Camp Orenda, Adirondacks, Johnsburg, New York
The best fall getaways in 2013: Outdoor living goes deluxe
Camp Orenda’s five canvas tents can sleep from two to five people; each has a covered “porch” which is perfect for reading and relaxing. Webb says the brook is popular with young campers, who enjoy splashing around in it
I’ll be perfectly honest: Although I’m an avowed fan of the great outdoors, I’ve never been much of a camping enthusiast. My memories of roughing it center around my days as a Girl Scout; highlights include getting drenched after our tent was blown down in a rainstorm, and breakfasting on uncooked macaroni dipped in peanut butter when the campfire wouldn’t light.
So when the opportunity arose to spend a night “glamping” at Camp Orenda in the Adirondacks, I jumped at the chance. And no, “glamping” is not a misprint. Short for “glamorous camping,” the word refers to a relatively new trend that combines all the fun of camping (exploring Mother Nature, eating meals cooked on an open fire, sleeping under the stars) without all the work (schlepping gear, gathering kindling, pitching a tent) that usually goes along with it.
Owner David Webb opened Camp Orenda in 2011 on a secluded 40-acre site in the Adirondack Park at Johnsburg, about 15 miles northwest of Lake George. The property has been in his family for 50 years. “It was very rugged — a violent, dark, gnarly forest,” he remembers. “As a kid, I would pitch a tent and camp there the old-fashioned way. That helped me get in tune with the outdoors.” In an effort to pass on his love of nature to others, he cleared a portion of the land and hand-built this rustic retreat, using wood from some of the hemlocks and other trees he had had removed.
My husband Reed and I arrived at Orenda on a sunny afternoon, and were instantly greeted by the camp manager, John Souva III, who showed us around.
The five custom-made canvas tents, set on wooden platforms and strategically spaced to maintain privacy, all include real beds — the air mattresses are made up with cotton sheets, warm blankets, and four soft pillows — and a small woodstove (which was a welcome addition when the temperature dipped into the 40s overnight). The open-air shower house is stocked with fluffy towels, biodegradable soaps and shampoo, and (most importantly) an abundant supply of hot water. A far cry from the latrines of old, two private lavatories with flush toilets flank a spotlessly clean sink with a shaving mirror and basket full of washcloths. The camp’s main section features a pair of large pavilions: One houses a communal dining table and sitting/reading area (perfect for rainy days), the other has an inviting breakfast bar and spacious kitchen, on the walls of which hang an array of cast-iron pots and pans.
After spending the afternoon exploring the on-site trails and archery range, we joined five other campers for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. (Did I mention that we’re on a camping trip? In the middle of the Adirondack Mountains?) While the camp does not supply alcohol, visitors are encouraged to bring their own (there’s even a special fridge to keep it cold). We chatted with our camp-mates around the campfire while sipping wine and munching on chicken fingers with camp-made dipping sauces. A three-course dinner followed: chickpea and roasted asparagus salad, wood-fired pizza with four different toppings, and a sinful “brownie muffin” for dessert. Chef Angela Smith prepares Orenda’s meals — rosemary-infused pork chops and pulled pork are other entrées — on an open fire using the aforementioned cookware. Needless to say, there wasn’t a burned hot dog in sight.
After being lulled to sleep by the burbling creek that flows through the campsite, we awoke to a breakfast of apple-berry pancakes and hot, strong coffee. While lingering over the java, we pondered what to do with the day. Orenda offers a laundry list of activities: Swimming, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking are available at nearby Garnet Lake (boats and other equipment are all provided). Webb can also hook you up with local outfitters for white-water rafting, caving, fly-fishing, and rock-climbing trips. We chose to hike up Crane Mountain, a 3,200-foot peak with a steep ascent and great views. Souva, a state licensed and registered guide, led us on this four-hour trek, pointing out interesting flora and fauna along the way. At the summit, he pulled out a picnic that the staff had prepared for us; turkey on whole wheat has rarely tasted so good. After wending our way back down the trail, we bid Camp Orenda adieu and headed back to civilization.
Although a number of glamping facilities exist out West, Webb says that Camp Orenda is the only East Coast business that offers luxury digs, high-end dining, and a full slate of organized activities. Uncomfortable with the glamping label, he prefers to call his retreat “an authentic Adirondack backcountry experience.” “Our campers appreciate the special touches that we do,” he says. “People say, ‘I feel like I’ve been invited here, not like I’m a customer.’ That’s what we strive for. We want people to come away with a good feeling.”
And on that score, we say: Mission accomplished.
IF YOU VISIT
90 Armstrong Rd., Johnsburg. 347-287-7359; www.camporenda.com
The camp is open through Oct. 13. Rates (which include accommodations, meals, and basic camp activities) are $170 per adult per night, $85 for children 10 and under.
WHAT TO DO
Orenda is an all-inclusive glamping experience. If you’re looking for something to do when coming or going, check out: Lake George — one of America’s cleanest and clearest lakes. On Sept. 13, board the steamboat Mohican for a wine- and beer-tasting cruise. 518-668-5777; www.lakegeorgesteamboat.com
FALL FOLIAGE REPORT
Travel the Adirondacks’ Scenic Byways — an exclusive system of 14 scenic driving tours that incorporate gorgeous scenery and interesting local landmarks. The Central Adirondack Trail begins in Glens Falls, and passes the Adirondack Museum and several of the famed Great Camps, which are open for tours. www.adirondackscenicbyways.org/byway.html or http://visitadirondacks.com/attractions/scenic-byways