WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. — I planned our trip to Yellowstone National Park last-minute, and my family was divided over whether we should camp or stay in a hotel or cabin.
In the end, we couldn’t find either. Everything was booked.
With visions of us trying to pitch a tent in the dark next to angry bison, I reluctantly coughed up $150 a night at the only place I could find that wasn’t an overpriced motel: Yellowstone Under Canvas, a “glamping site” a few miles outside the park’s west entrance.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. Glamping — a blended word for glamorous camping — was something I knew existed but had never considered trying. Why pay for something you can basically do for free?
While the website showed canvas tents housing everything from cots to down comforter-covered beds, the woman who booked our reservation sounded more like a hotel concierge. She offered up a rundown of activities, with honest, helpful reviews, and ended up booking us a basic “tipi” with four cots and an afternoon on horseback at a nearby ranch.
I told my family I found a camping spot and left it at that. The girls, ages 5 and 9, love roughing it. My husband loves not paying hotel prices. I loved the idea that I wouldn’t have to pack, set up camp or even cook. (The tents don’t allow food because it attracts wildlife, including bears. Campers dine at a great restaurant housed in a nearby lodge.)
The night before we arrived, my daughter got a stomach bug that had run its course with the rest of the family. The next morning, the prospect of camping seemed bleak.
I called Yellowstone Under Canvas and explained the situation. Despite the fact that it was high season and our reservations were nonrefundable, they promised to work with us and give us our money back, if needed. I came clean and told my family what we paid and what to expect: cots with sleeping bags, pillows and separate but heated bathrooms with warm water, towels and shampoo.
My daughter rallied so we went ahead with the trip. When we arrived, it was rainy and cold. Lightning flickered in nearby mountains. I expected whining, but the kids were excited and gladly got out of the car.
When we got to our tent, I discovered a small tear in the fabric. I asked the front desk — really just another tent — for tape to repair it and they upgraded us to a tent with king-size bed, dresser and wood-burning stove. The kids and my husband were thrilled.
As night fell, my husband built a fire and we fell into a deep sleep under two layers of down. A steady rain pelted the canvas but never entered the tent. The front desk promised to wake us if lightning got too close.
The only glitch was when my husband got up to use the bathroom around 4 a.m., then returned and — because the tents all look the same — accidentally tried to unzip the tent of a family from China. After the initial shock, it gave us a funny story to tell around the campfire.
The rest of the trip ended up being one of the best we’ve ever taken, despite the fact that my daughter was still struggling with her stomach bug. The front desk helped us locate and make an appointment with an urgent care center nearby, gave us warm tea and helped reschedule our horseback trip to a day when she felt better.
We spent the days exploring Yellowstone and nights at the camp’s roaring fire, meeting travelers from places like Sweden and South Korea.
When we left, the kids cried, and my husband and I decided we were glamping converts.
That’s not to say we won’t rough it again, with our own camping gear. But on trips where we want a unique adventure without doing all the work — where we’d like to fall asleep to the distant call of a coyote without packing gear and setting up tents — we’ll definitely think about glamping.
Some things to know if you’re considering glamping:
—Camping purists may scoff at amenities like cedar-sided, tiled bathrooms, or rules like the one at our site that banned food but allowed hot chocolate.
—If you need privacy and comfort, consider how you’d feel about hearing other campers settling in for the night; sleeping in a tent that’s open to the outdoors or has just one layer of canvas; or managing without running water or electricity if they’re optional or unavailable. If bathroom set-ups and locations matter, research before you book.
—Glamping is offered around the world, from South American rainforests to African safaris. Lodging ranges from yurts, treehouses and Airstreams to luxurious bedrooms set up in the wild with hot tubs, air-conditioning, white-linen dinners and mini-bars. Some affordable, bare-bones options exist, but glamping is often expensive, running anywhere from a few hundred dollars a night to more than $1,000.