By Christina Shepherd McGuire
I have to admit that having someone else build a campfire for me was a bit unsettling. I’ve always been a do-it-yourself kinda girl, especially when it comes to fire building: Trim logs with hand axe. Crumple paper into ball. Make sturdy teepee with kindling. Light match and throw it in. Poof!
It was only natural for me to think it would be “business as usual” around the campfire the night we stayed at Conestoga Ranch in Bear Lake, Utah. But nothing about glamping—other than being in the great outdoors—mimicked our typical family outing. No truck crammed full of stuff. No night of compromised sleep on a less-than-cushy camping pad. And no DIY fire building.
Instead, as dusk began to fall, a camp host swung by in his golf cart, lit our fire with his propane blaster, and we were good to go. That explains it, I thought. At check-in, we had been given a burlap bag filled with individual s’more fixings—marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate, and a wooden skewer. Now, with our fire appearing almost miraculously, it was time to roast!
Everything about the ranch, right down to the Conestoga sleeping wagons, symbolizes the Western outdoor experience. Conestogas were used in the nineteenth century to haul the goods of settlers migrating across America from east to west. These transporters were pulled by teams of six horses and could carry up to eight tons of produce and manufactured goods. The Conestoga Ranch sleeping wagons, modeled after these historical masterpieces, feature one king bed for couples, or one king bed and two sets of bunks for families.
“The wagons and tents [featured on the property] fit the interest of those who come out to visit Bear Lake, while combining a luxury resort feel with the wonders of camping,” explains co-owner Tom Hedges. The sleeping wagons can be set up ahead of time into circles around fire pits to accommodate large groups with multiple guests.
On our stay, my family of four was lucky enough to experience one of the ranch’s Grand Tents. And believe me when I say this isn’t your typical wall tent. It came furnished with a king bed, four twin beds, an en-suite bathroom, a mini-fridge, and a deck with a picnic table. The sturdy canvas structure had zip-down screened windows and partitioned rooms with western furniture, bringing an indulgent feel to our weekend camping trip. And no camp cots here! Each bed was furnished with pillowtop mattresses, down comforters, and Pendleton wool blankets. The rustic bathroom—with its shower tub made from a galvanized water trough—provided an ambience way different than that of a traditional five-star hotel. However, the comfy accommodations are perfectly suited even to those not versed in camping.
When we arrived at Conestoga Ranch, we parked our car in the lot and then biked up the hillside to our lodging aboard provided cruiser bikes. A camp host loaded our belongings onto a golf cart and delivered them tent-side. There were no cars, no family pets, and no camp stoves allowed at the private accommodations. While this may seem restrictive, it added to the natural feel of the property. “This quiet and private setting allows people to reflect on nature, rather than be interrupted by the distraction of headlights or noises,” says Hedges. The only noises we heard on the property—other than crickets and singing birds—were the delightful squeals of children as they biked around the loop, played at the ranch’s playground, and practiced lassoing the bull dummies. Moms and dads, meanwhile, enjoyed daily yoga classes just up the hill at the yoga tent.
A trip to Conestoga Ranch, or Bear Lake in general, isn’t complete without a meal at the resort’s Campfire Grill (open to non-guests). Housed in an enormous timbered, canvas-covered pavilion, this American bistro-style restaurant sets itself apart from the typical Bear Lake eatery. We enjoyed Waygu beef burgers and gourmet pizzas from the wood-fired oven; and, for breakfast, homemade granola and brioche French toast.
I have to admit that I left my days of backcountry camping behind when I graduated from my twenties. And while hardcore car camping is still my family’s “thing,” I always relish returning to my cozy bed once the weekend is over. But I got used to my luxurious stay at Conestoga Ranch (after I warmed up to the fire-making procedure) and really came to understand how a non-camper could thrive there.
“We were excited to develop something totally unique,” says Hedges. “Camping can be an unbelievable experience. But take camping and combine it with a luxury resort, and it can be even more amazing. It’s something to talk about [after you return home], whereas a traditional hotel, maybe, is not.”
The 2017 season at Conestoga Ranch runs from May 19 through October 1. Check out conestogaranch.com.
You Better Glamp Around
Can’t make the trek to Bear Lake this fall, but want to experience luxury camping at its best? Hit up one or more of the following three neighbors for a nearby staycation or mini-outing.
Fireside Resort in Wilson, Wyoming
Fireside Resort puts you in touch with nature, while offering “the intimacy of a boutique hotel, the atmosphere of a wooded campground, and the ambience of your own cozy residence.” firesidejacksonhole.com
Moose Creek Ranch in Victor, Idaho
Moose Creek Ranch’s cabins provide a luxurious glamping experience at an affordable rate. You also have direct access to trails, Teton Pass, and the lodge’s recreation facilities. moosecreekranch.com
Yellowstone Under Canvas in West Yellowstone, Montana
Just ten minutes from the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park, Yellowstone Under Canvas’ luxury Safari tents and teepees offer a restful reprieve after a long day of playing or sightseeing. Their secluded location and on-site restaurant offer an upscale way to connect with nature. undercanvas.com/camps/yellowstone