I’ve never glamped. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, it’s just that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool camper; a ground-sleeping, outdoors-peeing, stream-water-filtering outdoorswoman. Soft beds and flushing toilets, who needs them?
Turns out, I do. I need them.
Just three nights at southern Utah’s new glamping resort Yonder Escalante has shown me the error of my uncomfortable camping ways.
Vintage airstreams and a drive-in movie theater with classic car seating at Yonder Escalante in southern Utah.(Courtesy of Yonder Escalante)
I arrive at Yonder just as the sun is setting behind the sandstone cliffs that make this corner of Utah one of the country’s most unearthly landscapes. Under the painted evening sky, soft light pours from the windows of my vintage Airstream trailer. Across the way, the drive-in theater casts its glow on a clutch of multi-hued classic cars parked in front of the screen.
Inside my camper, I shed my bags and look around at my new digs. The place is styled with minimalist-meets-desert care by Roy Hospitality Design and Anacapa Architecture. On one end is a plush bed heaped with half a dozen pillows. On the other end, a lounge area is set with a daybed and a well-worn leather chair and ottoman. A kitchen with cool, running water lines the wall in between. Outside, tent campsites, van and RV sites, and designer A-frame cabins are spread around the property. Like the Airstreams, each little cottage comes with its own fire pit and outdoor seating, a cozy bed, and a lounge area. I’m impressed, but it’s only after seeing the indoor-outdoor showers in the spa-like bathhouse that I begin to reconsider the wisdom of so many nights spent in dirty, overcrowded campgrounds.
The interior of Yonder's refurbished vintage Airstream trailers.(Mason Moir)
Yonder Escalante is smack dab in the middle of a region that is world-renowned for its arid beauty. There are three national parks within a two hour drive of the resort—Zion, Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon, the closest of the bunch—and the northern boundary of the most underrated national monument in the U.S., Grand Staircase-Escalante, is less than five miles away.
It’s there that I find myself dangling off a cliff deep inside a narrow slot canyon the next day. The crevices that slice through Grand Staircase-Escalante are some of the most challenging in the world, says our guide Rick Green, an accomplished canyoneer and the owner of Excursions of Escalante. All day, he leads us through the sandstone maze, shimmying over boulders, bridging across yawning gaps, and dropping down natural slides. Anything we can’t scale on our own, we rappel down instead. It’s exhilarating and challenging and, as soon as it’s over, I want to do it all over again.
Back at Yonder, the pool is irresistible. I slip into the chilly water and when I’m sufficiently cool, I hop over the edge into the massive hot tub. Most of those lounging poolside have been out exploring today. One couple hiked Grand Staircase-Escalante’s no-ropes-needed Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Gulch slot canyons, another group has just arrived from a day at Zion. Everyone is so pumped up that we forget we’re in the company of strangers and chatter like old friends.
The night’s drive-in movie is Despicable Me—they play a variety of cult classics, but when there are a lot of little ones staying, the movie choices veer more kid-friendly and fun—and, once I’ve indulged in the dreamy indoor-outdoor shower, I make a beeline for the backseat of the seafoam Chevy Rambler where a new acquaintance has saved me a seat. The Airstream concessions stand pumps out nachos, hot dogs, beverages of the alcoholic and non-alcoholic variety and, best of all, free popcorn. At the movie’s end, I bid my buddies farewell and snuggle up in my air-conditioned camper for a well-earned rest.
When morning breaks, I suit up for the day’s hike and head to the outdoor lodge and food truck. I order a breakfast sandwich, grab complimentary tea and a rice crispy treat from the lodge, and take a seat next to a communal fire pit to review the trail I’ll be taking to Lower Calf Creek Falls, a 120-foot cascade that falls like a veil over the side of a massive cliff.
The waterfall doesn’t disappoint but it’s only one piece of an epic day that includes a scenic drive through the breathtaking national monument and an hour spent wandering through its crop of mushroomy rock formations at Devil’s Garden. By the time I get back to Yonder, I want nothing more than a shower, a beer, and a bite to eat.
On weekends, the morning food truck opens for dinner. On weekdays, the general store or a five-minute drive to the town of Escalante is where it’s at (though they plan to open the food truck up for dinner seven days a week soon). I consider picking up one of Yonder’s meal kits, partially cooked feasts and s'mores that can be heated over my private fire pit. As tired as I am though, I just want to keep things simple. I grab a pre-made sandwich and salad and head back to my trailer.
Later that night, the wind picks up and blows huge, howling gusts against my Airstream. But inside, curled up with a book, I’m cozy as can be. If I wasn’t convinced before, I am now. There’s definitely something to this glamping thing.
Yonder's lodge has fire pits, comfy seating, board games, and more.(Aleks Danielle Butman)
The next morning, I lock the door to my Airstream, order a breakfast burrito from the food truck, and begin the long drive back to the airport. There’s only one thing left to do before I go. I pull into Bryce Canyon, flash my national parks pass, and drive to my favorite overlook, Inspiration Point.
A dense forest of rock spires grow here in the homeland of the Paiute. They believed the unusually close-knit hoodoos were To-when-an-ung-wa, Legend People, who Coyote turned to stone for drinking up all the water and gobbling up all the food, leaving nothing for the animals that shared their land.
Last time I visited Bryce, I spent a freezing night sleeping—or, more accurately, laying awake—on the ground in an icy campground. I saw the national park through exhaustion and bleary eyes. Now, well-rested and chipper, I can almost see the Legend People fleeing Coyote’s wrath in the swell of the rock formations up the canyon. Glamping has shown me the way.
// Campsites start at $69/night, cabins start around $259/night, Airstreams start around $289/night; 2020 UT-12 (Escalante, Utah), stayonder.com.