I don’t like to camp, but I love to glamp. That is, I don’t want to sleep in a soggy sleeping bag or spend 3 hours propping up a dingy tent while doused in bug spray. But put me in a King size bed called the “Last Best Bed,” pre-heat my tent’s bathrooms’ tile floors, and throw in a camp butler and then yes, I am a glamper or “Glamorous” camper. “Glamping” allegedly originated in the 1900s as well-heeled Brits desired to see the savannahs of Africa without missing afternoon tea and hot British cuisine, cooked nightly but a private chef. Nowadays, glamping has swept the luxury travel market most aggressively in the last five years, offering discerning luxury travelers a way to connect with nature without forgoing plush amenities, such as five course meals and copper hot tubs.
My most recent glamping experience was at The Resort at Paws Up, one of Montana’s very best luxury ranches, self-dubbed “the Last Best Place.” It is. I covered the property last year, from the view of a cabin guest. Leaving the property for the first time last summer, I felt like that kid at summer camp in a fit of tears on the last day of camp. There I was, being dragged away, frantically waving, “I’ll be back! I’ll be back!” Paws Up has that effect on its adult guests. This second visit was my first time at a “Paws Up” camp, and I was certainly sad to depart. Here are a few reasons why:
The Tent: Paws Up offers four campgrounds, each distinctly snuggled into nooks within the 37,000 acres of Paws Up forest. Our camp, Creekside Camp, lines the idyllic Elk Creek, heard faintly from the deck of our 830 square foot tent. A Paws Up “tent” is hardly a few flaps of canvas. Each tent is the mansion Mother Nature would stay in, complete with hardwood and carpeted floors, a stunning heated tile bathroom with Kolher fixtures, seating areas of plush leather chairs, and rustic décor. If it weren’t for the chirps of birds or rustles of pines, I would have never guessed I was “outside.” That’s the best part, too. One night, a thunder and lightening shower rumbled around our tent, filling the cool mountain air with the light hiss of rain while I read a good book under the ultra cozy pile of my pine King-size bed.
The Cuisine: One of my favorite aspects of our camp was the welcoming dining pavilion, a half-outdoor, half-indoor plaza for daily meals. A roaring fire usually welcomed us in the morning, flanked by a wall of stonework and imbedded standard refrigerator, always stocked with refreshments. Leather couches, a bar area, and sturdy coffee table made this a great gathering area. This, in turn, led to the dining tables and an outdoor fire pit rimmed with timber seating. Our on-site chef, a sweet Montanan, could whip up anything in his full-size kitchen. My favorite dishes were the grilled elk loin salad with local mushrooms, thepan roasted quail legs with black truffle sauce, and the country buttermilk panna cotta. It dawned on me that I don’t eat this well even at “indoor” resorts, let alone ones next to a sleepy creek and a carpet of pinecones.
The Fun: A friend of mine asked me, once I returned, “So what do you do all day in the forest?” Ah, this friend is not a glamper, nor a guest of Paws Up. The resort has a list of rustic activities so exhaustive that guests sometimes stay over a week just to cover a significant chunk. Yoga classes, horseshoes, croquet, disc golf, gym access, and pony rides are a few of the included activities with any stay. I particularly like the “geocaching” adventure, a little nature scavenger hunt rewarded with resort goodies for successful uncoverings. For those desiring a body bounce, the new “Bone Rattler Raceway” is now open. Learn the off-road skills needed to sail, swerve, and crush along a challenging off-roading course, while in the resort’s custom built Jeep. Personally, I’ll be back for the Spa Town’s new services, including a huckleberry body scrub and barbed wire body wrap. Also new for next year: Camp 5, which Paws Up claims will be its largest and most luxurious campsite yet. I suppose the sweet owners of Paws Up, a nice husband and wife in love with Montana, just like the fun of making the Last Best Place even better every passing year.