The History of Glamping at The Resort at Paws Up
Glamping® at The Resort at Paws Up has its roots in a company called Paws Up Outfitters. In the late 90s and early 2000s, guides of Paws Up Outfitters, owned and operated by the Lipson family in Greenough, Montana, took guests into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the largest (over a million acres) protected wilderness area in the United States, for extraordinary “backcountry” adventures. The company offered two seven-day excursions: a Flathead River fly-fishing trip and a pack trip to the Chinese Wall mountainous area in the Wilderness. A big-game hunting excursion was also offered. On average the trips each required 20–30 mules to carry equipment and provisions for an elevated nature experience unlike any other.
Guests would enjoy outdoor adventures by day and replenish at night with gourmet meals (steaks, fresh vegetables) and fine wine. At night, everyone retired to large wall tents (tents with four perpendicular cloth sides) furnished with spacious cots, feather bedding, lanterns and other creature comforts. Stays in these tents were the inspiration for Glamping at Paws Up.
In 2003, Resort co-owner Laurence Lipson was working with artist Pieter De Liagre Bohl to photograph a wall tent for an Outfitters brochure. In the process, Lipson was inspired to take the tent decor and amenities to the next level of luxury. The two filled the tent with unexpected items—a king bed, leather furnishings, art for the walls and fine rugs. A photo was captured and this image became the blueprint for the Glamping tents at Paws Up.
In developing the overall Glamping experience, Lipson was also inspired by the Lewis & Clark trail that passed through the land. Lipson’s vision was to recapture the exploratory fervor of the Lewis & Clark period. So, a primary goal of Glamping at Paws Up became to provide guests with a base camp to explore the wildlife, beauty and majesty of Montana. Lipson also wanted to pay homage to the great explorers of America’s past and resurrect a curiosity to discover the surrounding wilderness.
Lipson was also inspired by the classic safari tents used in Africa. He wanted to create the same type of safari experience in America for visitors to Paws Up, which he dubbed The American Safari.® To this day, Lipson believes you don’t need to travel across the globe to experience extraordinary wildlife, wilderness and scenery. It’s possible right here in the U.S.
Laurence proposed this concept of luxury camping to the rest of the Lipson family in 2004, with a general description of the camp and the associated experience. The luxury camps would be an extension of the existing Resort facilities that included luxury homes, restaurants, a reception building, an activities center, a kids’ camp, a retail store, a maintenance shop and offices. Based on this proposal, work began on the design of the camp and the logistics necessary to make it operational.
But first, Lipson needed a catchy handle for the new experience. He settled on a mash-up of the words glamorous and camping, resulting in the now famous term, Glamping. Despite some resistance from family, friends and colleagues, the name stuck and was put in a press release for the New York Times. The name and an article helped launch Glamping at The Resort in June 2005. (Glamping is now a registered trademark owned by Paws Up and a standard term used by the hospitality industry and millions of consumers.)
So, development began with “Tent City,” the original Glamping site at the Paws Up Ranch. This campsite was a timbered enclave on the edge of a sprawling meadow. The site was near the legendary Blackfoot River and a historic rock overlook discovered by Lewis & Clark. The Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Continental Divide served as the breathtaking backdrop for this highly scenic camp.
Building and operating Tent City would be challenging, because the camp was about three miles away from the Village at Paws Up, the hub of The Resort. How to transport guests and staff, service camp guests and prepare food had to be carefully planned. An initial decision was that the camp needed its own Dining Pavilion, where all guests would gather for meals.
Food for guests would be prepared elsewhere in The Resort and delivered to a Camp Chef at the Pavilion. The Pavilion would also be staffed with two Camp Butlers who helped serve the guests. Once the logistics and staffing for food preparation and guest services were determined, the design and development of the physical camp began.
A floor plan that included a large room with a combination bedroom and living area for two guests was utilized for each tent. Each tent was built with an external log framing structure and a concrete foundation for maximum stability. A heavyweight duck cloth with a rain-resistant coating was used for the canvas portion of the tent. Finally, each tent was supplied with underground power for tent lighting, electric heaters, lamps, ceiling lights and fans to ensure comfortable living for guests.
The design theme had a chic, rustic Pacific Northwest aesthetic, which complimented the surroundings. All furniture and accessories were sourced or designed by Resort co-owner Nadine Lipson. Her approach was to create a space with a comfortable feel, with warm, earthy colors. Nadine worked with boutique furniture and art vendors to ensure that the pieces in each tent were unique and not easily duplicated.
Ultimately, six tents were built at Tent City and situated at least 50 feet apart (for privacy) in the timbered shade, but with good access to sunshine. Pathways with solar lighting were established to provide access for guests and staff. In its first year, Tent City was extremely well received by guests, the press and the travel trade and was financially successful. Tent City took Glamping to the highest level ever in North America.
As consumer demand significantly outpaced Paws Up’s supply of tents, additional camps were designed and built. In 2007, River Camp was built. In 2010 and 2011, Creekside Camp and Pinnacle Camp were constructed. Each new camp was built with a higher level of luxury and even more amenities.
In June 2012, Moonlight Camp was introduced, replacing the original Tent City. The new camp included significantly larger tents (four two-bedroom tents and two one-bedroom tents). The original Tent City bathroom and restroom facility was removed and replaced by a spacious en suite bathroom in each tent, featuring heated slate floors, glass shower enclosures, heated towel racks and vanities with double sinks. The old Dining Pavilion was replaced with a larger tented pavilion with a lounge area, a bar, a larger deck and an expanded pantry.
Cliffside Camp opened in 2013. Located near the confluence of the Blackfoot River and Elk Creek, it featured some of The Resort’s most stunning views. Cliffside also became a great choice for visiting couples, with two honeymoon tents included in the camp. North Bank Camp followed in 2017 and was first camp in North America to offer three-bedroom, two-bathroom tents. Each North Bank tent also featured a spacious deck suspended over the slope of the nearby riverbank. North Bank’s Dining Pavilion was the most stunning yet, with a massive fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows.
In all, Paws Up’s luxury camping offerings include six camps and 36 tents today. The Resort is still known as the founder of Glamping and as a leader, pioneer and innovator in the experiential travel and hospitality industry worldwide. Visitors from all over the world continue to arrive every season to experience Montana, as it was meant to be.
Lipson adds, “There’s nothing quite like glamping in Montana—it’s literally the perfect location for the whole concept, with rivers, lakes, mountains and meadows nearby and luxury accommodations easily reachable after enjoying rugged, outdoorsy activities. People have been exploring and searching for new, unique travel destinations for years and years. We’re just happy to provide a unique, thrilling destination that people can experience and won’t forget about for a long, long time.”