Thomas J. Story
NEAR SANTA BARBARA
El Capitan Canyon
Wake up to: Tough choices. It's tempting to sip coffee and be serenaded by birds hidden in the creekside forest. But it's also hard to pass up an early hike into the hills or a swim down at the beach.
The digs: Canvas tents with adjacent bathhouses take the edge off camping with warm comforters, willow beds, and firepits perfect for barbecuing dinner (with burgers and s'mores delivered to your front flap for an extra charge).
The dirt: 26 tents and 108 cabins from $145; 866/352-2729. -Matthew Jaffe
SANTA ROSA, CA
Wake up to: Lemurs screeching like rambunctious kids. Step outside, and you're (almost) in Africa: Giraffes stroll the grasslands not even 20 feet from your tent, and uphill, oryx and zebras roam.
The digs: The safari theme is stylish, not kitschy: Lamps glow with animal silhouettes, and wood carvings lend artistry. Perks include hardwood floors, private bathrooms, and prime savanna views.
The dirt: 30 tent cabins from $225, including breakfast; two-night minimum Fri ― Sat; three-hour Safari Jeep tour $65, $30 ages 12 and under; behind-the-scenes animal feedings and other activities from $200; 800/616-2695. -Amy Wolf
Or go on safari in Southern California:
San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Wake up to: Still-sleeping rhinos, gazelles grazing in the grassy hills, and the roar of lions ― there's a reason the zoo's new program is called Roar & Snore.
The digs: The 44-tent camp borders a 50-acre savanna, home to free-roaming African species. Standard tents feature safari-themed decor and lamps; premier ones have beds and heaters too.
The dirt: Roar & Snore offered Fri ― Sat; from $109 per person, $89 ages 4-11, including behind-the-scenes park tour, bonfire with s'mores, and two hot meals; reservations required; park admission $34, $24 ages 3-11; open-air photo safari and animal feeding from $90; 760/747-8702. -Debbie K. Hardin
The Resort at Paws Up
Wake up to: About 120 miles of hiking trails. But as Lewis and Clark did in this area before, you can spend the day blazing your own through conifer forests, over rolling meadows, and across the trout-filled Blackfoot River, rushing from snowmelt. The last few hundred yards back to camp ― with aching feet, damp clothes, and (desperately) wanting stomachs ― could be tough. But then your khaki-clad camping butler meets you nearly halfway. With frosty iced tea. And, not knowing exactly what kind of mood you're in, fresh-baked cookies and fresh fruit.
The digs: When the family-owned Resort at Paws Up opened in 2005 in the Blackfoot Valley 30 miles east of Missoula, Montana, a new word entered the well-heeled adventurer's lexicon ― "glamping." At the resort's Tent City, roughing it means canvas-walled platform tents with oil paintings hanging above king-size feather beds surrounded by plush pile rugs; terry-cloth robes as fluffy as Big Sky Country clouds; elk-antler bedside lamps; turndown service with caddis flies for fishing in lieu of chocolates; private bathrooms with steam showers and heated slate floors in an adjacent bathhouse; in-tent spa treatments and much-needed massages. S'mores are available on demand, wine is served on arrival, and the gourmet fare is Montana-inspired (huckleberry pancakes or bison rib-eye, anyone?). But it's still just a tent that we're talking about, one tucked at the edge of a lodgepole pine forest on a former cattle ranch: silence broken only by the sounds of locals (deer, eagle, elk); 37,000 acres perfect for horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, rafting, and fly-fishing; and enough stars sparkling overhead to show that no one, and especially not glampers, should settle for a hotel with a mere five.
The dirt: 6 tents available May 23 - Sep 30 at Tent City (6 more open in June at the new River Camp); from $595, including three daily meals for two; four-night minimum; 800/473-0601. -Dina Mishev