Despite the riches of rolling hills and mountaintops that dot the South, camping isn’t for everyone. Some say it’s the bugs, others the sleeping conditions, and let’s face it–triple-digit summer temps don’t help either. Even if cooler weather sways some to venture into the attic for their sleeping bags come fall, most leery campers stop in their tracks at the thought of a weekend without plumbing.
Enter “glamping,” a more comfortable take on the outdoors. A quick web search and you’ll be inundated with well-photographed teepees, yurts, tree houses… you name it. Though the concept may seem trendy, in my experience, the reality of staying at a “glampsite” is anything but. These remote experiences are simply the newest vessel to true, old-school family fun–a weekend to trade in screens for flashlights and card games by the fire.
There is perhaps no better place in the South to do just that than the Great Smoky Mountains, and the new-to-the-Southern-scene Under Canvas is offering accommodations unlike any other in the area. Tucked into the trees, this collection of safari-style canvas tents with hotel-quality beds brings Under Canvas’ established park-side glamping concept to the Southeast. In an area that’s used to unique tourist concepts–Pigeon Forge’s Dollywood and Gatlinburg’s SkyBridge are mere minutes away–I was pleased to see (and eager to try) a new destination that’s all about putting region’s natural treasures at the forefront.
Driving down the gravel road on our way into the property, my husband and I were hit with welcomed flashbacks of sleepaway camp from our childhoods. But one look at the resort-style white tents in the distance, and we knew this was much more than just a summer camp upgrade (though the ATV ride from check-in to our tent felt just like the elevated way senior staff used to make their way around camp).
During check-in, we could immediately feel how this place pairs a sense of privacy with community. Each tent we passed offered a private family retreat–some even had a side tent with kids’ bunks separate from the master suite–while the property as a whole brought travelers together with optional group events and communal-style eating spaces. Kids played games on the lawn while local, live music played during dinner. Apparently, there was a planned water balloon battle for the little ones that we missed while we were hiking earlier in the day.
We walked back to our tent after dinner, where running water, our own shower, and a king-size bed awaited us after a day full of national park adventure. Looking up at the trees as we closed up our tent for the night, we both had the same thought–this place would be spectacular in the fall.
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