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The Woods Are Getting a Dose of Eco-Friendly Luxury

Written By: Lindsay DeLong Glamping: The Answer To All Your Outdoorsy Dreams
Photographed by: Jack Lungu

Last time I went camping, all my friends went to REI and stocked up on top-of-the-line gear and packets of high-caloric dehydrated camping food—we were embarking on a five-day hiking adventure and everyone was worried about burning too many calories. I took one look at the ingredients list on the freeze-dried beef stroganoff and did what any young woman with a cheese obsession and sweet tooth would do: I packed a canister full of Cheez-Its and licorice. Oh, and boxed red wine too.

That trip went well aside from my sleeping bag freezing one night (I remembered the wine but forgot the tent). I also forgot to put my wine in a canister one night and a bear came and got tipsy. Camping fails.

I’m proud to call myself a camper despite my need for junk foods and minor mishaps along the way. So, when I heard I was going glamping, I immediately said “Yes!” then jumped into my closet. First to pack were the must-haves: a pair of overalls, a couple flannels and a Stetson. I then remembered that glamping is aptly named for its glamorous nature. I went straight for the Louis Vuitton, Prada and hot pink wedge moccasins with tassels. I realized I was built for glamping.

I set off towards El Capitan Canyon located just north of Santa Barbara. Once I passed through LA’s congestion, all bad spirits disappeared and I reveled in the scenic road flanked by the Pacific Ocean and the mountains of Los Padres National Forest.

I pulled into the campground and was shown to the Creekside Cabin. This was not like camping at all; it was like staying in an adorable rustic ski-lodge. The setup was complete with fresh towels, hot water and locally sourced shampoo, conditioner and soap. Long gone are the days of rinsing off in a creek or just not showering at all because of the nearby, nearly frozen pond water. My little log cabin had a queen-sized bed as plush as they come as well as a loft and full kitchen. The picture-perfect, floor-to-ceiling windows inside the Creekside Cabin simulated the quintessential back-woods wilderness experience.

My photographer partner, Jack Lungu, and I made for the yurt by the main entrance where we met our guides for the day who gave us a tour of the grounds. “El Cap, ” as they call it, caters to luxury campers by featuring all the amenities typical of a boutique resort but in a wilderness setting that hosts nostalgia-inducing camping activities.

We stopped at the Adventure Yurts, which offer two beds posted underneath a massive skylight, and the Canvas Safari Tents, which are built on platform decks with screen windows and doors that zip open and closed. Both the yurt and tent options are bathroom-less, but they are located close to the public restrooms, which are maintained multiple times a day and are, you guessed it, not your typical camp washrooms.

Across the property at the Cedar Cabins, guests have multiple options to pick from. The Safari Cabin is a two-bedroom cabin suite with two fireplaces and an outdoor stainless steel grill. There are also the Corral Loft Cabins, located in their own village, that are ideal for large parties and groups. All yurts, tents and cabins have individual fire pits and picnic tables; and get this: each space receives daily housekeeping. Bring it on, dirt!

The Price of Your Wilderness Stay

Adventure Yurts: $175 – $225; Canvas Safari Tents: $145 – $170; Cedar Cabins: $195 – $795.

Rates vary depending on the season.

Bring the Whole Group!

Group discounts are available and El Capitan Canyon is equipped to host weddings, family reunions, corporate retreats and birthday parties.

10 Tips For A True “El Cap” Experience

  1. Explore over 2, 500 acres of protected forestry
  2. Splash and relax in the heated pool
  3. Get a hot stone massage at the spa
  4. Feed the playful goats and llamas at the petting zoo
  5. Hike the steep or flat trails through the forest
  6. Awaken the soul at morning yoga
  7. Join staff and fellow guests for night-time storytelling
  8. Bike to El Capitan State Beach
  9. Put your toes in the sand on a guided beach run
  10. Dance at the summer concert series

Want more? Ask the staff. They’ll hook you up with: whale watching, kayaking, wine tasting and horseback riding.

