Going Wild on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

A self-proclaimed city girl emerges from the Canadian wilderness with a new love of nature—and a fondness for high-end glamping. 

By Jacquelyne Froeber

The view from my tiny floatplane window makes me gasp: Mountains bristling with cedar and spruce rise steeply from the margin of the dark sea. But it's not a gasp of wonder. I'm more about stilettos than salmon fishing, and that's some serious Canadian wilderness down there.

To be fair, while I'm freaking out about heading into a part of Vancouver Island only accessible by floatplane or boat, I will not exactly be roughing it. We're touching down at the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, a redoubtable destination known for putting the "glam" in glamping. Our group is met by a horse-drawn carriage, which transports us elegantly up a dirt road for check-in at Clayoquot's cedar-log lodge, poised right at water's edge.

Soon it's time to set up camp, but I'm not pitching my tent—it's waiting for me down a winding wooden boardwalk. My canvas accommodations are roughly the size of a studio apartment and decked out with the kind of camping gear you'd expect to find on Victorian expeditions: large chests, glass lanterns, and distressed ottomans that make me feel like a true adventurer back in the day. Silky faux-fur throws are strewn over the soft linens, blankets are piled high on the bed, and the ensuite bath has warming floor tiles and an exhilarating outdoor rainfall shower that allows the steam from the hot water to rise around you.

On this beautiful afternoon, fly-fishing, archery, heli-hiking, and other adventures await. I don a bright orange warming suit and hop aboard a Zodiac for a seaborne expedition out across Clayoquot Sound. We skim fast and smooth over the glassy water, and then cut the engine just a few yards from the spray of a blowhole—a humpback whale giving us a show.

We whirl past barking sea lions and a lone otter turning his curious teddy bear face toward the boat, and then drop anchor on the boulder-strewn shore. I nervously traverse the rocky gauntlet, and follow the group on a hike into the island's dense forest. We tiptoe across fallen tree trunks covered in moss, avoiding the lime green banana slugs sharing our route. I slip a few times, but it's mostly because I can't stop staring up at the glittering treetops that seem to be ignited by the sunlight.

As the days pass, heading into the wilderness becomes more, well, natural: On one hike, guide Cheryl and I spot what we think are cougar scratches and spy lumbering black bears in the distance. A horseback ride across rocky Bedwell River is a thrilling journey with bald eagles soaring overhead. I feel my greenhorn nerves evaporating.

On my last morning, Clayoquot's manager, John Caton, pulls me aside. "Are you up for an adventure?" he asks. We drive to a clearing, where we board a helicopter and chopper up to the top of a mountain peak. Caton has set up the latest resort excursion: an overnight retreat with one luxury tent for sleeping, a lounge tent, and a kitchen tent for the chef. The cobalt ocean stretches to the horizon, and snow-capped mountains frame the sea. "Can we hike around a bit while we're up here?" I ask. My own words surprise me. In the gentle hands of Clayoquot, an outdoorswoman emerges.

Rates start at $4,750 per person (three nights, all-inclusive); 888/333-5405 or wildretreat.com.

Photos, from top: Courtesy of Clayoquot Wilderness Resort; Chris Cheadle/Getty Images

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