I CAN’T DECIDE IF I’M CAMPING OR GLAMPING. I wake up in an open-air, three walled shelter with nothing in front of me but an unfettered view of the Pisgah National Forest. The breeze can come in. Sunlight can, too. So can birds, and if I think about it too much, bears and snakes.
Yet I’m in an actual bed. A comfortable one! There’s a microwave and a mini fridge. It’s sort of hard to fancy oneself as Thoreau in the woods when I have a block of Gouda and a veggie wrap within arm’s reach.
That’s the beauty of a place like Mountain Light Sanctuary: the experience is what you make it, and you can find your own niche on the camping-to-glamping continuum. Located about 35 miles north of Asheville, North Carolina, the property consists of 18 rustic shelters across 7 acres. Some — like mine, Balihouse — cater to the camper who prefers to be near an electrical outlet. Then there’s MerlinWood, which is literally just a canopied bed in the middle of the forest.
There are no doors, no locks — and no fees. Across the country, retreats like Mountain Light uphold an old-school tradition (like, thousands-of-years-old-school) of welcoming refuge-seekers and travelers for a donation-based stay. While they suggest basic rates, you might even exchange shelter for work around the grounds. You pay what you feel the experience is worth, which, at Mountain Light, may end up being quite a lot; according to the owner, there are fairies and interdimensional beings to be found here.