Ah, camping! You summon your Inner Boy- or Girl Scout, pick out a spot that’s nice and flat (and not miles away from the bathhouse), set up the tent (if you remembered to bring the poles), pull out the sleeping bags, and pray to the weather gods (but put up the rain fly anyway.) And (if you’re Diane’s dad), you’ll check the perimeter for any small mammals who might sneak into the Cool Ranch Doritos after dark.
This is not that experience. Based in Bozeman, Mont., Under Canvas operates safari-style tent camps near nine national parks and monuments. The newest cropped up this summer, on 100 acres of waterfront in Surry, Maine, about 35 minutes from Acadia National Park.
Entering the property, you catch a glimpse of water right away, and then comes the “wow” moment, when a colony of tents with a backdrop of ocean pops into view. There are other places for “glamping” in the area — Terramor Outdoor Resort, operated by Kampgrounds of America (KOA) opened last year in Bar Harbor — but this one is smack on the ocean, with a rolling green lawn that fronts a rocky stretch of beach. “Our waterfront is huge and breathtaking — that’s why we’re here,” says May Lilley, chief marketing officer of Under Canvas. The camp is set along Patton Bay and the Union River, with views of Mount Desert Island and Cadillac Mountain. Sweet. Under Canvas guests clamored for a site near Acadia, according the Lilley. (They opened another camp in Utah this summer near Arizona’s Lake Powell and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.)
The sixty-three tents, designed by the company and made in the United States, come in seven configurations, and can sleep up to seven. Most can be set up with a hive (a kid’s tent that looks like a teepee) with two twin beds. Two Cadillac Mountain suites — the largest — feature two double tents joined by a deck; these also have a fire pit.
Inside the tents, you’ll find woodstoves and wood (they offer instructions at check-in), furnishings by West Elm, a low-flow toilet and pull-chain shower, with bathroom privacy provided by a sliding wood door. (Washing your hair or shaving your legs takes some doing with that pull-chain; we found it easiest to have a companion pull the chain while we did our business. On the plus side, the water was hot.) Tents are stocked with plant-based organic bath products, plus lanterns and USB battery packs for charging devices. There’s no TV, and Wi-Fi is spotty, in keeping with the company’s back-to-nature ethos.
A look around the main lobby tent — Action Central here — reveals campers reading, playing cards, and other unplugged pursuits. Few people are using their phones, except to snap photos of the 2¼-pound boiled lobster, the star of the lobster bake. Adding to the vibe: a singer/guitar player who sounds like Jewel, but is in fact an Under Canvas employee. “On rainy nights, the lobby tent is full of families playing board games,” says Lisa Margraff, Under Canvas Acadia’s general manager.
On most nights, guests hang out on the waterfront deck, in Adirondack chairs or gathered around fire pits, making s’mores and swigging Maine-made craft beverages from the bar. Complimentary s’mores fixings are offered each night, to the delight of energetic tots (and dogs, welcome here), and a section of the lawn is devoted to corn hole.
By day, most guests make their way to Acadia National Park (note: you need a reservation to drive up Cadillac Mountain this summer) and maybe grab lunch in downtown Ellsworth, three miles away. The city is home to several restaurants, including local favorite Josie’s Country Store & Cafe, a sprinkling of shops, and an L.L. Bean outlet. The camp’s Guest Experience Coordinators will direct you to hikes and attractions; we discovered a great hike at Carter Nature Preserve in Surry, based on their recommendation. Under Canvas offers complimentary activities, like nature walks, most days, and will lend you a yoga mat from Lululemon, one of their partners. The company also partners with a kayak company, and, among others, lobster boat captain/author Linda Greenlaw (you might remember her from Sebastian Junger’s “The Perfect Storm”), to book lobstering, sunset, and astronomy cruises. (An extra fee applies for these.)
You won’t be cooking in your tent — or even breaking out the snacks, unless you want to attract furry locals. Breakfast, dinner, and small plates are available for indoor dining (in the main lobby tent) and outdoors on the lawn. About 75 percent of the menu is sourced from Maine, including lobsters and other seafood hand-selected by the food and beverage director. The lobster bake, served with a charcuterie platter, is a treat. All desserts are made from scratch, including a killer “Brookie” (brownie-cookie); gelato comes from local purveyor Pugnuts Ice Cream Shop.
Opened in mid-May, the camp is attracting guests from Boston and the rest of New England, New York, and New Jersey, and the rest of the country (about a quarter of the guests representing each faction). One thing they all have in common: A desire to be outdoors. “One result of the pandemic is, people are rediscovering the national parks and embracing the opportunity to be outside,” Lilley says. “We hope to offer a true immersion in nature and an appreciation of it,” she explains. “We have guests who are moved to tears, who have never seen the Milky Way until they come up here with our dark skies,” she adds. “This is more of a transformative experience than staying in a hotel.”
One similarity to hotels: The price point. The rate is closer to what you’d pay for a really nice hotel room in Downeast Maine than a tent site at a no-frills campground.
Under Canvas Acadia, 702 Surry Road, Surry, Maine; 888-496-1148; www.undercanvas.com. 2021 season runs from May 13-Oct. 11. Rates from $399 per night.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org