A new place to spend a night under the stars is bringing luxury to the wild spaces of South Dakota’s Black Hills. It could be a big win for the state’s tourism industry.

In a world of constantly expanding vocabulary, abbreviations, and acronyms, here’s one to add to your repertoire: glamping. Glamorous camping. Organizers say it offers the best of both worlds – providing the sounds of chirping wildlife, a night full of stars and s’mores by a campfire, without the hours spent tossing on an uncomfortable patch of ground or a cold walk to an outhouse.

About a mile south of downtown Keystone, an Under Canvas Inc. campus now sits in the shadow of Mount Rushmore. Forty campsites offer various amenities – tents designed to withstand tough Midwest storms house king-sized or twin beds, some have bathrooms with hot showers. For those that don’t, public bathrooms include facilities within walking
distance of each site.

“It was such a magical experience. And I realized the plains of Montana are just like being in the African bush,” said Dusek. “So the idea sort of really sparked with ‘ah maybe we could create a small luxury style camp here in Montana’. That was the beginning of a very small idea that became something much bigger.”

Co-Founder and CEO of Under Canvas Sarah Dusek says the idea stemmed from her time on safari in Zimbabwe, and has grown to eight properties near national parks across the United States. She and her husband Jacob launched the adventure-hospitality brand in 2009.

“It was such a magical experience. And I realized the plains of Montana are just like being in the African bush,” said Dusek. “So the idea sort of really sparked with ‘ah maybe we could create a small luxury style camp here in Montana’. That was the beginning of a very small idea that became something much bigger.”

There’s no wifi at the camp – meant to help visitors disconnect and enjoy their trip unbothered by everyday distractions. Electricity is limited – but solar-powered lamps provide light and an outlet to charge up your phone. Dining at the site makes meal times more convenient – with menus for breakfast and dinner, plus pack lunches available for purchase. The facility is staffed 24/7 to cater to visitors’ needs – including hosting evening activities like campfires, s’mores, and games.

Dusek says they’ve tried to make a night at Under Canvas manageable across budgets – with rates ranging from around $200-$500 a night. Reservations launched over Memorial Day weekend and are available through September 30. They plan to reopen for the season in May 2019 with 75 campsites.

“You get to feel like you’re going on safari without necessarily leaving the country,” continued Dusek, “and having all the wonderful comforts of a luxurious tent without any of the hassle of having to put one up.”

Like a safari, the camp also encourages its guests to explore. Under Canvas acts as a hub of information about the surrounding area with suggestions for tours, activities, and sites available. They can also take the hassle out of managing the details – offering assistance in creating a trip itinerary, and pre-set packages that include popular tours, lodging, and meals. They also play host to weddings, retreats, and other events.

“I love the Black Hills, I think they’re an undiscovered gem. Obviously everybody’s heard of Mount Rushmore, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that the Black Hills are an incredible recreation area in themselves.” —Sarah Dusek

Dusek says helping people better experience the beautiful spaces around them is a big part of the concept.

“One of the things we felt very passionate about when we started this business was that we wanted to be a bridge to the outdoors. So people who are maybe slightly adventurous, but aren’t necessarily big outdoors people,” said Dusek.

“Maybe they just have a little bit of adventure in their spirit,” she suggested. “And they love the idea of having someone help them get into the outdoors in a very comfortable and easy way – then those are our people.”

Across the country, more and more people are following the urge to play outside.

According to the 2018 North American Camping Report, more than 6 million new households started camping since 2014. The study, supported by Kampgrounds of America Inc., also found the number of people who camp three or more times each year has jumped by 64 percent.

Millennials in particular are flocking to camping more quickly than other groups. More accessibility – with the help of social media and technology – is a big contributor to that, the report says, with more people feeling more prepared to set up camp.

Glamping, then, offers certain benefits to this group – who are the most likely to be interested in the luxury activity. Easy to find and book online – a hassle-free way to explore a new place. A campsite under Mount Rushmore on which visitors don’t even need to Google “how to pitch a tent.”

The tourism industry is taking notice. Michelle Thomson, president and CEO of the Badlands and Black Hills Tourism Association, says her region has worked to embrace the growing interest.

“The camping experience as a whole has gotten really big throughout the United States and especially in the Black Hills as well, because we do have such amazing camping experiences here.”

According to the Badlands and Black Hills Tourism Association, about 13.9 million people visited South Dakota last year and nearly 40 percent of that tourism spending happens in the Badlands and Black Hills region. While Mount Rushmore and other National Parks have historically been the region’s biggest draws, Thomson says opportunities for outdoor activities have been growing in popularity – and are drawing back repeat guests.

“I think it really helps open us up even further to the world,” she said, with glamping generating growing interest among international tour operators.  “We do have such amazing camping experiences here.”

“Over recent years, outdoor recreation has become more and more important for visitors who are coming to the Black Hills – people who really want to experience nature, and do the hiking, and biking, and rock climbing, and canoeing and all the wonderful things we have.”

Drawing a growing interest in outdoor recreation to the region fits into a larger campaign on behalf of South Dakota’s Tourism Department, which projects a busy summer for visitors. In May, the department reported that they’d seen big increases in web traffic and Vacation Guide requests – indicators, they say, that marketing efforts across the country are working.

But they’re also pushing for international interest. Thomson’s association is excited to now be able to throw glamping into the mix, which, she says, is a popular activity among world travelers.

“I think it really helps open us up even further to the world,” she says, with glamping generating growing interest among international tour operators.

“They are so excited that we have this glamping opportunity in the Black Hills with a view of Mount Rushmore, and all of these luxury experiences and the great outdoor activities that people can do while they’re here.”

“It brings us jobs, it brings in sales tax revenue, it contributes to the quality of life of the residents that live here.”  —Michelle Thomson

Part of the company’s mission to get people outside also includes protecting the outdoors, with steps taken to leave a smaller footprint on the environment. They say their camps use less water than similar-sized hotels, and use alternative energy sources when possible. They also plan to produce zero waste by 2020 by eliminating plastics and upping recycling efforts.

All this, according to their website, is part of how they acknowledge that “Nature is the best architect” – helping to connect visitors with the natural wonders in their own backyards or across the world.

“Our goal is to be a bridge really to help people access the outdoors, and people who want to have an experience, want to do something slightly more unusual than a basic hotel room,” said Dusek. “We love to think about how we create experiences and make memories for people.”

For more information on Under Canvas, visit undercanvas.com


    Critters and bugs could find it.
    Temperatures can change a lot when the sun goes down.
    Tents don’t ‘lock’ – keep them safe in your vehicle.
    With a USB end to charge through the camp’s solar lanterns. Service can be spotty in some of these remote areas, so check with your provider to find out about coverage.


  • Tourism is the South Dakota’s sixth-largest industry
  • 13.9 million people visited in 2017
  • Visitor spending in 2017 supported nearly 38,000 jobs – that’s enough to employ everyone in both the city of Watertown and Yankton.


  • Grand Canyon
  • Moab
  • Yellowstone
  • Glacier
  • Zion
  • Great Smoky Mountain
  • Mount Rushmore
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