'Glamping' offers alternative way to experience great outdoors

While many Americans try to plan their camping trip around the weather, one camping option offers a more comfortable experience nearly year-round

PIGEON FALLS, Tenn. – The Great Smoky Mountains are of the most beautiful and oldest mountain ranges in the United States.

With its diverse ecosystem and rich history, it's no wonder it's one of the most visited national parks in the country. Millions stop in every year to take a hike and see the spectacle between the peaks. 

It's also a sought-after sight to sleep under the stars. But making the trek with a tent and a sleeping bag may not be everyone's idea of a dream vacation. It's why more and more Americans are going glamorous camping, also known as "glamping."

"The idea is that we're offering an upscale version of a camping experience," Andy Chafe, general manager for Under Canvas Great Smoky Mountains, said. "So instead of the typical sleeping in the dirt, you're sleeping in a king-size bed and getting some of these extra amenities that you want when you're on vacation."

Under Canvas Great Smoky Mountains is one of a handful of glamping sites across the U.S.

"A lot of folks don't necessarily know in this area that Under Canvas exists," Chafe said. "So when they come around that corner and see that we're in such a beautiful, secluded area, and then they see these standalone canvas tents, they are taken back in a really good way."

The Under Canvas experience promises to take the hassle out of camping. Instead of packing a home-away-from-home, you get to sit back and relax in a tent unlike any other.

"These tents … all come fully equipped with what you would find in a typical hotel room," Chafe said. "Most have a king-size bed. They're going to offer a full bathroom and a stove that would keep the tent warm each night."

Chicago mother Gabriella Ocampo knew it would be the perfect way to introduce her son to the great outdoors.

"It's kind of like dipping our toes in the water and being in the luxury of all the amenities," Ocampo said.

Other amenities include a full-service kitchen, plenty of games, activities, and even live music.

"It's not uncommon for us to hear that they're not going back to the typical camping experience," Chafe said. "It's something that you get hooked on."

But even in luxury, weather changes in the Smokies are a constant factor. 

"The temperature swing is quite drastic right now this time of year," Chafe said. "Mornings start in about the 40s, and about this time in the day, mid-day, we're looking at maybe mid- 60s."

The national park is considered a temperate rainforest. In some higher elevation areas, the Smoky Mountains can see anywhere from 55 to 80 inches of rain and a temperature difference of 10 to 20 degrees.

"We are prepared for any type of weather," Chafe said, "The tents are designed in such a way that they will lend to a pleasant experience if it's raining or if it's not."

It comes with the territory of spending a few days in the great outdoors, and it's becoming a more popular choice to unplug, breathe in the fresh air, and marvel at some of the most spectacular views across our nation.

"Just being here is calming, relaxing. The smells, just being here is different than looking at a picture," Ocampo said.

It's nothing short of amazing.