A Guide to Glamping in North Carolina
Take camping up a notch this summer
Glamorous camping, or glamping, blends camping with modern amenities to create what some might consider a more enjoyable and comfortable vacation in nature.
According to Kampground of America’s 2019 North American Camping Report, more than 7.2 million U.S. households started camping over the past five years, bringing the total number of camping households in the U.S. to a high of more than 78.8 million. A vacation in nature, however, is a lot easier when you have a bathroom, kitchen and comfy beds.
Choose Your Accommodations
Tent camping requires a lot of planning, packing, setting up and taking down — not to mention sleeping on the ground. Glamping blends a touch of comfort with the relaxation of being in the great outdoors — without as much setup. Types of glamping accommodations include geodomes, glamping tents, treehouses, travel trailers and yurts (a circular tent with a framework). Modeled after Mongolian nomads’ traditional yurts, today’s yurts are elevated and feature modern amenities.
“We think of it as easy camping,” says Tim Murphy, owner of Emberglow Outdoor Resort, a 72-acre year-round glamping retreat in Mill Spring, North Carolina, that is on track to open in September. “Accommodations are comfortable for sleeping, but are designed to get people outside.”
Inspired by Johann David Wyss’ “Swiss Famiy Robinson” story, Emberglow Outdoor Resort’s big treehouse sleeps 8-10 and features a living room, lookouts and a cargo net on the backside. For smaller groups, vintage trailers, geodomes, yurts and tent camping options are available. Each of Emberglow Outdoor Resort’s accommodations have running water, air conditioning, a microwave, a coffee maker, a small refrigerator and an outdoor grill.
All rentals, except for tree lofts, include private bathrooms, and Murphy says there is a family bathhouse big enough for the whole tribe to get cleaned up in, without having to worry about boys being in the girls’ room, and vice versa. Learn more at emberglowoutdoorresort.com.
Wildwater Falling Waters Nantahala, located next to the Nantahala Gorge in Bryson City, is a 22-acre resort consisting of two ponds, a waterfall and eight yurts — each with a queen-size bed and futon that sleeps two to four people. French doors, three large windows and a wooden deck make it feel like a home. Each yurt was built with a weatherproof canvas and includes a space heater and ceiling fan (since there is no air conditioning). All yurt guests share lockable bathrooms. What isn’t provided? TV and Wi-Fi. This limits distractions and provides more opportunities for guests to enjoy nature. Learn more at fallingwatersresort.com.
Asheville Glamping, located 10 miles outside of downtown Asheville near the French Broad River, rents yurts, vintage trailers, geodomes and treehouses for $125-$350 per night that stay booked a year in advance. The site’s 1,300-square-foot Dome 3 sleeps eight and includes a loft bed with a fun slide for guests to access the lower level. Each dome includes electricity, air conditioning and a fire pit. Some come with Wi-Fi. Dome guests can also stargaze while inside. Learn more at glampinginnc.com.
On the site of a former Girl Scout camp, Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Golden Valley resort in Bostic, North Carolina, offers two glamping options: luxury tents and treetop cabins. Just steps away from a scenic lake, glamping tents sleep five and include air conditioning, heating, a microwave, a mini refrigerator and a coffee pot. Perched up in the trees, treetop cabins sleep four and feature air conditioning, heating, TV and an outdoor kitchenette with a lake or mountain view. Both lodging choices include access to a nearby private, detached, full bathroom with linens provided. Learn more at campgoldenvalley.com.
Set Reasonable Expectations
“Glamping is great for folks of all ages,” says Trey Barnett of Falling Waters Resort, adding that it’s “more about a desire for something more adventurous than staying in a hotel. Glamping is a great intro to camping for families.”
Guests shouldn’t expect a five-star resort, however. Joanna Cahill, who co-owns Asheville Glamping with her fiancé Patrick Lovell, says glamping is an outdoor experience, and folks who aren’t interested in spending time outdoors aren’t going to have as good of a time. The company’s FAQs, which is required reading for all guests, state: “Though our spaces are clean, we guarantee that you are going to see bugs at some point during your stay.”
“We have learned to make sure to give people extremely accurate expectations,” Cahill says. “We like to have folks arrive with lower expectations, and exceed them.”
“Families need to prepare much like they would for a camping trip,” Barnett says. “Pack clothes with the mindset of being outside.”
When it comes to food, Barnett recommends preparing as much beforehand as possible. Bring the necessary tools for grilling, and keep plenty of snacks and drinks on hand. “Campfire dinners (hamburger and veggies wrapped in foil) are popular, or plan to grill meats and veggies,” he says. “Some families even choose to bring a camping cook-set to make cooking easier.”
At Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Golden Valley resort, glamping tents and cabins are equipped with charcoal grills, but there is also food on-site at Creekside Cafe, Snack Shack and The Lodge to give family cooks a break. At the Camp Store, guests can stock up on groceries, ice, wood, propane, beer and wine.
Go on an Adventure
Glamping resorts offer access to outdoor activities — from zip lining to water sliding. Some may be included in the price, or offered at a discounted rate to resort guests. Wildwater Falling Waters Nantahala is owned by Wildwater, considered the oldest outfitter in the Southeast. Just a few hundred feet away from the resort, families can participate in rafting, zip lining (including a Kidzip Canopy Tour) and Nantahala Jeep Tours on the resort’s property.
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Depot in Bryson City is about 11 miles away from Wildwater Falling Waters Nantahala. Board a one-way train ride into the Nantahala Gorge, then hop on a Jeep for a scenic backroads tour. After that, take the train back to Bryson City and enjoy a boxed lunch during the return trip.
Emberglow Outdoor Resort gives kids autonomy to roam and explore, says Murphy, who is a father of three under age 5, with a baby on the way. The resort’s pool features a sitting shelf, and the playground includes an “unscripted” play area that allows children to use natural materials — and their imaginations — to build forts and other creations.
Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Golden Valley resort includes pools, water-slides and splashgrounds. The Ranger Smith Pool features a swim-up pool bar, basketball courts, horseshoes, mini golf, a playground and volleyball courts. Hit the lake in a canoe, kayak, paddleboat or stand up paddleboard. There’s even an outdoor laser tag course.
“Families can expect a welcoming environment filled with fun activities, tons of brand-new amenities, great food and the opportunity to reconnect with nature while making long-lasting memories,” says Nicole Powell, reservations manager at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp Resort.
Plan a glamping escape to North Carolina’s wilderness and discover how glamorous getting back to nature can be.
Sara Kendall is a Charlotte-based freelance writer who loves to explore new places with her family.