"Roughing it" isn't something that has ever appealed to Dorian Santos. She has always preferred the creature comforts of a high-end hotel — that is, until she woke up in a luxurious tented cocoon perched high above Big Sur last fall.
"Camping is very uncomfortable," said Santos, a 29-year-old travel consultant who lives in Miami. "But this was more than glamping or putting a bed in a tent."
Her tent at the Treebones Resort offered more than 500 square feet of living space and its own en suite bathroom. She was delighted by the king size bed, gas fireplace and the personal deck with expansive views of the Pacific Ocean.
"It was an amazing experience," she said.
That's exactly what a number of luxury resorts are aiming to offer their guests these days: experiences, especially ones that allow them to be immersed in nature. They're offering non-traditional lodging like yurts, domes or tents that enable visitors to get up close to the world around them without leaving the comforts of home behind.
But it's not enough to sell a little glamour with a side of camping. To truly appeal to potential guests, these resorts are offering up dazzling adventures, lasting impact and Instagram-worthy views, too.
Treebones Resort has many eco-conscious details that allow it to "perch lightly on the edge of nature," says founder and co-owner John Handy. The yurts are on stilts so the topography of the land is unchanged; power is generated by solar, wind and microturbines, which also warm some radiant heated floors, the showers and jacuzzi, and the extensive organic garden provides fresh vegetables for the restaurant and sushi bar.
The autonomous tent Santos stayed in is one of 25 lodging choices — ranging from large round yurts to a human nest. While at the resort, she enjoyed immediate access to nature, organic vegetables from the garden, locals-only hikes, stargazing and views of the ocean from sunrise until sunset.
But it wasn't just the experiences the resort offered that she appreciated, it was what it helped her leave behind, too.
A couple days with little to no Wi-Fi seemed daunting at first, but she came to embrace it. "I loved the lack of communication with the outside world," she said. "It changed my perspective on time, because two days didn't feel like two days. It felt like an eternity. I think about being busy differently now."
The stay also changed the way she thinks about travel.
"Now I'm thinking of different kinds of spaces to stay in," she said. "Next, I'd like to stay in an igloo where I can see the Northern Lights."
When once skeptical guests discover they actually like staying at an eco-resort or glamping, says Handy: "That epiphany is lasting."
Putting yourself in the view
A little more than an hour's drive north of Quebec City are three domes resembling igloos tucked in the tree canopy overlooking the St. Lawrence River.
Called Dômes Charlevoix, the luxury accommodations opened last fall and they are instantly Instagrammable.
Built to accommodate two to four people, each dome includes a fireplace, full kitchen, bathroom, radiant heat floors, a deck and a hot tub.
The domes also offer sweeping views of the treetops and the river through a flexible plastic called a transparent architectural membrane. The designers had to take extra care to insulate them for the climate, where temperatures can plunge to -20˚F in winter.
Olivier Bourgeois, the architect with Bourgeois/Lechasseur that designed the interior and decks for the domes, said he wanted an alternative to the typical wood chalet.
"We wanted something very minimalist, very simple and quite economical," said Bourgeois. "For us, it was important that the interior was clean and we can disappear, so when the visitor is inside, you just focus on the view."
Inside, all the key fixtures — kitchen, bath and beds — are placed in the center to accentuate the curved shape of the dome.
The dome's unique shape make them particularly popular with Instagram users seeking out the perfect shot, said Guillaume Genest, one of the resort's owners.
"I think people are interested in this kind of experience because they want to see more than just a city or a mountain," said Genest. "They want to be part of it and actually be in the center of the mountain and the nature."
An activity for everyone
The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana was an early glamping pioneer when it opened 15 years ago. Now it offers peak luxury with tented camps that include a full-service butler, chef, heated floors, en suite bathroom and more activities than you could possibly do during one vacation.
With 60 square miles of land, including 10 miles along the Blackfoot River and access to a lake with a two-acre island, Paws Up has 36 glamping tents divided into six campsites. While other non-traditional resorts are disinclined to cater to groups or big families, Paws Up is all-in on family reunions, corporate retreats and multi-family vacations.
The resort offers an opportunity to be immersed in nature with others says Steve Hurst, managing director of the resort.
Offering more than 60 activities for guests to enjoy, like snowmobiling or skijoring (skiing while pulled by a horse) in the winter and fly-fishing or biking in the summer, Hurst says they are always adding new experiences.
"We have had some incredible growth years," says Hurst. "I don't think we've saturated interest and we're not slowing down."