Getting away into the great outdoors is the new way to travel — from simple to super stylish, "all inclusive camping" is the buzz for a new generation of Canadian campers.
By CINDA CHAVICH
There may be nothing quite so serene, centering — and quintessentially Canadian — as a weekend camping out in the woods.
Sleeping under the stars, gathering around a campfire, communing with the sights and sounds of nature, are all part of a shared summer tradition.
But how many grownups really enjoy bedding down on the ground? And who has room to store all of that outdoor gear in a city condo?
Enter the world of “all inclusive camping”, private resorts and national parks that provide everything you need to spend a weekend in the great outdoors, without all of the planning, packing and shlepping.
Following on the heels of the upscale “glamping” trend — glamorous (and often expensive) tent resorts, complete with ocean breezes rustling the canvass, fireplaces, soaker tubs, masseurs and room service at the ready — there’s a growing selection of accessible, creature-comfort-camping experiences popping up across the country.
With a variety of options, from yurts and tree houses to vintage Airstream trailers, and rates starting at less than a hundred bucks, it’s an easy outdoor experience, that’s available to the masses.
We all need time to unplug and get away from it all. Here’s what you might find if you go out in the woods today.
WOODS ON PENDER
With self-contained vintage trailers and tents – fully serviced with electricity, water, high speed internet and Apple TV – you might not think an overnight at Woods on Pender is really camping.
But you do sleep out in the great outdoors, sort of.
“Our niche is design forward modern but rustic, not quaffed with lawn sprinklers but with style and tight curation,” says Curtis Redel, the Vancouver commercial real estate guy who turned an old motel into a retro-chic outdoor escape, complete with a handful of refitted vintage Airstreams, some retro trailers and cute cabins, all nestled into the tall trees on lazy Pender Island. It’s camping with hotel prices — a private Airstream starts around $150 a low season — but everything you need is provided.
There’s the luxury of high thread count linens and Fernwood coffee for your French press, and the rustic charm of gas firepits for roasting marshmallows, hammocks, and custom cedar hot tubs where you can chill with a forest or ocean view.
WOODS also has a casual farm-to-table bistro that features fresh produce from Pender’s Raven Rock Farm, Whole Beast charcuterie, local craft beer and wine (seven of the latter on tap), plus 20 signature cocktails. It’s sort of a deconstructed boutique hotel, scattered across seven, wooded, Gulf Island acres.
It’s all about escaping the pressures of urban life, with some space for losing yourself in the dancing flames of a campfire or the glittering night sky, says Redel, designed for those who want to “get back to nature” without actually getting dirty.
“It’s like summer camp with the things we love in the city but never got when we were at camp as kids – like hot showers and good food.”
If getting away from it all means leaving this earth, dangling in the tall trees in a fiberglass sphere is an outdoor option, too. Free Spirit Spheres has a handful of sleeping spheres, suspended by ropes in the forest near Qualicum Beach.
This is camping in the round, literally a place to hang out in the trees, or as one online reviewer described it: “a rain forest tree house that would entice a hobbit from their hole.”
It’s a kind of demonstration camp for engineer and craftsman Tom Chudleigh, who built and designed his first sphere in 1998.
“We see it as an alternate model for forest use with an ultralight footprint,” says Chudleigh, “a unique and magical forest hotel.”
“We are the first and only manufacturers of spherical tree houses in the world,” he adds, noting the size and interior design has evolved over the years. Using his skills as a boat builder, Chudleigh fits the spheres with retractable beds, seating and storage, all artfully built into the curved interior surfaces like a puzzle. The cosy space is reminiscent of a space capsule, each with electric heat, a private composting toilet outside, and a bathroom the shared bathhouse. There’s no cooking in the spheres, but the hosts provide a basket of cold breakfast items and snacks, and there’s a communal barbecue kitchen. Spheres hover 10-12 feet off the ground and are accessed by suspended walkways and spiral stairs, all a feat of Chudleigh’s artistic engineering. He calls it “biomimicry – like a nut seed or a seed pod encased in a spider web of rope.”
Swaying in the breeze in the arms of the island old growth is an experience not easily duplicated.
A NATIONAL DREAM
Parks Canada’s oTENTik program offers accommodation in national parks across the country in various types of fully-equipped units, from the tent/cabin oTENTik, tipis and yurts, to tiny houses, tent trailers and basis tent/camp equipment rentals.
At 5:30, all of the visitors have gone and you have this whole place to yourself,” says Sophie Lauro, the promotion officer for Fort Rodd Hill & Fisgard Lighthouse national historic site, as we tour the five tent/cabins available to urban campers.
