Fall Weekend Getaway: Glamping at Firelight Camps in Ithaca, New York

Break out of your comfort zone at this decidedly cosmopolitan campground.

An outdoor lounge at Firelight Camps |Photo by Kaylyn Leighton/Seamless Photography

An outdoor lounge at Firelight Camps | Photo by Kaylyn Leighton/Seamless Photography

I approached the water with a bit of trepidation.

I don’t know why I was nervous. I love swimming. I’m relatively good at it. But there was something daunting about this small pond nestled among the waterfalls of Buttermilk Falls State Park in upstate New York. It was a mystery. What if it wasn’t that deep? What if was home to killer flesh-eating bacteria? What if I somehow slipped jumping in and made a fool of myself? Two fellow hikers looked on from the trail above, encouraging me with light mockery. I may have been called a baby. I gathered my wits.

Then my girlfriend jumped in ahead of me without a second thought. Crap.

I had to follow. I cautiously slid into the water, to the applause of the watching hikers. The pond was deep enough that we could tread water, but it was tiny, and the water was freezing. We quickly scrambled out and dried off. I was cold and wet, but also happy. I’m not much of an outdoorsy type, and the swim, however brief, pushed me out of my comfort zone. So did our lodgings: a tent at Firelight Camps, a two-year-old glamping site in Ithaca, New York, owned by a couple of Penn grads.

A glamping tent at Firelight Camps | Photo by Kaylyn Leighton/Seamless Photography

A glamping tent at Firelight Camps | Photo by Kaylyn Leighton/Seamless Photography

The pseudo-outdoor sleeping idea initially gave me pause, but despite its simple exterior, our tent was surprisingly spacious, with room for a queen-size bed, a desk, several lanterns and a back porch—just the right amount of amenities for an apprehensive camper.

Armed with a new sense of adventure post-pond-jump (maybe I was a new man, I thought, one who hikes and bikes and goes camping!), I dove further into our surroundings. Firelight is located on the 70-acre grounds of luxury hotel La Tourelle and links to Buttermilk Falls State Park via a gorgeously landscaped trail. We set out on a journey there as if we were embarking on an epic Lord of the Rings quest. Five lengthy trails wind through the park, dotted with cascading waterfalls. Just a short drive away is Robert H. Treman State Park, which features more waterfalls and part of the Finger Lakes Trail. But we chose to head back to camp for Firelight’s free nightly tasting of locally brewed beers, so perhaps I hadn’t changed all that much. Still, when the next adventure presents itself, I think I’ll be more likely to jump at it. Even into another freezing pond.

Field Guide: Ithaca, New York Weekend Itinerary

Stay: Firelight Camps, 1150 Danby Road, Ithaca, New York; rates start at $179 a night.
Play: Downtown Ithaca, a quaint cluster of shops and restaurants, is just a 10-minute drive from Firelight. Nearby kayak shop Puddle-dockers offers twice-weekly sunset kayaking tours on Cayuga Lake, and there are guided bird-watching hikes at Sapsucker Woods. Or hang at Firelight’s outdoor lounge area, where there are board games and bocce ball.
Eat: Don’t miss vegetarian hot spot Moosewood Restaurant — the soup specials are fantastic. And the Finger Lakes are considered the East Coast’s answer to Napa, with an abundance of wineries. Ask the Firelight staffers for their recommendations.

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This article first appeared in Philadelphia magazine’s September 2016 issue.