Glamping brings unique, luxury options to Black Hills campers

June 4, 2018

From suites to showers and an on-site restaurant, this is not a typical campground.

Instead, Under Canvas, which promotes itself as the nation’s premier glamping company, offers an outdoor experience that has become all the rage elsewhere around the country and has made its way to the Black Hills this season.

“I think it’s somewhere between actual camping and staying in a luxury hotel,” said Merritt Hopper, the company’s chief revenue officer. “But it’s a way to stay connected to the outdoors.”

Glamping – a mash-up of glamour and camping – has become so mainstream it landed a spot in this year’s edition of Merriam-Webster, which calls it “outdoor camping with amenities and comforts (such as beds, electricity, and access to indoor plumbing) not usually used when camping.”

There’s all that and more at the Keystone location of Under Canvas, which opened just before Memorial Day. It’s located on 160 acres and overlooks Mount Rushmore.

The company, which was founded in 2012, has grown quickly with seven locations, including the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Glacier national parks.

“We absolutely love the Black Hills,” Hopper said. “The opportunity to get the piece of land we own was excellent because the deck where the restaurant is looks right onto the faces (of Mount Rushmore).”

Under Canvas started with 52 tents with varying accommodations, sleeping four to seven on king or twin beds with luxury linens. Some have private in-suite bathrooms while others use a shared space. Kid-friendly “hives” offer adjacent spots with camp cots.

“If you have a 10- or 12-year-old, they will flip out about it,” Hopper said. “Even a 3- or 5-year-old won’t stay in there but will think it’s like a playground or fort.”

The campground also is designed to be environmentally friendly, using solar power in the tents and lanterns powered by rechargeable batteries. The tents come down at the end of the season, which this year is Oct. 1.

“We have a very small footprint on the land we own,” Hopper said. “We use 79 percent less water than the average hotel.”

The on-site restaurant offers sit-down breakfast and dinner and picnic lunches.

“We’re proud to say there’s no Wi-Fi,” Hopper added. “If you can’t connect digitally, that’s OK because you’re connecting in a whole other natural way, and we love that. So I think families are really loving that.”

That doesn’t mean the experience won’t reach the digital world, though.

“Millennials absolutely love glamping,” he said. “It’s new, it’s different, it’s full of selfies on Instagram and people see it and (say) ‘I want to be where that person is.’ ”

For that social media sharing, the Under Canvas campground is equipped with spotting scopes overlooking Mount Rushmore, where “you can attach your iPhone to them and zoom into the presidents’ faces and click a shot.”

The business also is bringing in live music, free nightly s’mores and yoga sessions a few mornings each week. The plan is to add visits from a naturalist.

Stays range from $199 to $449 per night. Other packages include private tours, customized hikes, all-inclusive meals and massages.

“We’re really happy to see it progressing like it has,” Hopper said, adding the bookings are “nothing short of excellent. We’re excited how it’s gaining popularity very quickly.”

Covered wagon camping

Another new glamping option opens near Rapid City this week, offering campers the chance to stay in a replica covered wagon complete with luxury bedding, coffeepots and Culligan water.

The Wagons are a new addition to Rushmore Shadows, a membership-based campground owned by Midwest Outdoor Resorts.

The three wagons are 24 feet long by 14 feet high and can be booked by anyone. They are the resort’s first public offering.

“We’re completely full for June and are hoping to fill up the rest of the season,” said Andrea Thompson, the head of online marketing. “Our goal is to give people a one-of-a-kind western experience they can’t get anywhere else.”

One wagon sleeps four and two sleep six. Each has a king bed, bunk beds, electricity, heating and air conditioning, mini fridges, games and space for storage.

Each also includes a patio with a fire pit and furniture. There are shared luxury bathrooms on site and a communal “cowboy cauldron” for cooking that seats up to 21.

“So we’re hoping they will have some community and visit with each other and make s’mores and cook,” Thompson said. “People are thrilled to have an experience when they’re camping instead of staying in a tent.”

Guests at The Wagons also can use the other amenities of Rushmore Shadows, including miniature golf, a swimming pool, sports court, bike rental and free popcorn. Rates range from $249 to $275 per night.

There’s also a trunk of western-style costumes and a life-size statue of a horse made out of horseshoes for social media-friendly photo-ops, and the resort offers packages, including a hot dog dinner, three-day pass to Old MacDonald’s Farm and tickets to the Fort Hays Cowboy Music & Dinner Show.

The resort has room for a few more wagons plus additional land if the concept takes off.

“We’re just excited to get a new generation excited about camping and the culture of our area,” Thompson said. “We’re hoping to bring in people from all over who maybe wouldn’t get to experience this anywhere else, and they will get to fall in love with our area.”

The glamping additions are a good complement to existing camping options in the Black Hills, said Julie Jensen, president and CEO of Visit Rapid City.

“I was so excited to hear about them. It keeps us up with current trends,” she said. “I love it. I love anything that keeps us current, so you don’t just spend one night and leave. Our goal is that visitors understand there’s so much to see and do you’ve got to plan four or five days.”

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Glamping brings unique, luxury options to Black Hills campers

From suites to showers and an on-site restaurant, this is not a typical campground.

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