Each has a deck with Adirondak chairs, an outdoor firepit, dining table, dishes and comfortable bunk beds to sleep six inside its wood frame and heavy canvass walls. Just bring your sleeping bag or blankets, food and clothing.
“It really appeals to families, even grandparents or folks of a certain age who don’t want to sleep on the ground, but love to camp,” says Lauro.
With communal washrooms, shared refrigerators and barbecues it’s camping with conveniences — complete with it’s own private beach, ocean views and walking trails. You can even launch your kayak from the lighthouse.
Parks Canada knows that Canadians who have a chance to experience national parks will appreciate and protect them. They designed oTENTik program as a “gateway” for non-campers, and help families from other countries get past any fears they have of a night in the great outdoors.
Not all national parks have the cabin tents in place, but you can try one out in BC at Kootenay National Park or inside the historic Fort Langley, too. At Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Parks Canada offers “equipped campsites”, complete with tents and camping gear from Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) for visitors that want to camp but are traveling light.
Parks Canada also has a camping app to help new campers plan their trips and offers Learn to Camp weekends with MEC. The next course at Fort Rodd Hill is July 22-23.
SPARE NO EXPENSE
If money is no object, there are multi-day, soft outdoor adventures with considerably more exclusivity, too.
Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, accessible only by boat or sea plane, is the original glamp-site.
With its posh miner’s tents in the remote rain forest, antiques and elegant amenities, a team of top chefs and outdoor guides, there’s an air of old world, colonial adventure in this all-inclusive experience, and a price to match (starting at $1,800 pp/day).
Rockwater Secret Cove, on the Sunshine Coast, offers luxurious, canvass-walled cabins along a boardwalk on a rocky Oceanside cliff, complete with fireplaces, jetted tubs and room service. Rates for the tenthouse suites start at $290 per night in low season. http://rockwatersecretcoveresort.com
If channeling your inner cowboy — or fly fisher — is the goal, try a day ride on the open range, a little fishing, and bedding down in a luxurious prospector’s tent (complete with wood burning fireplace) after the chef cooks up your catch, at Siwash Lake Wilderness Resort in the Cariboos. A three-night “Glamping Getaway” starts at $2,385 pp.http://www.siwashlakeranch.com
RETAIL THERAPY FOR RELUCTANT CAMPERS
It’s unfortunate that there are still those that think a weekend of camping is about “tolerating nature” – but if you need a little incentive to get out there try a little retail therapy.
The “modern camp aesthetic” is found in great gear to pack or to bring the outdoors in and make camping cool. Here’s a look at a few faves:
There are lots of great places to collect your camping gear, from Mountain Equipment Co-op to Capital Iron. But when you want to put a hip edge on it all, Victoria’s Ecologyst is a great place to get than curated camping vibe. Custom wool plaid shirts, waxed cotton caps and enamel tableware, with their tall tree logo, make camping cool.
BioLite Wood Burning Campstove
This nifty little burner is perfect for back packing – it burns twigs, will boil water in five minutes, and has a “thermoelectric generator” on the side that lets you charge your cell phone (in case camping is all about sharing for you). $150 https://www.amazon.ca/BioLite-BL-CSA-Wood-Burning-Campstove/dp/B00BQHET9O
The Pendelton car blanket or Motor Robe is plaid, pure wool and the perfect size to snuggle into around the campfire or on the couch. Comes with its own cool leather carrying strap, too. $159 www.pendleton.ca
The Messermeister Adventure Chef Collection includes the camp cook's best knife and cutting board, to fold up and carry along in a waxed canvas case. With a classic stainless blade and carbonized maple handles, available at House of Knives $250 houseofknives.ca
Forget the bulky, smelly kerosene lantern, this smart Base Lantern XL gives you light to play cards and power to charge your stuff, all in a sleek, compact, foldable design that’s no bigger than a sandwich. $100 www.bioliteenergy.com
Hate the idea of sleeping on the ground? The Tentsile Vista Tree Tent might be the ticket – just suspend this portable polyester hammock/treehouse between three anchor points in the woods (or the back yard) and you’re living high and dry. No lumpy ground or creepy crawlies. $740 www.tentsile.com
The red Muskoka (a.k.a. Adirondak) chair marks Parks Canada’s signature spots to relax, take in the best views and tweet #sharethechair. Get your own, engraved with the Canadian beaver logo https://parkscanadashop.ca/products/parks-canada-memories-red-chair