For some people, the only stars they will camp under are "five stars," but camping doesn't have to be about roughing it in the elements, smelly sleeping bags, not showering for days or surviving on basic food. Camping today can be a luxurious experience that doesn't forgo all of the amenities you may crave when traveling. Depending on your budget, you can immerse yourself in nature by day and retire to your own private tent sanctuary by night and you don't need to travel on an African safari, hit the outback of Australia or visit an eco-resort in the Caribbean to do so. There are several local varieties of rugged yet chic camping adventures available in the U.S. and Canada.
The Falling Waters Resort (tel. 800/451-9972; www.fallingwatersresort.com), located just outside Bryson City, NC on the southern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an outdoor adventure lover's dream, with easy access to whitewater rafting, mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking, not to mentions hundreds of miles of pristine hiking trails leading up to the doorstep. The Resort offers Mongolian-inspired versions of tents called Yurts that are 16 foot diameter circular tent-style structures, with outdoor decks, skylights, French doors, large windows, bamboo blinds, ceiling fans, refrigerators, stereo-CD, coffee makers, and polished knotty pine floors with area rugs.
Each Yurt sleeps two in a queen-size bed and all Yurts have a futon sofa for additional visitors. During the day, guests can relax on the private decks overlooking Fontana Lake. At night, you can gaze through the domed skylight at the stars. You may still have to share your semi-private bathroom with a couple of other guests but the facilities are tiled with showers vanities and toilets. Overnight accommodation in one of these Yurts is priced at $81 plus 10% lodging tax for two people. The Resort is closed January and February annually.
Costanoa (tel. 650/879-1100; www.costanoa.com), on the Pacific coastline an hour's drive south of San Francisco is a 140 acre eco-adventure resort designed to encourage guests to explore the beauty of the California coastline and its wildlife. They provide a variety of indoor and outdoor activities including horse riding, surfing, hiking, mountain biking, yoga, music and art exhibits, educational lectures, kayaking, and spa treatments. With an on-site restaurant committed to using sustainable seafood and organic produce, they serve California coastal cuisine and local wines plus you can get you food to go at the General Store.
You can bring your own tent, or take advantage of their tend bungalows that come in four different configurations: the Cypress and Outer Pine have a queen bed and comfortably accommodate up to two guests and the Pine Village and Family Bungalows accommodate three guests or more. Bungalows are a wood or metal frame with waterproof canvas tent walls, as well as electricity, sliding windows, a locking door, and heated mattress pads. Each offers a view of the surrounding landscape and guests share the three dedicated comfort stations with restrooms, indoor hot showers, heated concrete floors, a 24 hour dry sauna, and an outdoor fireplace. An outdoor hot tub is available as well as wireless Internet access for those who cannot leave the world behind. Rates start at $115 per night for two people during peak season plus 10% tax and a $5 per night conservation fee.
If your heart yearns for an African safari experience but your bank balance can't support that dream, you may find a compromise in Santa Rosa, CA. Safari West (tel. 800/616-2695; www.safariwest.com) offers the spirit of Africa in California's wine country, allowing you to surround yourself with African wildlife and sleep in safari style luxurious tents. Not a zoo or a drive-through park, it's a wildlife preserve where the whole family can experience some of nature's most beautiful animals in a natural habitat. Tents are imported from Africa and are built on high wooden platforms with spacious decks where guests can take in the view of grazing giraffes or enjoy the serenity of the private lake. Choose from one king-size bed, king-size bed with double size bunk beds, or two double beds, all with ensuite bathrooms with showers and an outdoor sitting area.
Regular rates range from $170 to $260 per night Sunday through Thursdays based on double occupancy with a $25 charge for additional guests (children aged two and under are free) but they do offer seasonal specials and discounts, like certain Monday nights throughout the year (including the summer) are priced at $130 each. Friday night stays range from $175 to $265 and the peak night is a Saturday priced from $175 to $295. Breakfast is included. Discounts are available for multiple night stays. There's an on-site restaurant offering safari ranch style BBQ meals plus a deli. As for the animals, you will see dozens of species including antelopes, buffalo, cheetah, giraffe, lemurs, warthogs, impalas, wildebeest, and oryx. The cost of a vehicle safari tour is additional and from March to November, tours cost $68 for adults, $30 for children aged three to12 and $10 for under threes.
El Capitan Canyon (tel. 866/352-2729; www.elcapitancanyon.com), a beachside eco resort camp located 20 miles north of Santa Barbara, CA offers 26 raised-platform safari tents outfitted with comfy beds, woven rugs, and wood decks and is ideal for those who seek a traditional camping experience but with more of the creature comforts of home. Each canvas tent measures a spacious 12 x 14 feet and offers either a queen bed or two double beds. All tents have screened windows and zip-down flaps, are supplied with bed linens and towels, furnished with bedside tables, chairs, a small desk, storage trunk, coat hooks, a small heater, and electric lamps for lighting.
Safari Tents also have their own outdoor picnic table and benches, grill and firepit with modern, clean, private bathroom and shower facilities conveniently located in nearby buildings. There is also a heated swimming pool and an on-site restaurant and deli. Prime Season is April through November and the quiet season is December to March. Rates range between $135 and $155 per night with a two night minimum stay on weekends and a three-night minimum during certain periods over the summer months. They offer a number of on-and-off-site activities including nature walks, hikes, beach bike riding, a Saturday night concert series and kayaking.
And for sheer rugged beauty and elegance in a very up market camping environment, journey to the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, Canada, for a stay at the Rockwater Secret Cove Resort (tel. 877/296-4593; www.rockwatersecretcoveresort.com). This remote getaway is less than two hours' drive from Vancouver but that includes a 40-minute ferry ride (tel. 888/BC-FERRY; www.bcferries.com) or you can take a short flight by float plane from Vancouver with WestCoast Air (tel. 866/885-2111; www.westcoastair.com). Combining romance and adventure, their luxury tent suites are appointed with deluxe furnishings, from fine linens on the king-size bed to the hydro-therapy tub with a view, a rain-forest shower, propane fireplace, shoji screens, radiant floor heating, and private verandas. Each tent house also has luxurious his and her bathrobes, coffee and tea maker, clock radio with iPod docking station, complimentary high-speed wireless Internet, mini refrigerator, board games, and a small library.
Their Spring Adventure package features a two-night stay in a stunning tent house suite; deluxe continental breakfast for two each morning of your stay; two 45-minute Bliss massages; plus your choice of two of the following adventure: a 90-minute horse ride at Malaspina Ranch, a four-hour kayak rental to explore Smugglers and Secret Coves, a two-hour naturist guided hike on the local rain forest trails, or a two hour guided mountain bike ride on the local mountain bike trails. This package is priced at C$469 per person for stays from May 1 to June 21, 2009. The same package during the summer is priced at C$649 per person.
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