Yes, they call it camping, but there was no tent to pitch, no sleeping bag to unroll, no fire to build. At our campsite at Falling Waters Adventure Resort in Bryson City, N.C., eight yurts -- insulated circular canvas tents -- overlooked Fontana Lake and a pond. Each was furnished with a queen-size bed and a futon and equipped with electricity, a private deck and a skylight for stargazing. And then there was the hot tub a few yards from our yurt. After unloading our bags (mental note: Don't go camping with a silver Diane von Furstenberg suitcase whose wheels get stuck in the dirt), I climbed into the steaming water to soothe my aching limbs.
"Now, this is my kind of camping," I thought as I felt my muscles relax.
The economy has made camping more appealing to cash-strapped Americans, and the new thing is "glamping" (short for glamour camping), or camping lite. To attract travelers who don't want to sleep on the ground or put up their own shelters, state parks and resorts now offer alternative accommodations: yurts, first used by nomadic Central Asian peoples; tepees; luxury tents; and spruced-up cabins or lodges.
To meet a 25 percent increase in demand for its lodges, Kampgrounds of America is adding 400 to KOA campsites, some with flat-screen TVs and fireplaces and all with full kitchens. Camping, said spokeswoman Lacey Thornton, "doesn't have to be an uncomfortable experience." The campgrounds themselves offer amenities such as outdoor movies, petting zoos and espresso bars.
The luxurious African safari experience was the inspiration behind glamping, but in the United States and Canada, glamping can range from high-end -- a luxury one-bedroom tent at the Resort at Paws Up in Montana, for instance, will run you $725 a night in the fall -- to comfy for both body and wallet: A two-bed tepee at the Wigwam Village Inn in Cave City, Ky., costs from $60 to $65 a night.
CAMPING IN STYLE
Falling Waters, right up against the Tennessee border in North Carolina, is known for its comfortable yurts and abundance of outdoor activities. We'd snaked through the Great Smoky Mountains to get there, marveling at the beautiful tapestry of trees and feeling the stress of the city melt away. Near our camp, we saw a sign for Nantahala Village, which advertised a day spa. ("Spa!" we exclaimed in unison.) There was also a restaurant and a general store. It was good to know we would have easy access to modern-day comforts.
The bed in our one-room yurt was swathed in pillows and a tasteful caramel-colored comforter. Rugs covered the pine floor. There was a ceiling fan, but we never needed it: A nice mountain breeze blew in through the three windows and the skylight. A small fridge held bottled water, and there was a coffee maker. Nearby was a CD player.
Each yurt had a theme: safari, country, orchard and so on. We'd chosen Yurt 5, which was named the Lake Yurt, though it turned out to be on a small pond. Really it seemed more country; there was a cowboy hat hanging on one wall and a statue of a cowboy on a bookshelf.
The one drawback: We didn't have our own bathroom. But there were shared locking bathrooms a few yards away, each with a shower and plenty of toiletries. On my way there before bed, I noticed that three late-night revelers had taken over the hot tub.
Exhausted after the nine-hour drive from Washington, we locked our French doors and got into bed, the sound of crickets lulling us to sleep. Yurt sweet yurt.
IF YOU GO
FALLING WATERS ADVENTURE RESORT
10345 U.S. Hwy. 74 W., Bryson City, N.C.
Offers eight yurts, each one a circular tent-style structure 16 feet in diameter with an outdoor deck, skylight, French doors, windows, ceiling fan, queen bed, refrigerator, stereo-CD player and coffee maker.
RATES From $4,650 a person for three nights (all-inclusive)
Twenty canvas tents (12 have bathrooms) are done up with woodstoves, rugs, oil lamps, antique furnishings and down bedding. Game and library lounge tents have entertainment and Wi-Fi Internet access.
RESORT AT PAWS UP
RATES From $820
Uber-luxury tents and tent suites can be had with multiple bedrooms to sleep up to four people. Glampers can rent fishing gear, play lawn games and hike on resort grounds. Camping "butlers" will light fires and act as concierges -- a chef cooks up "refined rustic" camp meals, which are included for two adults in base rates.
LAZY RIVER AT GRANVILLE
Twenty-five miles outside Columbus, this campground offers furnished tents and cabins. Activities and entertainment ranging from a zip line to magic shows to arts and crafts. For those who bring laptops and TV sets, there is wireless Internet and cable service.
Wigwam Village Inn #2
Cave City, Ky.
Historic tepees have one or two double beds and a bathroom. The grounds have covered picnic areas with grills.