These Luxury Glamping Spots Are Right Next to Many U.S. National Parks
“Rough it” in your comfy, king-size bed in Bryce and Zion.
In any other situation, I would have peed my pants. It was the middle of the night—which in Dark-Sky-certified southern Utah is… really freaking dark—and a lone coyote howl pierced the dead-quiet night. Soon, its keening was joined by a chorus of these carnivorous beasts, each animal seemingly attempting to outdo the others on volume.
Where was I? Oh, you know, just in a tent, perched on the highest point of land at Under Canvas Bryce Canyon. But luckily, I had already been briefed that sound carries incredibly far in this part of the world; and that these nocturnal predators were (probably) actually much farther away than their somewhat terrifying howls led me to believe. (Plus, the staff at check-in had already warned us about the strict no-food-in-tent rule, so unless these were coyotes hungry for humans—which, yes, is unlikely—I figured I was safe.)
But being this close to nature was kind of why I embarked on this adventure in the first place. Sure, we have our pizza rats and the jungles of Midtown in NYC, but when had I ever seen a live jackrabbit or looked up and actually been able to spot more than five stars in the night sky?
Also, let’s be honest: I wasn’t in a pup tent. I was in a custom-built, Scandinavian-inspired, wood stove-heated, glamping tent, complete with a flushable toilet, heated shower, and king bed situated under a plexiglass skylight designed for stargazing. And so, rather than worry that I might be a wild dog’s dinner, it was instead quite thrilling. I could, no joke, count stars until I fell back asleep.
Such is the magic of Under Canvas, a collection of 10 campsites scattered throughout the US that marry unspoiled landscapes like Yellowstone or the Great Smoky Mountains with safari-style tents that can appeal to everyone from hardcore hikers to complete novices (me). Each location is situated close to its corresponding National Park or outdoor recreation area, but remote enough to feel off the grid. The company’s ethos, as CEO Matt Gaghen told me, is to help travelers create “meaningful experiences in nature that allow them to connect, explore, and be outside together.”
Such was the case for me; I spent three nights at the company’s Zion location before driving to Bryce National Park for another three. Our mornings were filled with rigorous hiking (shoutout to 57hours and our guide Lindsey for helping us navigate the treacherous Narrows at Zion, and Canyon Fever Guides for showing us the Queens Garden trail at Bryce), but the hotel’s on-site guest experience coordinator can help arrange anything from canyoneering to UTV tours to white water rafting.
When our legs felt like jelly, we retreated back to the camp for peaceful afternoons of communal hammock time or board games in the main lobby tent, before digging into dinner outside. Meal time here means perfectly tender and flaky filets of salmon with white wine-braised greens or juicy bison burgers stacked with bacon: Dehydrated meal packets these are not. “We draw inspiration from local climate and agriculture,” Gaghen says of the cuisine.
Each camp has a different menu, which has been influenced by both the camping lifestyle as well as specific ingredients and cultures that are local to each site. One night while at the Bryce location, the dessert special was a cheesecake topped with an enigmatic prickly pear sauce; the spiky cactus had been carefully and slowly stripped of its spikes by the kitchen staff before being reduced into a subtly sweet puree. It’s a dedication not found at many restaurants, let alone at a campsite.
There are also free s’mores every night, which encourages guests to swap stories while toasting marshmallows at one of the many fire pits. I, for one, got solid intel on Zion hikes from a lovely couple from Phoenix. Under Canvas also encourages group interaction in other ways, like trivia nights, communal stargazing, and adult coloring sessions. So finally, bellies full, we’d lumber back to our tent, light a crackling fire in our wood stove and snuggle up under layers of plush blankets.
It was especially exciting to bed down at Bryce, which is the company’s 10th and newest site. What makes this camp even more unique is its power source; it’s the first Under Canvas to be completely reliant on solar energy (the array panels are hidden out of sight so as not to spoil the view of the rolling hills). Gaghen tells me that the decision to run the camp on eco-friendly power was pretty organic: “Across our company, we share a love for the outdoors and as a part of that we are committed to our ‘Mindful Approach’ ethos; being stewards of the environment and reducing our carbon footprint,” he says.
The southern Utah sunshine is more than abundant enough to power all of the camp’s needs, from the kitchen to the water heaters; so much so that the Zion property recently added solar panels as well. Under Canvas also has plans to implement the cost-saving technique at more of its current and future camps: “Aside from doing right by the planet, solar power also allows us to operate in truly remote, ‘off-grid’ locations,” Gaghen adds.
While the company added its 10th camp site in its 10th year, there are plans to open up many more. “We’re looking forward to the ongoing growth of the Under Canvas brand and continuing to be a leader, innovator, and changemaker in sustainable travel,” Gaghen says. If my experience is any indication, repeat guests will be common. Many of those who we met at both camps had visited other locations or had plans to do so in the future. I knew nearly nothing about Acadia National Park until this trip, but am now actively trying to finagle my way there, just to stay at the stunning Under Canvas property near the water. Let’s just hope there are fewer coyotes there.