It was 104 degrees in the shade when I picked up the gleaming white Mercedes Sprinter Camper Van. The West Coast of the U.S. was experiencing a dramatic Summer heatwave, and my timing couldn’t be more delusional, but I was eager for the challenge of taking a luxury road trip. We all may be staying closer to home these days, but a socially distanced journey became the perfect escape.
I used the super easy Outdoorsy app to find the best camper rental for my needs, something low profile, and easy to drive through hot, winding desert roads and also trustworthy for steep mountain treks. Outdoorsy is like an Airbnb for campers and vans and offers up thousands of options for every style and need throughout the U.S. I also made sure to purchase the America the Beautiful Park Pass ($80) in advance, which gave us access to all parks for no additional fees.
Business is booming for the company due to the pandemic, while most folks are eager to venture out of their isolation for some safe social distancing escapes. Many campers are taking along their dogs since the dispersed camping concept away from other people is perfect for pets. Outdoorsy rentals start around $300 per day and can be ordered instantly online and customized for personal needs from ice coolers to propane stoves.
“On Outdoorsy.com, travelers can easily find a rental that fits their personal style, personality, and travel needs — whether you’re a solo traveler, a family of five, or prefer to consider your pet as your plus-one.” says Jen Young, Outdoorsy’s co-founder and CMO.
I decided to select Under Canvas for my glamping options in Utah and Arizona while boondocking the camper in other remote locations. The first stop was the stunning Mt. Zion National Park, where Under Canvas has my favorite location on 196-acres of remote desert terrain and only 20 miles from the entrance to the park.
Under Canvas began in 2009 and has grown to include seven luxury glamping resorts including; Yellowstone and Glacier in Montana, Moab and Zion in Utah, Mount Rushmore in S.D., Great Smoky Mountains, Tenn., and Grand Canyon, Ariz. Under Canvas Acadia, and Lake Powell open in 2021 and locations in Yosemite and Joshua Tree will follow.
The safari-inspired tents include daily housekeeping, comfy king-size beds, luxe linens, en suite bathrooms, hot running water, and even a wood burning stove for cold desert nights.
The communal vibe is what I loved most, and everyone really stuck to wearing masks and social distancing, while Under Canvas made a concerted effort to keep everything well sanitized. I also was surprised to see how creative the food offerings were with fresh large portions for guests to enjoy around the campfire. From breakfast burritos, before you head out on hikes, to pulled pork tacos and wine at night as you witness some of the best star gazing ever, this was luxury camping.
I spoke with the CEO of Under Canvas, Matt Gaghen, and he is excited about the renewed interest in camping and welcoming customers with their dogs since their properties are all pet friendly.
“We love dogs at Under Canvas,” says Gaghen, “It can be a really amazing experience, especially now that people don't want to be boarding their dogs, and leaving them for these extended trips. From a lifestyle perspective, across our company, we are pet people. The trick is to do it right and make sure that it doesn't infringe on other guests.”
I planned for our adventure through the dry, hot desert and made sure to up the luxury element in advance of the road trip by enlisting the amazing Papas in the Kitchen for a few nights of organic gourmet meals prepped in advance. Owned by husband and wife private Chef duo, Jason & Byata Cousins, their love for food and health was evident in the perfectly packaged comfort food for our journey. From steak tacos to grass-fed Lamb chops or pole caught wild tuna, the options were limitless, and I was in heaven.
I had the chance to speak with a few dog owners who made it their new custom of traveling with their pets on their road adventures. Mind you, these dogs are very well behaved and never were a distraction to the other guests, and only added to the fun around the camps.
“Due to COVID, we have been really drawn to the idea of dispersed camping because most people are opting outside, and the campsites are usually fully booked,” says lab/chow mix Sullivan’s owner Sadie. “Dispersed camping is a great way to be out in nature as long as you have the basic necessities with you, and that is where companies like Outdoorsy and camper van rentals come in. It is really convenient to be able to rent something and get on the road with the pups, especially since most companies are starting to be accommodating when it comes to traveling with dogs. It is a lot less hassle than driving and finding a dog-friendly hotel or campground.”
"We were intrigued by the Under Canvas "glamping" concept and wanted to experience it with our two doodles ( Mac & Jack) since they travel everywhere with us” says owner Jeena Ronan. “We live in Arizona so Under Canvas Grand Canyon was an easy choice. Our dogs are great travelers and love all new experiences. The dogs were allowed everywhere on the property and greeted by the very friendly staff. We believe they enjoyed the stay as much as we did.”
The journey continued to Lake Powell as we boondocked on Lone Rock Beach, normally filled with campers, the pandemic has slowed things down a lot, and people were very mindful of social distancing, although masks were not a common sight. Many of the campers kept to themselves and had their dogs with them; all pooches seemed very accustomed to the experience. In April 2021, Under Canvas will launch their Lake Powell location with 60 safari-style tents on 220 acres at the edge of Utah’s Canyon Rim Plateau, offering views of both Lake Powell and the Grand Staircase.
Our lazy days were spent swimming or boating through Antelope Canyon with its high-walled Navajo Sandstone formations and dramatic twisting slot canyons. It was really the ultimate socially distanced Summer journey from Southern California, and as my first camping adventure, it showed me that even non-campers can do it while customizing the experience to their individual preference.