Camping without roughing it

Rule 1: “Breathe” sign greets visitors to Hoot House Hill near Paola.
Rule 1: “Breathe” sign greets visitors to Hoot House Hill near Paola. Hoot House Hill

As visitors turn onto the driveway leading to Hoot Owl Hill outside Paola, Kan., they see a sign that reads: “Rule #1 Breathe!”

“That describes us in a nutshell,” said Brenda Wrischnik, who lives on the farm about 50 miles southwest of Kansas City with her husband, Steve, and operates a camping bed and breakfast. “This is a place where you come and take a breath. You love being outside but camping costs a lot of money because you have to invest in all the equipment, you have to have a vehicle to load everything in, you have to unload it all and pack it into the campsite.

“Glamping is when you want to enjoy nature but you want to get out of your car, bring a bag like you’re going into a hotel and have everything ready for you.”

Glamping — a mashup of the words glamorous and camping — has become a popular and unpredictable term. Perceptions of luxury vary as do camping modes — trailer, tent, cabin or yurt. This year, the Symphony in the Flint Hills on June 11 has added Prairie Encampment, a group of tents that can be rented overnight and offer amenities like electricity and air conditioning.

Three permanent options within a reasonable driving distance of Wichita prove that glamping accommodations can differ greatly: Hoot Owl Hill in eastern Kansas, Slattery Vintage Estates in southeastern Nebraska and The Barns@Timber Creek, about 45 miles south of Wichita near Winfield.

While the style is different at each property, the proprietors say their goal is the same: make experiencing nature more fun and less work.

“This is camping without the roughing it,” said Barb Slattery, who offers glamping next to her vineyard at Slattery Vintage Estates. “All you need is your toothbrush and a change of clothes. You don’t have to think about it too much.”

Slattery Vintage Estates

There are no restaurants or hotels near Slattery Vintage Estates, a vineyard and tasting room in rural southeastern Nebraska, about 40 miles south of Omaha and 40 miles east of Lincoln. So owners Barb and Mike Slattery have created their own food and lodging options for guests. Their daughter is a trained chef and they’ve built an outdoor kitchen with a wood-fired pizza oven. In fall 2010, they put up two tents as an experiment and added two more the next spring.

“You can come out here, drink some wine and not have to drive,” Barb Slattery said. “We get a lot of guests who want to get out of the city to the countryside; we have topography here that is very different than the cornfields of Nebraska. We have a very hilly area, there’s a pond with fish and a waterfall. You’ll see deer, turkey and birds.”

In addition to wildlife and bird-watching, guests can hike the 84 adjoining acres, go mushroom hunting, stroll through the vines or stargaze.

Slattery Vintage Estates offers four 12-by-14 tents that sit about 4 feet off the ground on wooden decks and feature two windows and a screen door. There are two fans in each tent or heaters and electric blankets when it’s cold outside. The tents have front porches and sit in a row overlooking the vineyard.

The themed tents — Bluebird, Duck Inn, Whip-poor-will and Swallow’s Nest — have one full or queen mattress and each bed frame is different (with and without footboards). Guests can bring air mattresses at no extra charge. Rugs, electric lamps and a coffee pot bring a homey feel to the tents, along with antique dressers with mirrors and tables and chairs.

There’s a water pitcher and washbasin in each tent to “wash up the pioneer way,” Barb Slattery said. An outdoor bathhouse features an electric composting toilet and a solar shower. Guests can use the toilet and sink inside the tasting room’s bathroom when the hosts are awake.

The tents rent for $60 per night weekdays, $85 on weekends. Holiday weekends run $90 per night. These rates do not include meals. Guests can bring their own food or they can purchase it from the Slatterys. They offer a three-course, gourmet breakfast served at a farmhouse table in the tasting room, foil dinners to cook over the campfire, s’more packages, wine-and-cheese platters and beer buckets.

When the tasting room is open — Thursdays through Sundays during the summer — guests can choose to enjoy the food and beverages served there. Slattery sells 45 Nebraska wines and about 20 others from around the world. They also serve about 14 beers, including many brewed in Nebraska.

“We rent the tents any day of the week,” Barb Slattery said. “During the week it’s more romantic, quiet and peaceful. On the weekends it’s a different scene. We have live music and the tasting room is open so there are more people on the property.”

