Hotel Spotlight: Glamping at Under Canvas in Yellowstone
The Big Sky of Montana is ominous this night - different from the colorful vistas that are usually associated with the nickname - but beautiful in its own right. Lightning flashes repeatedly over the mountains in the distance, and we move quickly toward our tent to avoid the downpour that seems imminent. The storm reaches us shortly after we get under cover, raindrops pelting the canvas that's keeping us dry. But the fire is already crackling, its warmth and glow a stark contrast to the scene just outside. The lightning and thunder pass quickly, but we are already in for the night, burrowing under the covers and reminding ourselves our minds are just playing tricks on us - a bear is not in fact approaching the tent. At some point, a few hours after we've fallen asleep, the fire will go out, and we will wake up with only our heavy blankets shielding us from the cold morning air. As sunlight breaks through the canvas, we’re filled with anticipation for what the day has in store.
While we were not exactly sleeping under the stars, these small moments created a connection with nature - one that we often overlook in the flow of our modern lifestyle - and made our experience at Under Canvas Yellowstone so memorable.
A short ten minute drive from Yellowstone National Park's West entrance lies Under Canvas, a non-traditional campsite comprised of safari-inspired "glamping" tents, the backdrop of the scene above. For those unfamiliar with the term, glamping is short for "glamorous camping", a luxurious way to enjoy the great outdoors without the hassle of setting up camp or waking up sore from a restless night on the ground. Under Canvas has been at the forefront of this craze for some time, expanding to 8 campsites across the country, each perfectly positioned to explore America's most iconic national parks and monuments. My curiosity for glamping and love for sharing unique ways visitors can experience my home state of Montana led me to book a tent for my recent trip home, and I'm so glad I did!
We arrived at camp as the sun was setting, the sky a vibrant mix of purple and orange - a welcoming sight I won't soon forget. As we journeyed to our tent, fellow campers were indulging in s'mores and settling in after a day of exploration. Stepping inside, I was pleased to find that our raised platform tent met all of my expectations from the photos and descriptions I had seen online. Outfitted with hardwood floors, a plush king bed, wood-burning stove, a cow hide rug and leather sling chairs, it was fresh and modern, while still allowing the stunning natural surroundings to take center stage. But the best part, an en suite bathroom with hot running water, a shower, sink and toilet. Hard to beat that while "camping"! There were two things the tent did lack, however - electricity and wifi (though of course, this is intentional). Under Canvas' mission is for family and friends to be "Outside Together", and a key component of that is to unplug from the modern world and plunge into the present. (They do provide battery packs to charge phones, and have outlets in the communal bathrooms if you need to use a blowdryer or curling iron.)
Aside from the basic amenities you would find at any hotel (e.g. daily housekeeping, toiletries), Under Canvas provides a few unique ones... Each night as we settled in, a staff member would come by the tent and start a fire in our wood burning stove, which not only adds to the rustic ambience, but is a must for chilly Montana nights. Even in the middle of summer, it's common for temperatures to drop into the forties, and we found the extra layers we slept in couldn't keep our noses from getting cold. As the fire kept us warm at night, another form of warmth was waiting for us as we awoke - coffee and hot chocolate delivered to our tent. A simple amenity that went a long way! Sitting on the deck with a warm mug in hand was the perfect start to a day of adventure in the country's first national park.
July is peak tourist season in Yellowstone, and with Montana summers being relatively short, be prepared for lodging rates to be at their peak as well. We paid close to $500/night for our tent, and while that may seem high for "camping", I have found Under Canvas to be an affordable way to "glamp". There are ways to trim this cost, such as booking a tent that doesn't have an en suite bathroom or visiting soon after the campsite opens for the season, and I found most dates to have rates starting in the low $200s. To set your expectations around what you're getting for this price, if you're an avid camper, this will feel quite glamorous, but if you're a hotel person at heart, it will definitely still feel like camping (even with all of the little luxuries). Regardless of your preference or which package you select, I'm confident it will be a great experience!
As I mentioned above, one of the keys to the Under Canvas formula is location, and this one is the perfect base for visiting Yellowstone - one I wish I had when I was a kid.
Growing up in Montana, I have countless childhood memories of summer days spent exploring the park. Memories of jumping from car to car with my cousins as we caravanned from one geyser basin to the next, a new pair of moccasins on my feet and the pungent smell of sulfur lingering in the air. Memories of pressing my face against the backseat window, eyes glued on the horizon in hopes of spotting a bison or bear or moose. Watching Old Faithful erupt, souvenir shopping in West Yellowstone, eating jerky and candy until we were sick... It was the same visit each time, but I think that's what made it special.
Under Canvas added it's own touch of magic to my recent time in Yellowstone - one that both adults and kids can feel - and I couldn't help but think how fun it would have been to have had that experience with my cousins growing up! The campsite was full of families enjoying "Outside Together", settling into their tents for the day's last adventure, anxious for what the next day had in store. While she obviously won't remember it, having Sophie visit Yellowstone for the first time was very special to me, and I look forward to the day we return and she's old enough to create similar memories. And when that day does come, I know we'll be glamping!