When 6-year-old Ethan Bondick told his mom and dad he wanted to go fly-fishing in Montana, his well-heeled parents were stumped.
"We looked at each other and said, 'Oh, god, now what?' " said Gigi Bondick, 37, a "reformed" attorney whose husband works as a private-equity partner in Massachusetts.
After typing "luxury" into a Google search along with "camping" and "Montana," the couple settled on The Resort at Paws Up, a 37,000-acre getaway in the heart of Big Sky country. It's a place for affluent travelers who want to enjoy the outdoors but can't fathom using a smelly outhouse, a place where paying someone to light the campfire is a badge of honor, not the mark of a Boy Scout flunky.
The Bondicks, who live in a sprawling home on the edge of a state park outside Boston and hire a personal chef at home, shelled out $595 a night -- plus an additional $110 per person per day for food.
It's a hefty price to sleep in a tent, but the perks include a camp butler to build their fire, a maid to crank up the heated down comforter at nightfall and a cook to whip up bison rib-eye for dinner and French toast topped with huckleberries for breakfast.
The number of visits to U.S. national parks is declining, but "glamping" -- glamorous camping -- is on the rise in North America after gaining popularity among wealthy travelers in Africa and England, where luxury tents come with Persian rugs and electricity to power blow dryers.
Resorts like Paws Up that expand on the dude ranch concept are reporting increased bookings, another signal that luxury travel remains one of the strongest and fastest-growing segments of the tourism industry.
Every year since it opened in 2005, Paws Up has charged more to keep up with high demand and sold-out nights. Next year, it will double its number of tents -- from six to 12 -- and add 10 mountain homes to its collection of 18. Occupancy this year is up more than 40%.
At Clayoquot Wilderness Resort in British Columbia, accessible by private seaplane from Vancouver, bookings have doubled year over year since it opened in 2000. At the start, the resort erected only five tents as an experiment to see if the luxury camping concept would catch hold. It did, and today there are 20.
"It's not the traditional kind of camping," concedes Clayoquot's Sue Bosdet. "We say it's like camping for big kids."
At Paws Up, those who can't hack the tent can upgrade to luxury mountain homes with hot tubs for up to $3,460 a night. There's also a gourmet restaurant, Pomp, where the ever-changing menu recently offered broiled brown butter Alaskan halibut cheeks and other dishes more likely to be served at a Michelin-rated New York restaurant.
Most visitors to Paws Up hail from California, New York and Florida. Just about every week, someone arrives on a private jet. The Rolling Stones once took over the place, and high-powered Hollywood types are always dropping in.
The guests "only sorta kinda want to rough it," said Paws Up General Manager Terre Short, who joked that when some of the kids go back to school after summer vacation, they'll have an entirely different notion of camping than their classmates.
Of course, these children are of a slightly different breed, proving that you can take the kid out of the city but not the reverse.
Ethan Bondick, who watches his father buy and sell businesses, decided after a few days that he no longer wanted camp butler Mark Duggan serving up the s'mores.
Instead, the first-grader declared that he had started his own s'mores business and hungry glampers should fork over $10 for each marshmallowy dessert. When his dad balked, noting that he was paying the vacation tab, Ethan negotiated down to $3.
Ethan and 5-year-old Jack Davis, his new best pal, also built what they called a "Man vs. Wild" animal shelter with fallen logs. By the next morning, the duo had taped a hand-scrawled sign to the fort: "Animal Center. Take'z 5$ to get in."
"It's not about experiencing what Lewis and Clark did," said Milton Pedrazza, chief executive of Luxury Institute, a New York-based research company. "It's about enjoying nature and all the comforts that come with the luxury lifestyle. They see it as one big seamless, wonderful experience."
ROCKY MOUNTAINS | OUTDOORS & ADVENTURE
In Montana, glamorous camping is all that and s'mores
Say, has the butler cleaned the trout yet?
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