A stay at Under Canvas, a beautiful glamping resort in “Big Sky Country”
Glamping in Yellowstone has long been on my summer-travel wishlist. America’s oldest national park is well-known for its thermal springs, in particular Old Faithful. But I was enchanted by photos of rivers rushing through deep gorges, by mountains and waterfalls and the beautiful wide valleys filled with wildlife. Camping in this great outdoors, but with all the civilized comforts, seemed like an ideal complement to a trip to Yellowstone.
I had heard of Under Canvas and their upscale tent resorts. They have 9 U.S. locations, primarily in the west where I live, and they’re found in some of my favourite places such as Zion National Park, and Moab, only five hours from my home in Denver.
All of their glamping resorts look spectacular, but there was something special about Under Canvas Yellowstone. The setting in an open meadow with mountains all around, the waving grass and wildflowers – the photos captured my imagination. Besides, I hadn’t been to Yellowstone National Park. So when my family decided on a road trip in the summer of 2020 – yes, the pandemic summer – glamping in Yellowstone was an easy choice.
Glamping at Under Canvas Yellowstone
Most of Yellowstone is in Wyoming but a part extends into Idaho and Montana. Under Canvas is 10 minutes from the park’s West Yellowstone entrance, in Montana. The drive through the park was spectacular, as stunning as I had imagined. We stopped at West Thumb to see the thermal pools and then carried on to see Old Faithful. (A park hotline will tell you when the famous geyser will next erupt, so you can time your visit: 307-344-2751.)
It was late afternoon when we turned through the large ranch gate and into the camp; the sun shone on the mountain meadow, turning it a warm gold.
It is a large property with mountain views in several directions. We were greeted at the reception tent by friendly staff who gave us an orientation and directed us to our deluxe tent – #44.
Glamping in Yellowstone - Tents with a View
There are a number of tent styles to choose from at Under Canvas, with various price points. Since we were travelling as a family I agonized a bit about which accommodation to choose. I wanted to splurge on a tent with its own bathroom but budget was still a consideration.
The most affordable option, the safari tent, does not have an ensuite bath; tent guests use a shared bathhouse which looked very nice.
I didn’t think we’d spend much time in the tent, with so much to do, so decided our boys, 17 and 20 could sleep on camping cots and we’d share a single tent. I chose the deluxe tent with ensuite bath and a king bed. The king bed was absolutely sumptuous. The camping cots were true cots, so my kids were really too big for them. They’d be fine for younger kids.
In hindsight, I should have gone with a deluxe tent with a second “satellite tent” with has twin beds. For an even bigger splurge, there are tent suites which come with an additional lounge area with a queen size sofa-bed. Or there are stargazer tents, similar to the deluxe but with a viewing window above the bed. Any of the tent types are available with a satellite tent for kids.
Although the cots were basic and it was “cozy for the four of us”, I loved our tent, The setting and view were gorgeous and the bathroom was even nicer than I expected.
I also loved the attached wooden deck. We happily spent much time, reading and enjoying a glass of wine and the view.
Tents are heated with wood burning or pellet stoves which staff will come and light for you in the evenings. We declined it both nights as we prefer it to be cool, but the temperature does drop significantly.
Dining at Under Canvas Yellowstone
Breakfast is included in your stay and it was plentiful enough to keep everyone happy. Because of COVID it was pick-up and go only and included yogurt, a piece of fruit, a granola bar, a pastry, juice and a hot breakfast burrito if you wished. I read after we visited that you can request coffee be brought to your tent in the morning. That would have been a huge treat.
Lunch isn’t served at the camp but that’s the perfect reason to head into the town of West Yellowstone (more on that below). There are grocery stores nearby, however food isn’t permitted in the tents. You can eat on the lobby patio, in the community tent or around the campfires.
Dinner at Under Canvas Yellowstone was as delicious as one would expect from a glamping resort. It is served at Embers, a restaurant in the Bar N Ranch lodge located at an adjacent property. It is a lovely walk from the tents to dinner – it took us about 7 or 8 minutes – but some tents are quite a bit further from it. You can also drive to Bar N Ranch. We had dinner there two nights and enjoyed the food.
The dining room had a charming western vibe with pretty big-sky views. I’ve included a photo of the 2020 menu below, to give you an idea of the prices and what’s on offer. I will add that the food is known to be generally very mediocre within Yellowstone itself, and that includes its lodges. So I appreciated that we had the chance to enjoy above average dinners.
If the menu is similar when you visit, my cowboys can recommend the Montana Bison Burger (when in Rome) and the Vegetable Curry Bowl. and I loved the Pan-Roasted Trout. I thought the Ratatouille was a delish appetizer and the Brussel Sprouts with huckleberry-jalapeno were also a standout. Yes, they have a kids menu. This is Yellowstone, a stalwart of the American family’s summer travel.
