‘Glamping’ Gives New Meaning to Rustic Vacations

November 10, 2011  
Filed under Travel

By Lesley Sauls, CNS

Camping butler Wesley Parks helps a glamper prepare a perfect s’more along the banks of the Blackfoot River at Paws Up resort in Montana. (Photo courtesy of Lesley Sauls).

My daughter and I were strapped into harnesses and facing each other inside a giant beach ball atop a grassy, tree-lined hill in Montana. Our guide called out to hang on tight and then gave a shove. We bounced, rolled, screamed and laughed as we tumbled down the hill to a meadow below. After 50 seconds of jolting chaos our ball finally came to a rest in utter stillness. We giggled with relief and dangled from our straps as we waited for someone to release us.

This activity had appealed to my daughter when we decided to go on a long “glamping” weekend together. The inflated “Zorb” ball comes from Australia. I had imagined that we would wander around the prairies of Montana by walking within it. I hadn’t pictured a break-neck ride, and I was sure one try was enough to call myself a Zorbinaut, but my 10-year-old disagreed.

“You can’t say you really did it, Mom, if you don’t go twice!” she challenged.

So in we went to plummet head over heels down the hill once again.

Our other activities were more in keeping with what I expected from a Montana dude ranch. We took a trail ride with two young wranglers whose sense of humor and knowledge made my daughter and me feel comfortable on our mounts and free to enjoy the snow-capped mountain views. When the ride was over, we offered to help put the horses away, but this was where glamping kicked in.

In glamour camping, the guest is queen (or king). If a trail ride is on offer, the horses are saddled and ready to go when the riders arrive, then cared for after they leave. If a Zorb is to be tackled, the ball is ready at the top of the hill and returned there after each ride for guests who want to take multiple tumbles. If a canoe trip sounds fun, guides portage the canoes and do the paddling.

The result of being pampered at every turn was an awareness of my surroundings often missed when I’m busy lugging gear, setting up tents or figuring out the next meal. With people assigned to handle those issues, I was able to play with my daughter and look for geocaching spots in the woods. I especially enjoyed being handed a cold huckleberry lemonade every time I looked a bit parched.

One afternoon my daughter went to a Kids Camp yurt, where she had lunch with guides who helped her find arrowheads and make them into necklaces. Then they all painted their faces before heading out on a hike where they saw an elk and two wolves.

While she was being entertained, I slipped off to Spa Town to pamper my saddle-sore body with a massage. In a white canvas room I slipped out of grubby trail clothes and into a fluffy white robe. Eric Nygard ushered me into another small tent, where he opened the tent’s flaps like a curtain so that I had an unimpeded view across a vast meadow and up into a purple mountain. Strong rains had produced a brook behind our tent whose babbling mingled with birdsongs, cricket chirps and the rush of wind through tall grass. As Nygard worked, the pitter-patter of rain began on the canvas and a roll of thunder sounded across the valley.

At mealtimes, too, guides and wranglers entertained and cared for us. Christi and Steve Fraker are fifth-generation horse teamsters. They drove two wagons full of glampers down to the banks of the Blackfoot River, where a chuck-wagon dinner of baked beans and corn on the cob from cast-iron kettles, meat roasted over an open fire and a steaming Dutch oven filled with cobbler were being prepared. While the adults enjoyed a full bar and a campfire, the kids went with the Frakers to dip their hands in paint and decorate a gentle white horse with a rainbow of handprints and hearts. Later, leathery cowboy Mike Doud taught the children to rope a mock steer head attached to a hay bale.

More than anything else, the overnight accommodations elevated the vacation to the level of glamorous camping. Our resort boasted some houses with kitchens, hot tubs and enough room for a family reunion, but our campsite drove home what it meant to go glamping.

When we arrived, our camping butler, Wesley Parks, greeted us with a smile, took our bags and led us on a leisurely stroll around Pinnacle Camp, one of three sites at our resort. Five large canvas tents were scattered around a wood and stone pavilion, where Parks showed us we could have a made-to-order breakfast each morning and a gourmet dinner any evening. In our two-bedroom tent we found wood floors, custom-made beds and a bathroom with a heated floor.

Once we were settled, Parks suggested a hike before dinner was served at the pavilion. He pointed us in the direction of a riverside trail and reminded us to make a lot of noise.

“Interpersonal communication is strongly encouraged here,” he laughed. “If a bear hears you coming, he’ll stay out of your way.”

As my daughter and I walked along the river we talked like magpies. We launched pinecones into the fishing creek and found a tall rock where we lay on our stomachs and tossed pebbles into the frothy water.

Back at camp, the pavilion’s heavy brown and ivory striped curtains were pulled back to let a warm sunset shine on the heavy wood tables where our seared marlin appetizers awaited. My daughter charmed Parks into making another of his “perfect” cocoas, and I enjoyed an equally lovely margarita. We made new friends over dinner and then wandered to a nearby campfire, where a historian taught us about Louis and Clark and showed us artifacts from the area’s history. Without a word, Parks delivered a coffee with just the right amount of cream and a sweet, golden roasted marshmallow he had made with the children. I folded it into a s’more and knew camping would never be the same again.


Where to go: We fell in love with Paws Up in Montana (www.pawsup.com), but there are other options to explore glamping: Glayoquot Wilderness Resort in Vancouver (www.wildretreat.com), Costanoa Resort in Northern California (www.costanoa.com) and Storm Creek Outfitters in Idaho (www.glamourcamping.net). Other glamping ideas can be found at www.glampinggirl.com and www.goglamping.net.

How to plan: Paws Up recommends that guests contact a pre-arrival concierge two to three weeks before visiting the ranch to discuss activities and create a schedule. Activities can last all day, but most are half-day events that can be separated by a lunch of smoked trout salad and sweet potato fries at the Trough restaurant.

Who will enjoy it: There are glamping and kids’ camp activities for every age, but remember to ask about specifics for kids under 12. Zorb, for example, is not meant for the smaller set.

When to go: Paws Up operates in every season. We enjoyed lush, green springtime, but activities continue throughout the summer and into winter. Paws Up celebrates Christmas with sleigh rides, ski trails, snowmobiles and snowy horseback adventures.

How to get there: Paws Up is a half-hour drive out of Missoula, Mont., which is served by several major airlines. A ride to the resort is provided by knowledgeable resort employees who explain the area’s mining and ranching history en route.


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