Tommy Halcom grilled a meal of steak and potatoes under a canopy of poplar and pine trees on a recent steamy summer evening at Lake Powhatan.
Halcom’s 17-year-old son, Luke, and his twin sister, Jordan, wrestled over rights to the hammock, and his wife, Cheryl, and daughter, Joslyn, 21, played an intense round of Farkle, a dice game, while munching potato chips.
Seems the traditional picture of a Western North Carolina outdoors scene, but the Fort Mill, S.C., family was breaking new ground.
They were camping in style at Pisgah Glamping, part of a booming business in Western North Carolina. While there are plenty of “glamping” adventures on private land that border national parks and forests, Pisgah Glamping is the first glamping site for the U.S. Forest Service, said Jamie Gilpin, managing partner of Pisgah Hospitality Partners.
That said, glamping — the way you might expect Elle Woods to camp, in a tent with a gas log fireplace and turn-down service — is not really all that froufrou.
And it’s becoming a go-to camping style for families, couples and those who mountain bike, kayak, hike or anyone else who likes their outdoors on the go, with less of the fuss.
Pisgah Hospitality Partners, a private concessionaire, opened 12 glamping sites this spring at the popular Lake Powhatan. Altogether, the company operates eight U.S. Forest Service campgrounds in Western North Carolina, including the Davidson River Campground in Pisgah National Forest near Brevard and Sliding Rock Recreation Area.
When Pisgah Glamping opened in March, Gilpin said he thought it would attract mostly couples.
“But we’ve had a lot of families. I think they’ve figured out this is a fantastic family thing to do,” he said.
So far, he has been seeing many people from Charlotte, Raleigh, Columbia and Greenville, South Carolina, and Atlanta.
These new deluxe campsites are designed for families, friends and couples who prefer to enjoy nature and outdoor recreation without sacrificing all the comforts and luxuries of home, Gilpin said.
The recreation area, about 10 minutes from downtown Asheville, has a lake with a swim beach and fishing pier, easy access to hiking and mountain biking trails, and is close to the French Broad River, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the N.C. Arboretum.
“We knew we wanted to do glamping, it was just a matter of where,” Gilpin said. “The Upper Hard Times Loop stood out because it’s kind of private, it’s farther back in the campground. It has a beautiful setting and accommodated these tents well.”
And when talking about fancy camping, it all starts with the tents. These tents were custom designed by local manufacturer Diamond Brand Gear, which has a factory in Fletcher that makes tents for the military and the Boy Scouts as well as backpacks and other travel bags.
“We worked with them to come up with a more luxurious experience than a military tent,” Gilpin said.
The 12-by-16-foot weatherproof canvas tents are perched on platforms with large, porthole-like zippered windows with bug netting to let air flow through. Each tent includes a 9-inch memory foam topped, queen-sized mattress, complete with sheets, comforter and pillows, as well as towels for the nearby hot showers.
Linens, like in a hotel room, can be changed out on request.
Tents also come with a foldable cot and room to add more sleeping bags or air mattresses, a bedside table and one luggage rack, a small fan, lanterns and a coffee maker.
There is an electrical hookup for charging personal electronics (although there is no cell service). There is no fridge, but the tents come with a cooler, and a concierge-like camp host who greets campers with a load of ice and firewood upon arrival.
The tents also have a front porch with chairs, a picnic table and fire ring with grill, and lighting inside and out. Dogs are also allowed as overnight guests.
All the amenities don’t come for cheap — sites are $120 per night at Pisgah Glamping. And you’ll need to bring your own food, and cook it, of course, or go out to eat.