Bug spray. Marshmallows. Firewood. Chandelier.
If that last item doesn’t seem to belong as part of a back-to-nature experience, you’ve never been glamping.
A merger of glamour and camping, glamping is defined as “A form of camping that involves accommodation and facilities more luxurious than those associated with traditional camping,” by the Oxford English Dictionary, which added the term in 2016.
Glamping is adventure for the less adventurous. It’s roughing it — in the smoothest way possible.
In and near The Natural State, there are businesses that bring the glamping experience — and all the essentials — directly to you, and there are glamping destinations to visit. Our list, which is meant to give a glimpse at glamping, is by no means exhaustive; a web search for “Arkansas glamping” (yes, glamping often
includes Wi-Fi!) pulls up scores of possibilities.
So, grab the s’mores and let’s explore!
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, cabin fever gripped Katy Faulk Niehaus of Little Rock.
“Last May, I said, ‘We’ve got to go somewhere,’ but there was nowhere to go,” she says. She suggested camping, as her family had done growing up. Her husband, Kevin, who was raised in Chicago, needed some convincing — and some cooling. “He was uninterested in doing that without some kind of air conditioner or without someone setting it up for us.”
They compromised on Northwest Arkansas’ White Tail Tents, which pitches luxury bell tents and provides plenty of amenities to patrons.
“We went up there, used one of their tents they set up for us, and we loved it,” Niehaus says. “We had an air conditioner, so he was happy.” So was Katy, who didn’t have to gather loads of gear. “We have two young children, so camping with kids (requires) all the stuff. It was a wonderful experience, and I could not get it out of my head.”
The Niehauses then hired White Tail Tents as consultants in starting their business, The Happy Glamper (thehappyglamperar.com), which launched in September. Demand started strong and has remained steady.
“We bought our second tent after we had been open a week because we had so many people who wanted it at the same time,” Niehaus says. “Now we have four tents.”
Glamping with gals
We — a party of four friends — rent one of those Happy Glamper tents as part of a one-night “glamping package” on a pleasant mid-May evening in Maumelle Park in Little Rock.
When we arrive at our tent, which is set up along the Arkansas River and decked with garland and battery-
operated lights, everything is ready. Everything. Mattresses, bed linens, lanterns, a charging station, a propane camp stove, dishes, utensils, pans, firewood, a gallon of water, a French press, coffee and s’mores. But not just any coffee and s’mores — aromatic grounds from local purveyor Fidel & Co. and a stylish box of chocolate, homemade marshmallows and graham crackers from Little Rock’s Loblolly Creamery.
All we must tote, aside from clothes and toiletries: extra firewood and food. Well, just dinner. We’ve pre-selected a breakfast of gourmet cinnamon rolls — an add-on — with our package. Other optional add-ons include a picnic package, with an outside rug, table, tablecloth and pillows, and a projector package enabling glampers to watch movies on the tent wall.
Combining textured rugs, soft bedding and plush pillows in a variety of prints, the tent decor gives a homey
boho vibe, right up to the decorative macramé hanging fastened to the tent’s center pole. A succulent and games, like cards, dominos and chess, nest in a basket on the table.
We spend the evening grilling and giggling around the campfire. We sip (one friend has concocted a pitcher of s’mores martinis — chocolate liqueur, vanilla vodka, heavy cream and chocolate syrup — that she serves in glasses rimmed with graham cracker crumbs and a fire-toasted marshmallow for garnish). And then we regret sipping and start walking — because the public bathroom is a good five-minute trek from our site.
Niehaus graciously includes a space heater and electric blankets, as we’re fretting the low temperatures forecasted in the 40s. But bundled in layers of clothing and bedding, we stay snug until filtered sunlight and the honking of the park’s proliferation of geese signal that it’s morning. After fiddling with the last of our remaining firewood, a kettle and the French press, we forgo the lukewarm camp brew, remembering there’s a Starbucks nearby and no hike to a restroom required.
