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Glamping: the cure for the common camping trip

Consumer correspondent Janice Lieberman tries out a new trend called glamping that adds a little bit of glamour to camping, offering beautiful cabins and amenities like pools, massages and facials.

Sitting by her tent at the Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Mont., earlier this week, Ashley MontBlanc took in a view that stretched from the adjacent Blackfoot River to the peaks of the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

The fact that her campsite came with a butler and camp chef didn’t hurt, either. “I’ve done quite a bit of camping in my time,” said the New York–based public relations executive, “but here, they really kick it up a notch.”

Experiences like MontBlanc’s are increasingly common these days as more resorts offer upscale alternatives to traditional camping. It’s called “glamping,” short for glamorous camping, and it’s striking a chord with travelers who want to experience nature without forgoing their creature comforts.

Although imprecise, the term generally applies to commercial camping options that involve accommodations with wood floors, premium bedding and “en-suite” amenities, such as rugs, wood stoves and propane lighting. Tents, yurts, tepees, even tree houses, have all been pressed into service to attract would-be glampers.

“The idea originated with upscale African safaris,” said David Troya, who maintains a glamping directory at GlampingHub.com, “but it’s been growing exponentially in the U.S. and Canada.”

One reason for that may be that most glamping-style accommodations in North America rent for $50 to $200 per night vs. the $500 or more you’ll pay for those swish digs on the savannah.

Still, gentrification is definitely making its mark on the domestic glamping scene. This year, Lakedale Resort in Washington state’s San Juan Islands opened the flaps on its Canvas Cottage, which features a pillow-top king bed, electricity and a private bathroom.

Rates start at $279 per night, but you can enhance your stay further by ordering “grab and go” meals from the resort’s sister property, The Bluff restaurant. For $39 per person, you can choose a protein (for example, marinated steak with bourbon-shallot butter or brined bone-in pork chop), plus a starch and a vegetable.

Regardless of the specific amenities at particular resorts, glamping fans also maintain that the activity offers a way for non-campers to experience the outdoors and even, perhaps, a tool that couples can use to foster stronger bonds.

“I’ve camped all my life,” said Troya. “I don’t mind roughing it, but my fiancée does.”

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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.