The New Family Vacation

From glamping in Montana to easy mansion living in Jamaica, today's first-rate family vacation destinations are like your easy, relaxing summers at the Shore, but with way more amenities—and much bluer water. Here, some spots worth exploring together.

As I sat munching my farm-to-table BLT, gazing at rolling Rocky Mountains and a sky as big and blue as the ocean, I pondered the portmanteau “glamping.” The mash-up of “glamorous” and “camping” conjures an image of Khloe Kardashian reluctantly perched on a horse, pretending to be one with nature. Don’t get me wrong—the Paws Up resort in Montana is the epitome of luxury. After all, I was sitting in Trough, one of the well-appointed on-site restaurants, which for the summer was being helmed by a former Top Chef contestant. But Paws Up isn’t overblown—it’s 37,000 acres of memorable, action-packed experiences surrounded by understated pampering.

The resort is divided into multiple camps, each with a gorgeous dining pavilion (get the huckleberry pancakes for breakfast), a family-gathering fire pit with lounge-y chairs, and groups of one- and two-bedroom tents sleeping from two to four people. Although “tent” isn’t a fair descriptor—think all-slate rain showers, wide-plank porches, Navajo-print throws on plush beds, and leather lounge chairs. Most of the camps, like the newest, Cliffside, where I was staying, line the Blackfoot River. There are also decked-out homes on the property that can sleep up to eight, and an option to spend half the time in a home and half in a tent.

In fact, Paws Up manages to pack just about everything into a tent—including the spa. “Spa Town” is a group of white tents, connected by a boardwalk, that house massage rooms, fitness equipment and yoga. I skipped the spin bike in lieu of the mountain bike, and embarked on a 15-mile group ride almost straight down on a single track, for a modern cowboy rush.

There is an insane amount of things to do here—whether your family members are faint of heart or fearless, athletes or seekers of peace and quiet. The staff will help you plot age-appropriate adventures, many of which will be as appealing to you as to the little ones. There’s summer-lake and classic camp stuff like archery, hiking, fly-fishing, river-rafting, kayaking and horseback riding. There’s offbeat stuff like disc golf, paintball, hot-air ballooning, geocaching and ATV rides. Or rappel down 167-foot-high Lookout Rock, atop which Meriwether Lewis stood to map the area. Less Amazing Race-esque activities include workshops on yarn bombing (seriously!) and drum circles. However, no activity is more reflective of the true Western experience than the cattle drive. You get the full-on experience, complete with galloping and sorting. My horse, Coaly, a natural leader, made me look just the tiniest bit like John Wayne.

Of course, you could also do nothing but eat and drink. Pomp is the fine-dining restaurant, offering seared goose breast alongside local morel mushrooms. At Tank, bartender Allen’s stable of homemade sangrias served as perfect nightcaps before I headed back to Cliffside for campfire s’mores and stories.

It was around that campfire that I realized: Despite the luxe trappings, the soul of camping remains intact at Paws Up. Personal connections, unplugging, group experiences, recharging, fun—these are the reasons people venture so far from the comforts of home and out into nature. Or rather, in this case, far from home, comforts intact.

Paws Up at a Glance:

Ages: Mobile family members and children aged eight and up.
Kid stuff: Super-outdoorsy activities abound, while river lounging and arty workshops are also options.
Grown-up stuff: Cattle drives, or any Western activity you’ve always wanted to try. Limp over to Spa Town to soothe sore muscles.
Together time: Chuck-wagon rides, water activities, and the special clay shooting course, which makes for some friendly family competition.
Eats: Trough has kid-friendly food. In nearby Missoula, the Big Dipper ice-cream parlor has creative flavors.
Quiet time: Nanny services are available. The day-camp-like Kids Corp of Discovery is full of outdoor activities.
Getting there: Fly to Missoula, then it’s a 30-minute drive to Paws Up.
Stay details: Two-bedroom tents run from $1,860 per night. That includes meals for two people. The estate homes sleep up to eight and start at $2,150 a night.

Take your family to:

>>A Manse on Mustique: The Mustique Company
>>A Villa in California: Pelican Hill
>>A Cottage in Upstate New York: Mohonk Mountain House
>>A Village in Tuscany: Monteverdi
>>A Manor in Jamaica: Moon Dance Cliffs