In January, the Roberts family of Bentonville joined the team of White Tail Tents (whitetailtents.com), which
launched in 2019. And all because of an animated PBS feline.
Says Cassandra Roberts, “A few years ago, our children just became obsessed with the idea of camping. They saw it on a Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood episode and just really wanted to go camping.” The family tried pitching a basic tent and sleeping on the ground in the backyard, but Roberts says, “It was miserable. It wasn’t an enjoyable experience, but they still wanted that experience.”
Next, the family tried glamping.
“It was just probably the best, most intentional family time that we’ve had in a very long time,” Roberts says. “It was so life-giving and just so great. We loved it, and we knew that other people need to experience it. And they may have the same struggle we did — they’re wannabe campers, but they don’t necessarily have all the things they need to make it enjoyable. We wanted other families to be able to make those memories for themselves.”
Such memories are made in six tents that White Tail rents.
“Our clients just show up, and everything is there, set up and ready for them,” Roberts says. “It’s grown from glamping at campsites to a lot of backyards and parties. … We’ve started offering outdoor movies. So, it really is the ultimate outdoor experience. We love our campsites and having people out in nature, but we also love telling people you can experience the outdoors and intentional family time just in your backyard.”
Similar businesses that bring the glamping experience to customers include Urban Canopy Tent Co. (facebook.com/UrbanCanopyTentCo), which is based in Conway, and My Cozy Campers (facebook.com/mycozycampers), which serves Benton, Bryant and beyond.
Urban Canopy Tent Co., which rents three glamping tents at campsites and parties, was started in September by four friends. Explains owner Laura Carter, “We started it with my husband and my college roommate and her husband. …We camped all through college together, but it was more string some hammocks up. And since becoming a mom and having more normal work hours, I like to sleep on a real mattress, so that is what inspired us.”
My Cozy Campers owner Paula Benham says her childhood is full of happy memories of camping “from the
time I was born. We spent a lot of time on Lake DeGray, Lake Ouachita, Lake Catherine — primitive camping. No extras. Most of the time, no running water, no electricity.” And she continued the tradition with her children. “I was a scout mom when my son was in Boy Scouts. So, we did a lot of camping with that, just basic camping.”
Benham’s business, launched in January, was born out of a birthday party. Her daughter requested to go camping, and Benham surprised her with the gift of a bell tent set up for a sleepover with friends. “After I started sharing that, my phone and my messages blew up. ‘I want to do this. How can I book this?’” She says it has evolved into a family enterprise of four rental tents used for camping and parties, catering to those who “want the comforts of home but still enjoy nature.”
For those who want a glamping getaway that’s further than the backyard or a local park, there are also plenty of destination opportunities in and near Arkansas. Beyond high-class cabins and tricked-out tents available for rent, there are tepees, yurts and even at least one swanky school bus.
The Emerald Gypsy Skoolie — a stationary, converted school bus — is one of more than a dozen plush properties that Fireside Retreats (fireside-retreats.com) owner Emily Conley rents to guests in Mountain View. The bus, designed into a stylish studio space, includes everything from wood floors and a full-size bed to a kitchenette and a bathroom.
“It has a flushing toilet and running water; it’s got a great mini-split for heat and air; it’s insulated,” Conley
says about the Skoolie. “It’s a glamping mobile for sure.”
“Modern cozy” is how Conley describes the soothing aesthetic of the Skoolie and her other cottages and cabins.
“Some of them are a little more rustic than others, but I want people to walk in and just feel the hug of the place. I like books and pillows and texture. I like for it to feel very intentional.”
She continues, “People want an experience that can bring them back to nature, which I think is what camping is all about. But there are also a lot of people who travel with kids or family, and they don’t want necessarily to rough it to that extent. So, these properties are perfect for that. You have the campfire; you cook s’mores; you tell the stories around the fire; you play in the creeks, those kinds of things.
“And yet, you sleep in the air conditioning and a comfy bed and have a plug-in coffee maker.”
