Get out and glamp

“My mother says the only tent she goes into is a wedding tent,” my friend Carol told me when I said we were going glamping.

“But this is glamorous camping,” I explained. “Who doesn’t love glamour?”

Under the Canvas near the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was my husband and my first glamping stop. Jake and Sara Dusek started the company in 2009, inspired by safari camps they saw in Africa. They have eight locations and aim to grow to 23, all near national parks. Their philosophy is an oxymoronic idea: intentional inconvenience.

“We hope you will be inspired to enjoy our beautiful planet by disconnecting from technology to connect with those you love, and to become stewards of our planet,” Sarah Dusek writes.

“This is the nicest tent I’ve ever seen,” said my husband Mark when we arrived.

The ensuite bathroom (separated by a sliding door from the sleeping area) has a shower with a pull cord that results in 87% less water use compared to hotels. Water is heated with propane since there’s no electricity in the tents. No wi-fi either but a tiny port on the side of a lantern allowed us to recharge our phones. Solar panels, compostable dinnerware and a robust recycling program are moving the company towards its goal of zero waste. The king-sized bed is piled with hi-tech comforters, the flaps and zippers had poetic practicality and when the rain splattered on the canvas at night, it was rather magical.

“Everybody we take into a tent, their first impression is ‘wow’,” said Ben Hoffman, the general manager. He left chain hotel management to work here because “I want to do something unique. It’s about quality of life.” A beautiful spacious tent serves as a lobby and is filled with board games, couches and a very good café with healthy meals Outside folks do yoga, roast marshmallows and eat at picnic tables. A festive group celebrating a 40th birthday shared cupcakes with everyone. Ben is enthusiastic about the company’s culture.

“We focus on environment. It’s worth spending extra money so the future will be better.”

He explained that everything in the camp is temporary. If they left, the land would return to its natural state. In fact, each camp is only open a few months a year and is disassembled for the winter. We spent the days hiking in the National Park and returned each evening to nestle in our lantern-lit tent. Compared to the nearby schlock and glitz of Gatlinburg we felt quite virtuous.

Our second glamping adventure was quite different. We joined my sisters and brothers-in-law at Uncle Ducky’s Paddler’s Village “By the shore of Gitche Gumee, By the shining Big-Sea-Water” - on Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Uncle Ducky must have missed the memo on glamour. Roughly hewn platform tents, yurts, teepees and tent sites are crowded together. There’s some shared bathhouses a walk away. Our tents had a bunk bed, a couch and a table. The refrigerator mentioned on the website wasn’t there. The port to charge the phones drained them instead. The rented sleeping bag had a broken zipper and dirty socks in the bottom and the bath house counter was covered with flies. But the excursions were wonderful.

Lake Superior is the largest fresh water lake in the world and holds 10% of the world’s fresh water. It looks as vast as an ocean and is remarkably clear. The water is so cold that drowned people sink because there are no bacteria. Cue the Ballad of the Edmund Fitzgerald: “Lake Superior it’s said doesn’t give up its dead.” We kayaked in and out of caves and through Lover’s Arch as the waves thundered against the rocky shore. Our guide, Sam, helped us appreciate the millennia it took to form the striated Pictured Rocks which can only be appreciated from the water. Another day we took a boat tour around Grand Island.

Despite it being July, we huddled under blankets and heard about the history of the island, which was originally inhabited by Ojibwa Indians and is now mostly a National Recreation Area. Our package included some tasty meals at the Duck Pond which has an enormous selection of beers and several preparations of local whitefish. Up the road from Under the Canvas is a high rise hotel with a fake gorilla climbing on it. Tourists who want to see nature through their car windows or take roller coasters through fake mountains have plenty to choose from. But for a more authentic experience there’s the vision of savvy entrepreneurs like Sarah Dusek.

“…My husband and I, inspired by the incredible beauty of the United Sates, imagined a world where…enjoying nature didn’t have to be uncomfortable or difficult. We imagined a world where development meant preserving the landscape—not destroying it—and doing so with great environmental care.”

And with a dash of glamour.


Under the Canvas: 

Uncle Ducky’s:

Roadtrips Charleston highlights interesting destinations within a few hour’s drive of Charleston, S.C. as well as more far flung locales. Carol Antman’s wanderlust is driven by a passion for outdoor adventure, artistic experiences, cultural insights and challenging travel. For hot links, photographs and previous columns or to make comments please see


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