'Glamping' Vacations for Families

Which one of these things doesn’t belong when it comes to camping? Tent. Jacket. Forest. WiFi.

If you guessed “tent,” you may be a glamper. That’s right: This trend in outdoor adventures tames the outdoor and brings the comforts of home to your favorite campground, RV park or tucked-away recreation spot.

Glamping – so-called glamorous camping – has been taking hold across the nation and right here in Michigan. While there are no campsites in the state designated strictly for glampers, many campgrounds are making changes based on campers’ requests (and, sometimes, demands) for improvements that seem, well, more like luxuries than outdoor recreation necessities.

What is glamping?

The ideal glamping establishment is something far more extravagant than your standard camping trip: think thick-canvassed, high-ceiled tents with a king-sized bed outfitted with soft downy covers that rival the feel of a Four Seasons hotel. Add an onsite chef, butler and throw in maid service, and you’re glamping.

The Resort at Paws Up in Montana embodies the glamping ideal, offering all these amenities in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains – so you get the feel of camping with all of the amenities of a pricey hotel. You can even request that your camping butler toast the marshmallows for s’mores.

While you won’t find any onsite butlers at any of Michigan’s potential glamping locales, what you will find are more “deluxe” cabins in campground resorts or fully equipped tents that you need to hike to in order to stay the night.

Not surprisingly, glamping has roots in the larger trend of the Green movement. Vacationers want to spend time outdoors, but they also want to feel a little pampered. Costs may be another reason: Buying a tent, sleeping bags and additional camping gear, along with car topper to haul all of the equipment to the site, can add up fast. But splurging for a fully outfitted camping cabin may actually save some money in the end.

Plus, with hiking trails, a heated pool and activities onsite, a glamping-style vacation is often less expensive than packing up for a faraway theme park.

Camping plot to deluxe cabin

Nationally, the demand for spots at campsites and RV parks is on the rise. “We don’t keep occupancy statistics, but I’m hearing from everyone that reservations are up even more than last year,” reports Linda L. Profaizer, the former president/CEO of the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVC).

No doubt part of that rebound comes from campgrounds and RV Parks offering more amenities – coaxing travelers with options like heated pools, onsite WiFi and family activities. While there’s no maid service or a nightly turndown, many camping upgrades seem more luxurious than what you may have found at campgrounds in the past.

State campgrounds are also getting the message that people want a little more ease when it comes to enjoying nature. Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources tallied 15 parks with added 400-square-foot camper cabins in 2010, in addition to cabins they already have onsite.

You won’t find running water or showers in these cabins – although facilities are available nearby – but for a family who wants to skip hauling the tent and enjoy a little shelter in the wilderness, these cabins will feel more elegant than the pop-up that’s been gathering dust in the corner of the garage.

And you won’t have to “unplug” anymore when you venture out of doors. Many area campgrounds and RV parks are adding, or expanding their WiFi offerings. Once a perk, it’s now nearly an expectation.

A word about yurts

Deluxe cabins aren’t the only attempt at making camping more comfortable, and a little less primitive. Three Michigan state parks, including Craig Lake, Pinckney Recreation Area and the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, have yurts available to rent.

Porcupine Mountains was the first state campground to offer the circular, canvas-like tents that are built on platforms. With four yurts within the wilderness area, it also has the most in the state.

Yurts are modeled after the living quarters of nomadic Mongolian peoples, says Sandy Richardson, the head of administrative support for Porcupine Mountains. The yurts you’ll find within this wilderness area have wood floors, bunk beds with mattresses to accommodate four, a wood-burning stove and wood-cutting supplies – even cooking utensils.

“People who enjoy yurts,” explains Richardson, “like to be as close to nature as they can possibly be and still have a shelter. Yurts are much different than rustic cabins. The walls are made of a thin, polyurethane fabric that’s very light, very transparent. You can hear the sounds of nature, small mammals scurrying nearby, birds calling in the trees.”

Some yurts are located close to standard cabin sites, but others are dotted along hiking trails, so that you can venture to the site and then stay a night or two with your own shelter in the wilderness.

Note: You’ll have to sterilize water gathered from nearby streams – and you should bring your own toilet paper for the outhouse adjacent the yurt.

Ready to try glamping?

Not everyone is ready to trade-in a rugged, primitive campsite for an over-the-top outdoor experience that’s more reminiscent of a hotel. At some campgrounds, simplicity is still the main selling point. Perhaps what the trend really helps reinforce is there are now camping options for everyone.

Says Profaizer, “Today, some people don’t want all the extra amenities. They’re not looking for spa treatments at the campground – they want something simpler. But no matter what you’re looking for, you can find it.”

This post was originally published in 2011 and has been updated for 2016.


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