Glamping, or camping with comfort, in the Canadian wilderness

You arrive via float-plane, a visually stunning hour-long ride from Vancouver, British Columbia, to the Clayoquot Sound, a temperate rainforest on Vancouver Island’s west coast. At the dock, you’re picked up by a horse-drawn wagon and delivered to a central meeting area, what might be called a lobby at a regular resort. But this is no regular resort. You’re welcomed by workers offering almost any liquor you can imagine, as well as a fabulous selection of delectables. Champagne in crystal flutes, check. Oysters on the half shell, check. You know that a tent is your night-time destination but it doesn’t quite seem possible, amidst all this luxury.

 You are at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, a premier glamping—or glamorous camping—destination that made Conde Nast’s 2010 Gold List, was named one of the top ten resorts in the world by Forbes.com, and was the site of the wedding of  actors Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Reynolds.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort in British Columbia
Clayoquot Wilderness Resort in British Columbia

 Before you can check in to your tent, all guests must sit with managing director John Caton for an orientation where he explains the resort’s do’s and don’ts. Do eat the fabulous meals whenever you want, not just at scheduled eating times, do pick whatever adventure suits your mood at the moment, do take full advantage of the massages and facials at the resort’s Healing Grounds Spa. Don’t keep any food in your tent. It attracts bears. And definitely don’t play with the ear-shattering air horn that is stocked bedside for emergencies. Because when that horn goes off, John comes running with his shotgun just in case you’re having an unwanted experience with a black bear.

 Not your usual welcome wagon, but exotic, extravagant and exciting. The resort bills itself as “remote, refined and remarkable.” And indeed it is all of those things.

 I found it quite remarkable that just minutes after leaving the orientation session to head down a gravel road to my tent, I encountered a bear, calmly walking toward me. He didn’t seem much interested in me and soon scrambled up the hillside. I was very interested in him, however, and couldn’t believe I didn’t have my camera ready to record this up-close-and-personal wildlife experience.

 Clayoquot’s tents don’t disappoint: 11 deluxe guest tents and 9 family tents have comfortable Adirondack-style beds with fine sheets and down duvets, antique dressers and tables, Oriental rugs, oil lamps and temperature-controlled propane heaters. Composting toilets in cedar enclosures are just outside each tent; shower buildings with individual stalls for each tent and a place to store toiletries (which also might attract bears) are a short walk away from the tents.

 The food and drink are outstanding. I’ll always remember a salmon and egg breakfast hash and the decadent cookies kept in a jar on the cookhouse counter, ready for nibbling at any time. And there’s a sommelier who often acquires small-production local wines that get bought out by experts like her before they even make it to retailers.

 Activities, included in the price, are all over the map from horseback riding and hiking to whale watching, fishing, kayaking, ziplining, beach surfing and wilderness gourmet cooking lessons. I rode a horse—for the first time in more than 30 years—through a forest to the salmon-spawning grounds. Also remarkable.

 You can challenge yourself with an activity every day. Or you can sit around, sip fine wine,  peruse the books in the library tent and wait for someone to ask you if you’d like another cookie. Certainly refined.

 The Clayoquot season runs from May through September and includes all meals, most activities and the round-trip float plane flights from Vancouver. Prices begin at about (converted from Canadian dollars) $5,400 per person for a three-night stay, based on double occupancy, for July and August trips. Prices for children under age 12, staying in the same tent as their parents, are about $2,000, for a three-night stay. For children under 4, prices are further reduced. For the month of September, prices are slightly reduced. Some specials, including one to encourage grandparents to travel with their families, are available. Check out the website at www.wildretreat.com for full details.

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2 thoughts on “Glamping, or camping with comfort, in the Canadian wilderness

  1. Read your 11/16 Chiago Tribune article on Kenya. Desirous of duplicating your trip – is it possible to obtain the info on itinerary; transportation used; time of year, etc. We are 71; always dreamed of such a trip but your article has inspired us to try to do it while we still can (physically). Duplicating travel, lodging, etc is our hope. Two special issues: 1. Does this trip require many inoculations? 2. What type of foods are available.
    Thanking you so much in advance.
    Sincerely
    Colin & Mary McRae

    1. Thanks so much for the note. And for reading my story in the Chicago Tribune. Yes. Yes. Yes. Do it. I am running out the door with lots to do today. I will email you more information tomorrow.

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