Luxury camping in Alaska's wilds

Posted: Wednesday, July 08, 2009

EAGLE RIVER, Alaska - A pair of campsites at the Eagle River Campground may not come with five-star concierge service like a luxury hotel - but in the world of camping, they offer more than just a place to pitch a tent. Dan McDonough, owner of Life Adventures in Palmer, is testing a new market for camping in Alaska with specialized campsites that provide a large wall tent, firewood, citronella candles and water.

Campers at these sites can sleep off the ground in cots or on the soft cedar fill inside the tent, rent sleeping bags if they like - and not have to schlep much besides a toothbrush, clothes and food.

"It's not really geared toward the unprepared - it's more for people that may be over camping," McDonough said. "They don't want to sleep on the ground. They want to be out of the rain. They want to be pampered a little bit while they're camping."

McDonough got the idea after reading up on campsites Outside and in other countries. He said the state park campgrounds that he manages might not offer some of the elite services private campgrounds Outside do, but it's a step toward luxury and privacy that campers might be interested in.

"There's one company in Montana that has pretty fancy wall tents with feather beds, art on the walls and lighted walkways," McDonough said. "They also charge a couple hundred dollars a night. The concierge will split your wood and light the fires."

McDonough doesn't think he'll go that far.

At the Eagle River sites, for $50 campers can use a 16-by-12 foot tent, cots, a covered picnic table and a few other amenities. For $25 campers get firewood, candles, a covered table and water, without the large tent and cots. The sites are far away from the traditional side-by-side spots used by motor homes and tent campers.

"I thought it was a novel way to do it. And we have more and more people asking for cabins, but being a state park we aren't going to build cabins, but we can do this. So we'll give it a shot," McDonough said.

Life Adventures has managed the Eagle River Campground for 10 years and several campgrounds in the Mat-Su area for about six years, McDonough said. The company cleans bathrooms and fire pits, picks up trash, cuts overgrown bushes and collects fees from campers.

The company, with nine seasonal workers, hires local camp hosts to live on the grounds, watch over things and be available to campers.

McDonough recently expanded the Eagle River campground to accommodate large groups of 15 to 45 people - a request he's had for a few years from church and youth groups. So far that addition has been successful.

McDonough has started marketing the luxury campsites online and has been talking with convention and visitor bureaus to let them know there is a new alternative in camping available.

McDonough said his specialized sites sleep up to six people. He is targeting the sites toward groups of friends, families with children and couples who would like some privacy.

If the Eagle River sites prove popular, McDonough said he's thinking about adding the same sort of camping sites to the Mat-Su campgrounds.



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