When Kevin MacDonald vacations near Tofino, B.C., this summer, he'll be sleeping in a tent. That is, after a day of horseback riding, kayaking, whale-watching and yoga classes - and a spell in the hot tub.
The Vancouver lawyer and his family will stay at the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, which also offers high-end dining and a spa. And the tents? Built on wooden platforms, they come with comfy beds, silverware and thermostat-controlled stoves.
"You're in the wilderness, but boy, you sure aren't roughing it," Mr. MacDonald says. "They spoil you rotten."
In an economy where five-star hotels seem ostentatious, "glamping" - indulging in creature comforts in an outdoor setting - is a growing travel trend.
At the very high end, this is not new; think of African safari camps set up for wealthy travellers, and the Great Camps of the Adirondacks where wealthy families such as the Rockefellers roughed it in style each summer.
Today, wealthy travellers have the Clayoquot resort and the Rockwater Secret Cove Resort on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast, which has clifftop "tenthouse suites" with heated slate floors, hydrotherapy tubs, king-sized beds and sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.
Then there is fforest in Wales, where guests sleep in canvas yurts, cycle and hike and sip wine at the bar with other guests. And the Resort at Paws Up in Montana offers tent-side butler service.
But camping with amenities doesn't necessarily mean spending big bucks. Now, cheaper destinations are combining tent camping with comfort-inducing amenities as affordable holiday alternatives.
Northern Edge Algonquin Nature Retreat, at Ontario's Algonquin Provincial Park, is responding to the economic downturn by offering guests more reasonably priced lodgings.
Until this year, it offered swishy canvas tents for $150 a night and wooden cabins for $225 a night. This year, it launched a bring-your-own-tent option. For $100 a night, frugal travellers pitch their own tents on wooden platforms, but enjoy all amenities and meals with other guests.
"For the first time ever, we've been getting phone calls from people saying, 'Oh, I'd really like to come, but I can't afford that. Can you let me know when your prices are going down?' " says retreat owner Todd Lucier.
Last year, the Lakedale Resort at Three Lakes on San Juan Island, in Washington State, added nine camping sites with pillow-top beds, lanterns and Adirondack chairs on each porch. It is offering Glamping Survival Kits with items such as folding champagne flutes and gourmet marshmallows. "Glamping takes you outside, but does it with style," says Scott Hale, general manager of the resort.
And yet Hale argues that many campers have always been eager to give up the hard parts of camping - like going showerless and sleeping on hard ground. "The industry is just finally catching on to what people want," he says.
Author Jennifer Worick adds that glamping opens up more destinations for outdoorsy trips. "If you're travelling by air, you don't always have the ability to carry all of your gear with you," the Seattle-based writer says. But she agrees that many urbanites want to live the good life while in the woods: In Worick's tongue-in-cheek book Backcountry Betty: Roughing it in Style, water bottles do double duty as cocktail shakers and sand exfoliates tender feet.
Darcy Cormier, a marketing manager at Walt Disney Resorts, says some tent campers have been living the good life for a while now. "There are some tent campers who bring their own air conditioning. No joke," she says. The Disney campground Fort Wilderness has sites that offer electrical, TV and Internet cables stowed away in faux tree trunks. The resort rents tents and camping gear too. "Even if you're tent camping, you can still hook up your laptop."
The same is true for the KOA chain of family-focused campgrounds, which don't advertise their glamour but do offer many services. There are no pedicures available, but campers can pitch a tent or rent a small cabin while mingling at potluck suppers, outdoor movie screenings or around the heated pool.
Which adds up to something you don't find as easily in a hotel: a sense of community. While hotel guests may or may not mix in the lobby, camping usually means getting to know your neighbours. Lakedale's Hale says this means a particular kind of pleasure. "It's the complete opposite of what you'd expect at a hotel where no one is milling around in the hallways," he says. "Everybody's walking around smiling and waving."
Pack your bags
Resort Tofino, B.C.; 250-726-8235; http://www.wildretreat.com. From $4,750 for three nights. A resort with 20 tents, lots of staff and jaw-dropping views northwest of Vancouver.
Disney's Fort Wilderness 510 North Fort Wilderness Trail, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.; 407-939-7429; http://www.disneyworld.disney.go.com. Tent sites from $50 a night. Walt Disney World's tent, cabin and RV camp with restaurants onsite.
Fairmont Mara Safari Club Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya; 254 (20) 2216940; http://www.fairmont.com/marasafariclub. From$216 per night. Tented luxury in Kenya's Masai Mara wildlife reserve.
Lakedale Resort at Three Lakes 4313 Roche Harbor Rd., Friday Harbor, Wash.; 360-378-2350; http://www.lakedale.com. Tents from $172 per night; tent sites from $35. A San Juan Island getaway, accessible by ferry or floatplane from Seattle.
Rockwater Secret Cove
Resort 5356 Ole's Cove Rd., Halfmoon Bay, B.C.; 604-885-7038; http://www.rockwatersecretcoveresort.com. Tenthouse suites from $259 this summer. Luxury resort with platform tents.
Northern Edge Algonquin Nature Retreat. Algonquin Park; 800-953-3343; http://www.northernedgealgonquin.com. Use your own tent, $100 per night; furnished canvas cabins, $150; full cabins, $250. All rates include food. A fully guided retreat
with themes ranging from yoga to kayaking and wilderness
Safari West 3115 Porter Creek Rd., Santa Rosa, Calif.; 707-579-2551; http://www.safariwest.com. From $300 a night, single or double
occupancy; safari tours extra.
An "African safari" near
California's wine country.