A Luxury Florida Great Outdoors Experience

By Christy Swift
Photography by Charissa Lighthall 

In a world that seems to be moving faster than ever, people are increasingly seeking solace in nature. Yet, the thought of roughing it out in the wilderness, battling bugs, and sleeping on the hard ground can deter many from venturing into the great outdoors. This is where “glamping” comes in – a delightful blend of glamor and camping that offers the best of both worlds. 

The Origin of Glamping 

“Glamping” first appeared in the Oxford Dictionary in 2016, but its history dates back centuries. The roots of glamping can be traced to 16th century Scotland, when John Steward, the 3rd Earl of Atholl, organized the first luxury camping site in the U.K. for King James V and his mother, featuring furnishings and ornamentation from the royal palace. The Turkish Ottoman Empire was also known for lavish “mobile palaces” erected for their sultans. In the 20th century, extravagant safaris carried on the tradition for wealthy American and British travelers. Today, glamping has become more popular than ever, with the website Glamping Hub listing 34,000 glamping rentals in 2019. 

What Exactly is “Glamping”? 

What sets glamping apart from traditional camping is the emphasis on luxury, comfort, and convenience. Imagine all the fun of camping—hiking, kayaking, the scent of woods and campfire, quiet nights, the serenade of cicadas, maybe even a deer wandering through your campsite—after which you climb into a cozy bed in a spacious, air-conditioned tent outfitted with modern conveniences. If this appeals to you, drop your phone in the basket by the door (I mean, tent flap) and let’s explore Florida’s great outdoors, glamping style.  

Aleksandra and Sheraz Miles own Timberlake Glamping, a concessionaire vendor managing six glamping sites inside the Hillsborough River State Park in Thonotosassa. The tents are raised up on a wood slat foundation, which serves as a floor, and are decorated with real beds, rugs, chairs, coffee tables and more. The tents come with A/C, a mini fridge, coffee maker, electrical outlets, and a diffuser. The largest tents can accommodate a group of six. 

Aleksandra says there are a variety of reasons why their customers choose glamping. “We do cater heavily to families with kids. It’s a fun way of exposing kids to the outdoors.” She adds that many glampers are people who enjoy the outdoors and want to experience nature but don’t have a background in camping and/or don’t want to make a large investment in the necessary equipment needed for a camping lifestyle. 

A third type of client are people like her husband and herself. “We’ve been campers all our lives. We love traditional camping, but it’s nice to be able to go and not have to do all the work. Not to have to drive two hours and then pitch a tent in the dark. Having a comfortable bed to sleep in. As we’ve gotten older, we’re starting to appreciate those little comforts,” Alexandra says. Timberline glampers can enjoy all of the features of the Hillsborough River State Park, including hiking trails for all levels (check out the suspension bridge over the scenic Hillsborough River and don’t miss those Class II rapids). 

Hillsborough River State Park 

Bikes are available for rent to explore the 1.6-mile Wetlands Restoration Nature Trail and the 2.2-mile park loop. The swimming pool and cafe are currently under renovation, but will make a welcome addition. Flovibez, another concessionaire vendor, offers canoe and kayak rentals. 

“You’ll see gators, plenty of turtles, and deer. I’ve even seen wild hogs,” says Tyler Hitchner of Flovibez. “The best time of year to see the fish is in winter. The river gets clearer and it’s really pretty. You can see all the way down to the bottom. There’s everything from bluegill to Florida gar.” Other wildlife often spotted include possums, raccoons, armadillo, wild turkeys, and all kinds of birds. 

Back at the Glampsite 

When your busy day is done and a sleepy sunset-kissed sky beckons you back to your site, that’s when the benefits of glamping truly kick in. While traditional camping usually involves sleeping on the hard ground in a tent, glamping offers a luxury, hotel-style experience one zipper-pull away. Alexandra offered tips for a successful glamping experience: 

  • Bring your own firewood. If the ranger station is open, they sell firewood for $8 a bundle. Collecting firewood is not allowed.
  • Pack cooking implements if you plan to go for traditional cooking-over-the-fire fare. Bring charcoal if you wish to use the grill. You’ll also need your own paper plates and utensils. Eating out or bringing takeout is also an option.
  • Don’t forget a towel and toiletries for use in the on-site bathrooms.

Here are a few suggestions for your first (or next) glamping experience, but however you choose to do it is fine, too. There are no hard-and-fast glamping rules. If you’re relaxed and unplugged, you’re doing it right! 

Girls’ Getaway: Swim, hike, kayak or bike during the day, then gather up your BFFs for a glamping pajama party. Roast ‘Smores around the fire pit outside and swing in a hammock as you read aloud from the latest novel you’re binge-ing. Sip a chilled beverage and pick at a swanky charcuterie platter. The cozy beds also make a great setting for a board or card game. Pillow fight, anyone? There’s plenty of them! If you hear a crashing sound in the bushes outside, Roxane at the ranger station says it’s probably an armadillo, not a bear, but if you want to embellish the story when you get back, we won’t judge! 

Family Glamp: Take the kids fishing, kayaking or geo- seeking. Have lunch under one of the pavilions built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s and learn about the CCC’s history from the posted placards. If the kids aren’t tired enough yet, let them run around on the playground at the riverside picnic area. In the evening, enjoy stories or games and ‘Smores by the campfire. A night time walk around the campground might turn up a deer or raccoon. Then tuck the littles into their cozy beds while the adults enjoy some quiet time under the stars. 

Glamping With the Guys: Yes, men can glamp, too! Disconnecting from tech and work for a couple of days can be good for the soul. Bring a football or a frisbee. Dust off those fishing licenses and stock up on firewood and ice. Bring your favorite beverages and a Bluetooth speaker for the evening (quiet time doesn’t start until 11PM, but your neighbors will appreciate it if you keep the Garth Brooks and Jimmy Buffett to a reasonable volume). Warning: cooking what you catch over a smoky fire is bound to bring on some nostalgia. Tell those old stories. Remind each other of “when.” Enjoy this time with good friends, good beer, and good conversation. “Today’s troubles” can wait until tomorrow.