How to Glamp Your Way Across the U.S., According to Someone Who Did It

From the Grand Canyon to the Smoky Mountains, glamorous camping is now the only way I'll travel.

A summer road trip feels as American as apple pie, and in the time of COVID-19, it seems as though everyone wants to cut off a slice. Including me.

According to AAA data, some 34 million Americans took to the road over Memorial Day weekend for a domestic road trip vacation, up 52% from 2020. I followed the trend a few weeks later with my own cross-country adventure. However, rather than just get from point A to point B, I figured I'd throw in another travel trend twist — glamping.

Forgoing traditional hotels and benign campsites, I set my sights on staying in some of the nation's most unique accommodations, including safari tents, a renovated school bus, an Airstream, and even a tree house. Here's my exact route, where I stayed, and a few tips and tricks for planning a glamping road trip of your own.

Stacey Leasca in the Sticky Fingers Airstream in Albuquerque, NM
Stacey Leasca

Where to start

Planning a cross-country road trip is challenging enough, but throw in the bonus of only seeking out glamping accommodations, and things level up to expert-only due to scarcity of product. Sure, you can find a hotel almost anywhere, but a cool camp? Not so much.

My route had to take place between my home in Los Angeles to my parents' home in Rhode Island. So, I begin by picking my must-have glamping spots, which started with Under Canvas at the Grand Canyon, perhaps the most famous glamping company in the nation, and nearly ending our trip at its location in the Great Smoky Mountains. From there, I could plot a few stops in between and at the end.

My main caveat for planning was never really wanting to drive more than eight hours between destinations. So, I peeked at a map using my endpoints and plotted out the middle.

My route took me from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon, the Grand Canyon to Albuquerque, Albuquerque to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City to Arkansas, Arkansas to Gatlinburg, Gatlinburg to Virginia, and ending in Rhode Island.

Stop one: Under Canvas at the Grand Canyon

UnderCanvas Grand Canyon
Bailey Made

It all began with a drive to Under Canvas at the Grand Canyon. As a travel writer, I've long heard the tales of staying with the ultra-modern camping company and am here to report it's exactly as awesome as people say.

Under Canvas has made a name for itself with its safari-inspired tents and for providing glampers with all the comforts of home. Its Grand Canyon location sits on more than 100 acres of land, giving guests the feeling they're truly away from it all. Each tent comes with cozy bedding and seating areas. A few tents also come with private bathrooms for those looking for a bit more privacy, an upgrade I can't recommend enough.

The glamping site is also home to a common tent that holds a restaurant serving leveled-up campsite meals, including seared salmon, burgers, and "cowboy caviar," which is a mix of corn and beans that's not to be missed. There is, of course, plenty of s'mores ingredients to go around outside by the fires.

Who this is right for: Families, luxury lovers, and those who want to get away without having to forgo hotel-style amenities. Book a campsite starting at $229/night.

Stop two: Sticky Fingers Airstream in Albuquerque, NM

Bed inside Sticky Fingers Airstream
Stacey Leasca

On the second day, I drove straight to Albuquerque to stay at an Airbnb unlike any other: Sticky Fingers, a delightfully designed Airstream sitting in its owner's driveway. While in close proximity to the owner's home, it still felt private thanks to its little garden and outward-facing views.

Inside the Airstream is a '70s pastel dream. The decor includes baby pink tables, blush bedding, hula girls at every turn, and a few vintage books and magazines strewn about for entertainment. Though it feels like a spot transported from a bygone era, fear not, as it has modern amenities like a full bathroom and air conditioning to keep you comfortable during those warm New Mexico nights.

The best part about a stay with Sticky Fingers? The potential for a great meal. Its owner, Alexandra, is actually an acclaimed chef who is happy to whip up a meal upon request. She'll even set up a dining table for you around her koi pond.

Who this is right for: Instagrammers, couples, those looking for a unique accommodation but still close to a major city. Book a stay starting at $84/night.

Stop three: Fisher Hill Hideaway in Edmond, OK

Treehouse in Edmon, Oklahoma
Courtesy of Nate Scovel

I'll be honest with you, dear reader, and say this was the most challenging part of my glamping journey merely due to the lack of accommodation inventory. (So really, attention investors: There's a significant hole in the market in this region.) However, let me make it perfectly clear that what the area lacks in quantity, Fisher Hill Hideaway makes up for in quality.

Located in the adorable suburb of Edmond, travelers will find their childhood dream at Nate's house.

Nate, my host for the evening, opened up his treehouse (which is more like a tree mansion) for bookings, set in his very own backyard. Driving up to the spot gave way to a flood of memories of my youth, playing with friends in treehouses all over my little suburban neighborhood. However, inside this spot, guests enter into a little living room with a full-sized couch and a full-sized TV. The best part? The TV comes with a Nintendo system, and yes, Mario Kart is included. Upstairs (yes, I said upstairs in a treehouse) is a bedroom with a queen mattress overlooking a window to the rest of the yard. To say this place brought out childlike joy would be an understatement. The only word of caution here is the treehouse does not come with a toilet included, so use this place as a stopover for an evening, or come with your own R.V. and use the treehouse as just an utterly fantastic place to spend the night.

