Go hiking near the national parks with Under Canvas

In any other case, I would have peed in my pants. It was the middle of the night–which in Southern Utah certified in Dark-Sky…really dark–and the howl of a lone wolf pierced the quiet night. A group of these carnivorous beasts soon joined in their eagerness, and each animal seemed to be trying to outdo the others in size.

where have you been? Oh, you know, just in a tent, you’re perched on the highest point of the earth in Under Canvas Bryce Canyon. But fortunately, I’ve already been informed that sound carries an incredibly far distance in this part of the world; And that these (most likely) nocturnal predators were in fact much further away than their somewhat terrifying howls led me to believe. (Plus, the staff at check-in actually warned us about the strict rule of no eating in the tent, so unless coyotes are hungry for humans—which isn’t likely, yes, I figured I was safe.)

But being so close to nature was kind of the reason why I embarked on this adventure in the first place. Sure, we have pizza rats and downtown New York City, but when did you ever see a live jackrab rabbit or look up and actually spot more than five stars in the night sky?

Also, let’s be honest: I wasn’t in a puppy tent. I was in a custom-built, Scandinavian-inspired tent with a wood-burning stove, a washable toilet, a hot shower and a king-size bed under a skylight designed for stargazing. And so, instead of worrying that I might be a wild dog dinner, it was very exciting. I couldn’t, no kidding, count the stars until I went back to sleep.

under the canvas

That’s the magic of Under Canvas, a group of 10 campgrounds scattered across the United States that marry unspoiled landscapes like the Yellowstone or the Great Smoky Mountains with safari-style tents that can appeal to everyone from hardcore hikers to novices (me). Each site is located near a corresponding national park or outdoor recreation area, but far enough away to feel off the grid. The ethos of the company, CEO Matt Gagen told me, is to help travelers create “meaningful experiences in nature that allow them to connect, explore, and stay outside together.”

This was the case for me. I spent three nights at the company site in Zion before driving to Bryce National Park for another three nights. Our mornings were packed with rigorous hikes (57-hour screaming and guide Lindsey to help us navigate the treacherous Narrows in Zion and Canyon Fever Guides to show us the Queens Garden Trail in Bryce), but the hotel guest experience coordinator can help arrange anything from kayaking to tours UTV to white water rafting.

Stylish outdoor living rooms
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When our legs felt gelatinous, we head back to camp for quiet afternoons in the group swing or board games in the main lobby tent, before we dine outside. Meal time here means tender, flaky salmon fillet with greens braised in white wine or a juicy bison burger piled high with bacon: dehydrated meal packs are not. “We take inspiration from the local climate and agriculture,” says Gagen of the kitchen.

Each camp has a different menu, which has been influenced by the camping lifestyle as well as the local ingredients and cultures of each location. One night while at the Bryce location, the special dessert was a cheesecake covered in prickly pear sauce. The prickly cactus was carefully and slowly stripped of its nails by the kitchen staff before being made into a subtly sweet puree. It’s a dedication not found in many restaurants, let alone camp.

small wood stove
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There are also free s’mores every night, encouraging guests to share stories while roasting marshmallows in one of the many fire pits. I, for example, got solid information on Travels to Zion from a wonderful Phoenix couple. Under Canvas also encourages group interaction in other ways, such as trivia nights, group stars, and coloring sessions for adults. At last, bellies were full, and we would go back to our tent, light a crackling fire in our wood stove, and snuggle under layers of plush blankets.

It was especially exciting to sleep at Bryce, the company’s 10th and newest location. What makes this camp even more special is its strength. It’s the first Under Canvas game to be entirely solar powered (the Matrix panels are hidden out of sight so as not to spoil the view of the rolling hills). Gagen told me that the camp management’s decision to use eco-friendly energy was natural: “Across our company, we share a love of the outdoors and as part of that, we are committed to the ethos of our ‘conscious approach’; to be environmentalists and reduce our carbon footprint,” he says.

Tents and outdoor games
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The sunshine in southern Utah is more than plentiful enough to meet all the campground’s needs, from the kitchen to the water heaters; So much so that Zion recently added solar panels as well. Under Canvas also has plans to implement the cost-saving technology in more current and future camps: “Aside from doing the right thing by the planet, solar energy also allows us to work in remote ‘off-grid’ locations,” Gagen adds.

While the company has added its 10th camp site in its 10th year, there are plans to open more. “We look forward to the continued growth of the Under Canvas brand and continue to be a pioneer, innovator, and change-maker in sustainable travel,” says Gagen. If my experience is any indication, frequent guests will be common. Many of those we met at both camps had visited other locations or had plans to do so in the future. I knew almost nothing about Acadia National Park until this trip, but now I am actively trying to make my way there, only to stay at the stunning Under Canvas property near the water. Let’s just hope there are fewer wolves out there.

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