One of my favourite things about Under Canvas Yellowstone, in addition to the beautiful scenery and proximity to West Yellowstone was the pretty stream that winds through the property. Yes, the water is chilly but it’s hot here in summer so it felt refreshing. The water was slow moving when we were there and there’s a sandbar in the middle, so families with kids of all ages were having a great time. But there is a current, so be cautious with children.
Glamping in Yellowstone - What to Do & See
Google Map of West Yellowstone Area
By the time we got to Yellowstone, we had already toured Grand Teton National Park, where we were quite active. So everyone was happy to have more time to “just chill” as the kids say. And I can not think of a more perfect place for chilling.
When you check-in at Under Canvas, they will give you an activity flyer. Daily activities, such as outdoor yoga by the river and movie nights, are also posted in the reception tent. On-site there are hammocks by the river, volleyball and horseshoes. Fishing is permitted – rainbow and brown trout are found in the property’s river. There is also live music some nights and movies in the community tent. Campfires are located around the property and ingredients to make your own s’mores are available between 7 and 10 each evening.
The park entrance is about 10 minutes away and you could spend days exploring all the scenic drives, gorgeous hikes and wildlife viewing. Two popular trails within an hour of Under Canvas are the Purple Mountain Trail and The Grand Prismatic/Fairy Falls (both are marked in the map above). Enquire at reception for information about hiking.
Of course, the geysers are a must-see. It takes about an hour to get to Old Faithful from West Yellowstone and the drive is lovely. I would say Old Faithful is worth seeing although we weren’t bowled over by it. And apparently Old Faithful doesn’t get a copy of the schedule – it was almost 40 minutes late in erupting when we were there.
The Old Faithful Inn, next to the geyser, is American Park architecture at its finest. This national historic landmark was built in 1903 and if dining had been open when we visited, I would have loved to see inside of the lodge and have lunch there.
I actually preferred the thermal pools at West Thumb, to Old Faithful, so if you find yourself further south in the park, they are worth seeing. This area is easily accessible with a wooden boardwalk winding through the surreal landscape. (I’ve also marked it on the map above.)
We didn’t make it to the Lamar Valley on this trip but that would be at the top of my list on my next visit to Yellowstone. It is in the northeastern corner of the park and is known as America’s Serengeti; its broad valleys are considered the best area of the park for wildlife viewing.
Just outside the park in the town of West Yellowstone are shops, restaurants and outfitters for various activities.
We heard good things from other families who visited the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center here. We didn’t go as we had visited a Wolf Rescue in Colorado. If you have older children with you, there’s a zip-line adventure center here. Book ahead in summer.
You can also rent kayaks, or take a guided kayak tour, a wonderful way to enjoy the gorgeous rivers. And river rafting is supposed to be excellent, although it is located in Big Sky, Montana, about an hour away.
West Yellowstone has a nice variety of restaurants. We had a yummy lunch at the Taco Bus, Las Palmitas. The tacos were fresh and tasty and we preferred them to the burritos. Give yourself some extra time to decide as there are extensive options posted on the sign on the front of the bus. Wild West Pizzeria and Bullwinkle’s are also recommended.
If you are a Gen-Xer like me and watched The Yogi Bear Show in the 1970’s the Yogi and Boo Boo references around town will bring back memories. And if you’ve never tried huckleberries, this is your chance. They seemed to be in everything, from coffee to cookies to alcoholic tea. A huckleberry looks like a large blueberry although it can come in different colours. The flavour is also similar to a blueberry, but perhaps a little more tart. I had huckleberry ice cream which was delicious.
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Glamping in Yellowstone - Worth the Splurge?
Glamping in Yellowstone at Under Canvas is pricey. If you are on a budget, this is probably not the place. I would call this a bucket-list holiday: if national park glamping is on your bucket list then I would say Under Canvas is a wonderful place for this special splurge. The setting is gorgeous, the tents are well-appointed, and the food is good. I also thought the service, by mostly young-adult staff was friendly and attentive. And they have some nice extra touches like complimentary s’mores – especially good for families. And being able to splash around and fish in the river is a huge plus in the hot summer months.
I should add, that since it was 2020, some activities were limited, so I imagine it would be even better normally.
To me what was most appealing about glamping in Yellowstone was what I most love about the U.S west, the vast openness of the landscape. From a tent set in this open mountain valley, the scale of it all is truly striking. I could have sat a very long time on that tent deck, watching the swallows swoop in and out of the tall grass, feeling the warm mountain breeze. It made my trip to one of America’s most amazing wild places, that much more special.
More U.S. West: Wyoming & Utah
I mentioned that we visited Grand Teton National Park on the same trip. I adored Grand Teton and since it is much smaller than Yellowstone, it’s easier to see in just a few days. You can read more about this beautiful Wyoming park in my complete guide: Grand Teton National Park.
If you are interested in glamping, I love the spring season for exploring the U.S. southwest, especially Utah which I personally find too hot in the summer. I write about Moab, Utah and Arches National Park in my story: An Unexpected Road Trip from L.A. to Denver. Under Canvas has Utah camps in Zion, Moab and Grand Canyon; they open for the season in March.
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