After the grounds tour, we visited the Canyon Spa and Garden. The spa is tucked away by the creek and offers a country vibe with oak structures that blend into the surrounding flora. Feel free to walk outside in just a towel—no one is around to see. Licensed professionals serve guests with Hot Stone Massages or a Canyon Herbal Scalp Massage. These will have you feeling pampered and serene. Well, that serenity will last until you get to the adorable petting zoo.  

It’s sometimes called the “Llama Farm, ” but it should really be called “When Goats Attack.” Your guide will hand you a slab of hay and the goats immediately love you—well, they love your hand. The llamas are quite polite and well behaved and they’ll stand on the sidelines and wait their turns like honorable animals. The goats, on the other hand, are jumping, standing on picnic tables, taking little nibbles of your pink moccasin shoes. I could tell what they were thinking: “Are those really sheep fur on her shoes? Rude!” As long as you stand still and take regal-looking goat selfies with the Pacific Ocean in the background you won’t mind getting head-butted by a goat.

No Llama Drama: Guided hikes to the zoo, led by Larry Miller, are hosted every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. They can host  anywhere from 10 up to 100 people. No llama drama here but prepare for goat-madness!

As our day rolled on, we hopped on a couple of free beach cruisers and biked across the street to El Capitan State Beach. In less than five minutes, we were on the coastal bike-path pedaling to the rhythm of the waves. We were eager to do everything El Cap had to offer, so we swapped the bike for boots and explored the Canyon’s three hiking paths: Bill Wallace Trailhead, Selma Rubin Trail and Paradise Point Trail. We chose the steep Selma Rubin Trail and climbed to the summit with a spectacular view of the ocean and the neighboring organic farms. After steep inclines and serious leg burn, it was time for the one thing every staycation must entail: food and shopping.

We visited West Market, a specialty boutique featuring upscale souvenirs created by local artisans. The neighboring Canyon Market and Deli is a popular hangout among guests (it’s also home to Scarface, the community’s adopted black cat) and has an extensive breakfast, lunch and dinner menu. Here, they offer craft beers, local Santa Barbara wines, organic produce, fresh-to-order sandwiches and barbeque roundups with chicken, salmon or tri-tip.

The BBQ packages come family-sized and are stocked with firewood, a perfectly seasoned slab of meat, beans, salad and even a s’mores kit. The meat is pre-seasoned and the entire package is delivered to your campground complete with plates, silverware and napkins. I flipped a coin opting for the Tri-Tip Package and scheduled our delivery for an hour later.

Back at my cabin, I changed my clothes, opting for a rustic look to match my newfound rustic lifestyle. Jack and I drank craft beers on the patio while we waited for our delivery. Our wood came first and he asked me, “So, what do you know about starting a fire?” I confidently replied, “I know you find two tiny sticks and rub them together for a really long time.” He shook his head and exiled me to tiny stick duty. We put them in the fire pit and sure enough, as he coached me, I became a glamper extraordinaire and made fire—albeit with a lighter and a fire-starting tablet. Our dinner arrived and we sliced the meat and cooked it up. Thanks to the perfectly executed pre-seasoning, the meat tasted like it came out of a swanky steakhouse.

As night fell, Jack and I sat on the patio chatting about our adventurous day. We looked upwards to the night sky and it was dreamlike. You forget what a pure night sky looks like living in a world of light pollution. I thought, “I’ll camp out here tonight in a sleeping bag.” But then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my cozy bed in my own little chalet. It was a long and glamorous day at El Cap. Breathing in the crisp night air and the scent of pine, I was ready for another day—no, a month—of glamping.

Dancing in the Moonlight: As part of the popular Canyon Concert Series the outside deck at The Canyon Market turns into a dance floor and stage for live bands on Saturday nights at 6 p.m. during the summer months (May-September). The complimentary evening is full of blues, jazz and bluegrass music. A fireside BBQ dinner can be purchased from the market for an additional fee.

El Capitan Canyon
11560 Calle Real
Santa Barbara, California 93117
866.352.2729

G O N E  G L A M P I N G /// at El Capitan Canyon