Hoot Owl Hill

Brenda and Steve Wrischnik own a 14-acre farm on one of the highest spots in the Marais des Cygnes River Valley a couple miles west of Paola. They have two vineyards, fruit trees, berry patches, raised bed vegetable gardens, butterfly gardens, a native wildflower meadow with a walking path and free-range turkey, ducks, chickens and guinea fowl.

There are two tent styles available for glampers at Hoot Owl Hill: bell tents that hold as many as three queen air mattresses each and a 16-foot by 24-foot canvas wall tent cabin with room for up to eight queen air mattresses.

The seven bell tents sit on the ground and can be divided up among two glampsites separated by a tree line. They share picnic tables and two community fire pits stocked with wood. There is no air-conditioning in these tents but guests can bring their own battery-operated fans. Rates are $99 per person.

The tent cabin, called the Hoot House, is new this season and sits alone on a wooden platform with its own fire pit. It has a wood stove and an air conditioner. The cost is $125 per person with a minimum of six.

Each tent is decorated in a shabby chic style with rugs, furniture and battery-operated lighting. The amount of furniture in each tent depends on how many beds guests need. Wrischnik said she uses double-high air beds with mattress pads and fun bedding and pillows. Lanterns are provided at each tent for trips to the portable restrooms, which have water and towels. Guests can also use an outdoor shower with hot and cold water.

Rates include a full breakfast served on the wraparound porch of the Wrischnik’s house. Brenda makes homemade cinnamon rolls and serves many items fresh from their farm, including berries and eggs. Guests can bring their own food and beverages or request a garden-to-table dinner for $37 per person.

Hoot Owl Hill stays busy from May through October, and this year the season started earlier with the addition of the tent cabin. Guests enjoy exploring the farm and other agritourism businesses in the area, including wineries that can be toured aboard the Miami County Trolley. Hoot Owl Hill hosts seminars most Sundays throughout the summer and fall, with topics ranging from canning vegetables to candle making to growing and using herbs. In late August, the Roots Festival draws more than 6,000 to Paola for a two-day music and barbecue celebration.

“The main reason people want to come stay here is that you can surround yourself with beauty and it brings peace to your soul,” Brenda Wrischnik said. “We get a lot of couples and girlfriend groups who want to sit, visit, unplug, look at the stars, enjoy the campfire, bring their own games, just breathe.”

The Barns@Timber Creek

This summer Martin and Cheryl Rude are offering a Settlers Tent in addition to the five bed-and-breakfast rooms they offer inside an 1890s post-and-beam barn on their 35-acre farm near Winfield.

Martin Rude said they were inspired by the success of the Barn Owl Treehouse that they added in 2014. Built with native cedar and perched in a hedge tree, the treehouse is air-conditioned and has a queen bed in a loft and a main floor with a fully equipped bathroom and kitchenette. It has become the most popular room at The Barns@Timber Creek and Martin Rude said he thinks its appeal is the mix of being surrounded by nature while still connected to amenities.

He didn’t have to go far for research on what guests would want in a tent option. Martin grew up tent camping with a large family, Cheryl’s idea of roughing it is a two-star hotel. The Settlers Tent is their solution to finding the balance between enjoying the outdoors while being comfortable.

The tent is 14 feet by 16 feet with 5-foot walls, and it is held up with a frame built from logs on the farm. The tent sits on a deck made from repurposed pallets, and there’s a covered porch area on the front with chairs and a fire pit nearby. The tent has full heating and air-conditioning. An insulated bathroom is attached to the back of the tent. “It’s a private, full modern bathroom that people can function comfortably in even if it’s raining,” Martin Rude said.

Inside the tent is the same type of queen mattress used in the B&B rooms along with period furniture from the 1800s. The tent sits about 40 yards from the main bed and breakfast, separated by a line of trees. Guests staying in the tent have access to the common rooms in the B&B and can have breakfast there or have a basket delivered. Rates for the Settlers Tent range from $80-$100 per night; the Barn Owl Treehouse is $150 per night.

“Both the treehouse and the tent are comfortable ways to connect with nature and to connect with each other,” Martin Rude said. “We are encouraging people to try something different, to get outside and build memories and have experiences. Spending time together is so important, and if we can help people do that then we’ve succeeded.”