A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Jiminy cricket, the stars! I can’t remember ever seeing so many stars. They glittered and sparkled and twinkled, of course, like a vast sequined blanket spread over the ridgeline of

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Jiminy cricket, the stars! I can’t remember ever seeing so many stars. They glittered and sparkled and twinkled, of course, like a vast sequined blanket spread over the ridgeline of

Backcountry Luxury

Glamping accommodations on the platform at Blue Bear Mountain Camp

Jiminy cricket, the stars! I can’t remember ever seeing so many stars. They glittered and sparkled and twinkled, of course, like a vast sequined blanket spread over the ridgeline of Elk Knob. So many stars. Such a rare treat these days. I stood outside, trying to take it all in, until I started shivering in the cool mountain air and headed back to my tent.

Which wasn’t really a tent. Because I wasn’t really camping, not in any sense I’d ever known. Despite the scent of campfire smoke that still clung to my hair, despite the marshmallows that Julie and I had toasted over the coals for s’mores, and despite the camp stove set up on the picnic table ready to fire up the morning coffee, we weren’t really camping. Instead, Julie and I were glamping, which is something altogether different, and something I had long been convinced that I was never going to do.

The writer inside the Stargazer Domes at Blue Bear Mountain Camp

The Stargazer Domes at Blue Bear Mountain Camp are appropriately named: After the sun sets in this remote part of Watauga County, the night sky dazzles. photograph by David Uttley

Instead of a tent, we were bunked down in an insulated geodesic dome mounted atop a raised wooden platform. Inside was a queen bed with soft sheets and a warm comforter, a side table with a lamp, a comfy rug with a large black bear print, a banquette table with two chairs, and a space heater to keep us toasty. Large, clear PVC windows — with curtains! — let me keep a close eye on the Big Dipper. And it was all tucked in the woods. In the morning, deer would feed in the rhododendrons just a few feet from our tent-that-was-not-a-tent. And a bathhouse with hot showers was just a hop, skip, and quick dash away.

• • •

If you’re not familiar with the term, “glamping” is a portmanteau of “glamorous camping.” As you might imagine, it’s a crazy-quilt mix of old-fashioned, rub-two-sticks-together roughing it and not roughing it at all. Whether sleeping in yurts or tiny cabins or high-tech sphere structures that dangle between trees, glamping is the hip, next-level evolution of taking life outside.

Julie and I were camping-not-camping at a place called Blue Bear Mountain, north of Boone in Meat Camp, where there are few lights to pollute the night sky. I’ll admit it: I showed up with a smart-alecky smirk on my face. Glamping? For this guy? Get real.

I left with a mental note to make a new reservation, pronto.

The glamping tent with a bed, swinging chair, lamps, and other curtains

Who says you can’t combine the outdoor fun of stargazing, hiking, and campfire cooking with the indoor comforts of rugs, a space heater, and a mattress? photograph by David Uttley

Julie and I have camped — really camped, as in a tent, with portable stoves and goose down sleeping bags and tent poles strung with dirty socks, the way God intended — for as long as there has been a Julie and me. Her first night in a tent was at Merchants Millpond State Park in Gates County, where barred owls bellowed through the swamp woods. Her first backpacking trip was through North Cascades National Park in Washington, where she climbed across icy ridges above the treeline. We’ve changed many a diaper in a tent and on the trail. We took pride in raising kids accustomed to a bit of discomfort, some dirt in their pancakes, and a five-day bathless funk. And since Markie and Jack have left the nest, we still stretch out under the stars a few times each year.

So it’s understandable that we had followed the glamping trend at a holier-than-thou distance. As more and more glamping destinations cropped up in North Carolina, however, I found my resolve wavering. Every time we drive from Raleigh to Morehead City, we pass the big billboard for Glamptopia in Kinston. Near Asheville, The Glamping Collective offers jaw-droppingly luxurious domes. Perhaps, we thought, purely as a scientific experiment, we should check this glamping thing out. Just so we could check it off our list, and then go back to swatting spiders off the tent ceiling.

• • •

Blue Bear Mountain Camp is a chunk of private land that includes a large, open field for RVs, surrounded by additional RV sites, tent sites, glamping domes, and tiny cabins in the nearby woods. Kevin Quick bought one of the parcels of the property when he learned that there was a mobile home park slated for the site, and he couldn’t bear the thought of it. It’s taken him years to assemble about 10 parcels totaling 150 acres, which he treats as a “baby national park,” he says. He hand-digs foundations for tent platforms to preserve the natural topography. He limits the number of guests to keep human impact to a minimum. “I’m doing everything I can to protect the place,” he says.

Kevin Quick carrying firewood

Kevin Quick photograph by David Uttley

And to share it with people who might not want to sleep on a two-inch-thick camping pad. Or schlep all their gear on their backs for miles. Or people who need to be knocked off their high horse a bit. Like me.

Julie and I glamped at Blue Bear for two nights, hiking the property and lollygagging through downtown Boone. We did the usual camping stuff — cooked burgers over a campfire, heated hot chocolate over a camp stove, made the mad middle-of-the-night dash to the bathhouse. But we slept in a bed. Pretty dang nice.

And on the second night, when I woke up with rain pitter-pattering on the dome’s taut walls, I didn’t have to leap up and rush out of a tent to tighten the guy lines. I didn’t dread packing up a wet tent and damp sleeping bags, knowing I’d have to dry them out at home.

Instead, I turned over in my glamping bed and fell back into my deep glamping sleep. Maybe I was camping and maybe I wasn’t. At that moment, I was too happy to think about the difference.

Blue Bear Mountain Camp
196 Blue Bear Mountain Road
Todd, NC 28684
(828) 406-4226
bluebearmountain.com

This story was published on Jun 24, 2024

T. Edward Nickens

Nickens is editor-at-large of Field & Stream and the author of The Total Outdoorsman Manual and The Last Wild Road: Adventures and Essays from a Sporting Life. His articles also appear in Smithsonian and Audubon magazines.