Who this is right for: R.V. travelers, kids, and kids at heart. Book a stay starting at $125/night.

Stop four: Fireside Retreat in Mountain View, AR

Fireside Retreats Glamping Bus in Mountain View, Arkansas
Courtesy of Fireside Retreats

From the treehouse, I made my way to the small town of Mountain View, about two hours north of Little Rock. The town itself is quite the gem. Though small, it's a spot filled with coffee shops, pizza places, and more than its share of antique stores. It also boasts a major claim to fame as the Folk Music Capital of the World.

Up the road just a few minutes from the center of town, I found my tiny home for the night — a renovated school bus in the middle of the woods. Painted green to fit in with its surroundings, the bus looks simple on the outside, but its interior is anything but.

Walking onto the bus, I first entered its "living room" area, which comes with a pull-out couch, television, and a stack of family-friendly games. I kept going on my little tour through the bus' kitchen, complete with all the essentials, including a stovetop, sink, toaster oven, and mini-fridge. There's also a full bathroom and finally a bedroom with a queen Tempur-Pedic bed for ultimate comfort. The space felt more like my home in Venice Beach than the middle of the wilderness. If booking this spot for the night, do yourself a favor and order a pizza on your drive through town, pick it up with a few beers, and settle in for the evening either around the fire pit or with your favorite movie. You'll wake up refreshed and ready to hit the road again.

Who this is right for: Couples or a few friends, small families. Book a stay starting at $74/night.

Stop five: Under Canvas at the Great Smoky Mountains

A group of tents from Under Canvas Great Smokey Mountains
Paul Joyner Photo/Courtesy Under Canvas

While driving to my next destination, Under Canvas at the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, I thought I'd be just repeating the same stay as my first stop. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Though in many senses twins, the two camps still had their unique personalities. The Great Smoky Mountains location is set amongst 182 acres of woodland terrain. Like its sister camp in the Grand Canyon, it had a main tent and patio area, only this one came with plenty of grassy areas to roam and fireflies lighting up the night sky.

Its tents also have the same high-end styling, including crisp white bedding, wood stoves, and ours with a private bath. But, rather than looking out to the vast desert, it was set well within the trees. The only sound was the rustling of bunnies and other woodland creatures venturing by. It's a place I'd recommend for a bit of socialization with others, but a whole lot of isolation if you so choose.

Who this is right for: Families, adventure seekers. Book a stay starting at $329/night.

Stop six: Seven Oaks Lavender Farm in Catlett, VA

View of lavender farm in Virginia
Stacey Leasca

As far as glamping dreams go, they don't get much bigger than sleeping in a canvas tent in the middle of a lavender field. Luckily, Seven Oaks Lavender Farm and Tentrr are here to deliver.

Located in the small town of Catlett, VR, the Seven Oaks is really the main attraction. As a working farm, the spot allows visitors to come and pick lavender and wildflower stems for about .15 cents a pop. Now, the 160-year-old farm invites guests to spend the night in its one tent located in the field next door.

The site comes with everything one would need for a relaxing overnight stay. The tent sits on top of a wooden platform with a queen bed and two side tables inside. Outside, however, is where the magic happens.

There's a small picnic table outside to enjoy any food you brought in, along with a three-walled "shower" area that was, hands down, my favorite detail. A solar bag filled with water sits clipped to the top so the sun can heat it all day long. Turn the hose to "open," and you've got yourself a luxurious hot shower as the cows in the field watch you lather up. (Don't worry, they don't mind a little nudity.)

Who this is right for: Couples, adventure seekers, solo travelers. Book a stay starting at $125/night.

Cross-country glamping quick tips

Before leaving to go on your epic trip, I want to share a few quick tips so you can learn from my mistakes and triumphs and make your trip just a little bit smoother.

Get your car checked out before departure: Oil? Check. Breaks? Check. Tires? Check. Take your car in for a tune-up so you won't need to call AAA in the middle of nowhere.

Download audiobooks: Music is cool, but audiobooks seriously help pass the time with pleasure. On my trip, I listened to five in total: "Greenlights" by Matthew McConaughey, "Born a Crime" by Trevor Noah, "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bordain, "Bossypants" by Tina Fey, and "On Writing" by Stephen King.

Plan midday stops: On your route, make sure to pick a halfway point each day for a coffee, lunch, or just a stretching stop. The mid-day points could be just as crucial as the nightly stops themselves, so do your research.

Give yourself time: If I were to do it all again, I'd add on another day, possibly two, to my cross-country trip. This would have cut my daily driving time and allowed me more time to deeply explore each spot. It's your vacation. Take your time.

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