tentalows on the property. Opened in 2013, the mostly all-canvas exterior plunked down on the Montana prairie belies interior girth and amenities. A wet bar. A living area. Lamps that switch on. A clawfoot tub. A cedar hot tub on a wide wooden porch perched near the Rock Creek rapids.

For those who argue this is not camping, you’re kinda right. But at least it puts the non-camping among us closer to the wilderness, with only thin canvas and hanging art between humanity and the bears.

Also, tentalows can go places where it isn’t always feasible to put a hotel.

“We don’t have the ancient ruins of Europe,” Hale says, “but we have the national parks and wilderness.” Those are gems that shouldn’t have a learning curve to enjoy. “Our bodies need nature,” he says.

In other words, sometimes a look at the moon from a raised platform tent with the gas-heated stove roaring will make you feel more human.

Here are a few tentalows that will get you outdoors on your terms:

1. The 10 tentalows of Ranch at Rock Creek book well in advance in the summer. The setting is very 1900s Montana with 6,600 private acres in the Rockies. Also included: horseback riding and fly fishing.

2. Wanderlust Hospitality started setting up camps in Washington State parks and other expanses of wilderness in 2013. This year, it’s on the property of Vagabond Lodge on Oregon’s Hood River.

3. Opened this past June in Nevada, Mustang Monument rents out hand-painted teepees with leather chairs and custom-made beds. Wild horses roam the 576,000 acres. Warning: No indoor plumbing or electricity, aka outdoor bathrooms, and no a/c or heat.

4. The Under Canvas outfitter is making inroads into America’s National Parks, first in Yellowstone, then Moab. The latest is Glacier, which opened this June, 7 miles from the National Park.

5. Guests of Dunton Hot Springs’ River Camp stay in a privately restored American ghost town, with dinner in a 19th-century farmhouse with views of the San Juan Mountain Range.

6. Still looking for more to fill your luxe camping dreams? The Glamping Hub, launched in 2012, lets you scour the world for your ideal tentalow adventure.

Interior of luxury tent

Sweet Grass

Christine Ciarmello is a writer and editor living in San Francisco.

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