Outside Eureka Springs sits the intimate Iris Hill Glamping community (irishillglamping.com), where up to six lodgers can stay in three custom wood huts called “glamping pods.”
“It’s a hard structure, so that sets it apart from a tent,” explains Dede Parker, owner of Iris Hill with partner Jan Ridenour. “It has a unique design, from the little French doors that go into the pod. It’s all built with pine, so it just smells so wonderful in there. And I think it has a gorgeous bathroom. … We designed those ourselves. They were originally designed in the pod sort of like an RV bathroom, but that’s too tiny and too cramped. So we bought extra pods and made special private bathrooms just for the glamping, which I think puts the glamorous in.”
She sums up the charm, “I think it’s just different. It’s an adventure tied in with a stay.”
North of Bella Vista and just over the state line is Little Sugar Farm (littlesugarfarm.com), a glamping
destination with Arkansas ties in the tiny town of Jane, Missouri, which according to a sign, has a population of 309.
On this May day, Jane has a temporary population of 311, as we, two colleagues, have booked an overnight stay at the 376-acre, 107-year-old farm that offers lodging in bell tents, safari tents and a farmhouse.
University of Arkansas alum Jana Latshaw Reishus and her sister, Niki, inherited the family farm in 2006. Years later, they renovated the farmhouse into a vacation rental. Attending a 2019 glamping summit in Colorado inspired Reishus and her husband, Paul, to add tents and build a bathhouse. This spring, they opened their pastoral property, which is perched on Little Sugar Creek, to glampers, groups, retreats and wedding parties.
“I think the appeal of glamping is that people want to get outside, but they don’t necessarily want to camp rustically,” Reishus says.
There’s nothing rustic about our spacious, sturdy safari tents, except for the attractive, intentionally distressed furnishings — like antique doors that have been repurposed into headboards. Built on wooden decks, tents include patterned carpets and cozy beds with cute pillows and pompom quilts. And electricity powers everything from the space heaters (which we’ll need when temperatures drop into the low 40s) and mini refrigerators to the coffee makers and the sparkly chandeliers.
While Little Sugar Farm offers fishing, a fire pit and outdoor cooking amenities, we opt to let local restaurants — Haven 55 (a true local haven in nearby Pineville) for dinner and the Jane Store (an adorable general store/roadside café fewer than 2 miles away) for breakfast — handle the meal preparation and the dishes.
We are glamping, after all.
Glamping, state park style
Would-be glampers should give Arkansas State Parks some “a-tent-ion.”
In addition to campsites, lodges and cabins, several parks offer alternatives for guests seeking out-of-the-ordinary accommodations.
Yurts are available for rent at DeGray Lake Resort, Lake Catherine, Lake Charles, Daisy and Petit Jean state parks.
Monika Rued, public information officer for the Division of Arkansas State Parks, calls the yurts “a really neat experience. If you don’t have camping gear and supplies and all those things, or maybe you don’t even know how to set up a tent, you can come and rent a yurt. … They have bunk beds in them, and they sleep several. So, it’s a good option for girls’ trips or a family. And then it has a door and windows, so it feels safe and secure.”
While bedding is not included, yurts feature electricity and basics like lanterns, stoves and ice chests.
There are also camper cabins with amenities like heat and air, beds and screened-in porches for rent at
Devil’s Den, Lake Ouachita and Crowley’s Ridge state parks.
“Camper cabins are a really great option too,” Rued says. “They don’t have a bathroom in them or a kitchen. It’s more of a camping experience, like the yurts. They are on the campgrounds, so you really get that camping vibe and feel without having to invest in a lot of gear.”
Perhaps even more glampy is another state park lodging option: RVs, located at Bull Shoals-White River and Cane Creek state parks.
“You can’t drive them — they’re stationary,” Rued says. “And they come outfitted with a shower and a kitchen, like a normal RV. So, that’s another option that could be a fun camping or glamping experience without having to own supplies.”
For more information, visit arkansasstateparks.com/accommodations/unique-stays.