I had the opportunity to spend 3 days in and around Yellowstone National Park with Under Canvas, an outdoor destination hospitality experience that offers upscale, safari-style accommodations designed to fit seamlessly into natural surroundings while featuring indoor luxuries.
Under Canvas currently operates 11 locations: West Yellowstone, North Yellowstone-Paradise Valley, and Glacier in Montana; Moab, Zion, Lake Powell-Grand Staircase, and Bryce Canyon in Utah; Mount Rushmore in South Dakota; Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee; Grand Canyon in Arizona; and Acadia in Maine. With so many options — and more coming in the future — this may be my new go-to accommodation when visiting national parks.
This is what it was like to eschew the typical hotel stay and spend 3 days “glamping” with Under Canvas.
I was a hosted guest of Under Canvas, but all opinions are my own.
My first night with Under Canvas was at its debut camp in West Yellowstone. The concept of Under Canvas is to connect guests with the outdoors and nature, but with upscale outdoor hospitality, so even those who hate camping will be comfortable.
Since 2012, the company has grown to include 11 safari-inspired Under Canvas locations, as well as a new luxury outdoor resort brand called ULUM. In that time, the company has perfected its model, which specializes in safari-like tents that include amenities such as ensuite bathrooms with hot showers, king-sized beds, and a wood-burning stove for chilly nights.
Each camp also has a patent-designed main lobby tent and social patios, a café-style kitchen, a specialty coffee area with 24-hour coffee pots, a small boutique, family games, nightly s’mores, and some of the prettiest landscapes around.
A Family-Friendly Environment
During my 3 days at Yellowstone, I stayed in both Under Canvas’s original camp at West Yellowstone and its newest camp at North Yellowstone-Paradise Valley. While there, I saw couples cozied up, kids playing cornhole and running in the grass, and families scorching marshmallows as they toasted s’mores.
The philosophy of the camps is to “connect people with the outdoors and with each other,” Under Canvas CEO Matt Gaghen told TravelAwaits. “This is what we love to do as a company. It’s creating this backdrop for a family to go hang up at a fire pit, maybe mom and dad have a glass of wine, and the kids can roam and explore. We get to see people discover these places. There is also the opportunity to meet other travelers rather than being confined in your hotel room.”
Having a casual outdoor community space certainly promotes that goal. Maybe it was the smell of campfire smoke trickling from the tent stove pipes or the sound of people laughing, but the atmosphere was casual and connected in a way you rarely see. Even more shocking was that not one single teenager was staring at their phone.
The Tents Are Pretty Spectacular
Each of Under Canvas’s camps include Suites, Deluxes, Stargazers, and Safari tents. Some camps even have small little canvas tents for up to two children while others feature Two-Tent Suites for larger families and groups.
With king-sized beds, ensuite bathrooms and showers, a wood-burning stove, and private decks, it’s hard to believe that this is “camping.” What the tents do not have, however, is electricity. That’s okay, though, because each comes with a USB charging pack and lanterns for the evenings. The pull-chain showers and low-flow toilets are designed to conserve water and reduce impact on natural resources.
The lobby is also a tent, albeit a pretty sophisticated one. Decked out in rustic mountain décor and thoughtful art, the lobby is also home to grab-and-go foods and an onsite restaurant serving vegetarian fare, big fat burgers, local trout, and more.
“The designs are custom to us and we actually manufacture all the supports here that go into the tents,” Gaghan said.
Pro Tip: When you check in at the lobby, the staff will demonstrate the correct way to light your wood-burning stove. Be sure to pay attention. I didn’t push the wood back far enough like I should have one morning and I smoked up my poor tent.
A Tale Of Two Camps
Though similar in many ways, each camp I stayed at had its own personality. Under Canvas West Yellowstone was a mere 10 minutes from the primary Yellowstone National Park West Entrance, while the North Yellowstone-Paradise Valley was a bit more remote.
Under Canvas West Yellowstone
We lucked out with traffic and, within minutes, drove from our camp to the geological wonders of Montana and America’s first national park.
We had arrived at West Yellowstone at night, thanks to some travel woes. When I woke that first morning, I had yet to see the uninterrupted views of Montana’s picturesque landscape.
My little fire had burned out during the night and I was shocked at the chill on that August morning. I pulled on my sweatshirt and jeans, unzipped the tent, and froze in wonder as the jagged peaks and endless blue sky greeted my eyes.
The views were amazing.
Although you can request a pickup at your tent anytime, I opted to walk to the lobby, which already had coffee ready at the 24-hour coffee station. A fancier coffee bar was just opening, so I grabbed a chai latte as well.
Although the daily exercise class hadn’t started, I knew we would be exploring the park early and I would have to miss it. But it’s nice to know that the camp has daily activities like yoga, bingo nights, trivia games, art classes, and more.
Under Canvas North Yellowstone-Paradise Valley
At North Yellowstone, my tent faced the famous Yellowstone River while the Absaroka Mountain Range rose behind the river like stony clouds. With 50 luxurious tents, this new camp is less than an hour from the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park and just 20 minutes from the charming town of Livingston. If you’re flying into Montana, the camp is also 45 minutes from Bozeman.
Maybe it’s because I had more time to enjoy the North Yellowstone camp, but it was my favorite of the two, mainly for the access to the Yellowstone River. One morning, we took a fly-fishing class on site — I caught my first two fish on a fly reel — but the camp also arranged river float experiences like an evening picnic and cocktail cruise, which was a delightful way to end the day. The Paradise Valley region has gotten a lot of attention lately, thanks to the popularity of the TV series Yellowstone. It’s easy to see why. With gorgeous mountains, bucolic ranch land, and big ol’ skies, it’s as pretty as the show makes it out to be.
Like the West camp, North Yellowstone-Paradise Valley also had daily activities, a communal patio with plenty of firepits, a boutique, and great food. Instead of the yipping of coyotes, the soft lowing of cattle from the adjoining ranch provided the soundtrack for our stay.
Now, I can’t wait to stay at the other locations. The experience celebrated the best things about camping without the inconveniences of walking in the middle of the night to a bathroom or waking up on the cold hard ground.
Pro Tip: Under Canvas Lake Powell-Grand Staircase is certified by International Dark-Sky Places as one of the best places for stargazing thanks to its distinguished sky quality. Under Canvas is the first brand in the world to receive this recognition. The company has developed the Dark-Sky Resort certification program to set the standard in the travel industry to help protect the night sky from light pollution.