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Fall is the perfect season to camp. Cool nights, warm days, fall foliage. Here are ways to elevate an ordinary campsite to “glamping” status.

By Eli Wallace

There’s nothing quite as cozy as cuddling up at home during a bout of cooler temps. But with fall encroaching, there’s plenty of mountain activities calling us outside. The new way to have your cake and eat it too? Bring your home with you when you head for the hills.

camping-Delmas-LehmanEver since the invention of the term, glamping (short for glamorous camping) has garnered lots of love and plenty of derision. It’s been called “camping for wimps” (The Daily Mail) and “the best of both worlds” (USA Today Travel). But whatever else it is—photogenic, wonderful, a harbinger of our society’s impending decline—there’s one thing for sure: Glamping is expensive.

Because glamping removes the do-it-yourself ethic from the camp experience, glampers book into resorts using tools like www.glampinghub.com and www.glamping.com. Possibly the truest option in Colorado is Dunton Hot Springs in Dolores, near Telluride, where a heinously beautiful all-season luxury tent runs about $1,100 per night. Yes, it’s made of upcycled 1830s materials (it better be) and comes with a gas stove, tile shower and king-size bed.

Closer to home, the C Lazy U Guest Ranch in Vail offers cabins with optional glamping tents as an add-on, for roughly $325 per night, and The Vail Collective Retreat at 4 Eagle Ranch offers tents and villas starting around $400 per night. A dream cabin in Black Hawk features hot tubs and sleeps 13 for about $950 per night. And those are just a few options; around the state you can also rent glamified Airstream trailers, upscale cabins, yurts, huts and ranch lodges.

For those of us unable or unwilling to shell out hotel prices on the next family camping trip, there are ways to up the comfort factor in regular old camping. The secret is to focus on a few fun, fancy details, and pack with comfort in mind.

Focus on Food

Chili, baked beans and burgers are fine, but they’ve been done. Adding glamour to food is easy and tasty, and all you’ll need is a grill, a frying pan and a cooler to turn yourself into a true wilderness gourmand. Get into it as much as you like—add some blue cheese into that burger, or scrap the classic camp fare entirely and replace it with elk steaks, fresh strawberry and spinach salad, and a bottle of red.

Instead of chips and trail mix, snack on thin-sliced chorizo with stone-ground mustard, pita chips with hummus, or fresh fruit like berries. Watermelon and peaches are also great choices, as they’re tasty alone, in drinks and even grilled.

Breakfast doesn’t have to be pancakes or bagels. Fill a cast-iron skillet with chopped potatoes and onions (these can be prepared ahead of time and put in a plastic container) and scramble with eggs over the campfire or grill. No skillet? No problem: Tin foil comes to the rescue and can be used for eggs, French toast and ground meats. Breakfast tacos, anyone?

camping-Rebekah-HofferS’mores are fun, interactive and delicious, but even they can go gourmet. Purists will hate this, but your taste buds won’t—replace the classic chocolate bars with peanut butter cups for a decadent treat. If you’re feeling truly iconoclastic, dip a fresh strawberry in marshmallow fluff, skewer and roast till you’ve turned the fluff a perfect golden-brown.

If you’re not feeling committed to spending on ingredients, grab gourmet condiments to improve everything in a snap. Sub aioli for mayo, bring a mini spice rack, grab horseradish and a good mustard, and toss fresh herbs in the cooler alongside your beer.

Get Cozy

Let’s get real: Sleeping on the ground often means not sleeping at all. It’s colder than you expect out there, your lower back aches, and there seems to be a rock digging into your shoulder no matter which way you turn.

There’s no shame in a proper camping pad. Even better is a tent large enough to also hold a blow-up camp mattress. Air-mattress technology has come leaps and bounds from the sad, waterbed-like experiences of the past, and certain camping mattresses now include air pumps that are compatible with your car’s cigarette lighter.

While you’re packing a little extra, throw in a few more pillows, comforters and blankets and a battery-powered lamp, and you’ll be roughing it like a royal. If there’s room in the car, consider a portable speaker, a solar power cell and a hammock.

Keep It Clean

Some of us revel in the grime of our own sweaty, unwashed bodies. The rest of us should figure out how to be less gross in the wilderness—and that’s where gadgetry comes in.

camping-Courtesy-Amy-Gosch
Boulder camper Amy Gosch swears by her REI shelter, to which she added two pairs of windwalls—all for less than $200. It’s always kept her snug, even in heavy rain and snow.

One way to stay squeaky clean is to choose a campsite that offers showers, such as all KOA campsites. If a shower-equipped campsite isn’t available, showering gadgets like solar-powered bag showers offer a green alternative to traditional propane-fueled water heaters. Unless you’re camping somewhere extremely isolated, you’ll also want to bring along a shower/privy tent or some kind of privacy curtain.

One nifty new invention is RinseKit, a patented portable hose/shower that offers pressurized spray without pumping or batteries. It’s not heated like a bag shower, but it spends less water with its pressurized spray—making it an ideal option for rinsing mud and stink off of kids and pets before getting in the car, or washing camp dishes for reuse.

To keep bugs away, burn a dried sage stick in the campfire alongside any flameless candles you want to set up. Sage bundles can be purchased at most natural foods stores, and are great to throw in the dying campfire right before bed.

Little Details

Feel glamorous—and clean—with the Hydro Hammock, which can hold river water, saltwater or hose water and be optionally heated by an electric or propane system. The downside? It’s expensive and not commercially available yet.
Feel glamorous—and clean—with the Hydro Hammock, which can hold river water, saltwater or hose water and be optionally heated by an electric or propane system. The downside? It’s expensive and not commercially available yet.

Deep down, glamping is just camping with all the details figured out perfectly. If you’re looking to keep a tight budget but have that photo-worthy experience, decorations are the real key.

Tea lights, cute matching melamine or metal dishware, and a tablecloth can go a long way in making a camp prettier. Bringing any furniture like accent tables, chairs or lamps adds flair, as does extra lighting like lanterns, flameless candles or string lights.

Glamping on the cheap is all about mixing and matching glam elements into your normal camping routine, rather than bringing all these suggestions into play at once. Identify whatever parts of glamping are the most appealing to you, and then invest in one or two gadgets or decorations to try out on your next (fabulous!) adventure.


Photos courtesy Dunton Hot Springs, Delmas-Lehman, Rebekah Hoffer, Amy Gosch, Hydro-Hammock