Like Kermit said, it’s not easy being green. But a stay at El Capitan Canyon, a semi-luxurious “glamping” campground outside of Santa Barbara, Calif., reminds me that I have to keep trying to be environmentally responsible. The high-end campground’s dedication to environmental stewardship shows everywhere, from the canyon’s car-free rule to its organic vegetable garden. A weekend at El Capitan renewed my enthusiasm for striving to be green. Now if only I could keep alive my backyard herbs and remember to take my reusable bags with me into the grocery store.
Located 20 miles north of Santa Barbara, El Capitan is a mix of wood cabins, tent cabins and yurts set in a canyon across the highway from El Capitan State Beach. It is one of the first campgrounds to inspire the use of the word “glamping”, referring to a camping experience loved by those who don’t relish the no-frills reality of camping but that hardcore campers call too cushy. Each cabin with shower, or tent with nearby bath facilities has its own fridge, microwave, and outdoor fire pit and picnic table. If you don’t want to roast your own hot dogs over a fire pit, you can cheat at the general store, with a kitchen that cooks up organic breakfasts, lunches and casual dinners. Depending on the season, you can buy tickets to group cookouts and wine tastings held on the lawn outside the general store.
You can do as much or as little as you want on a stay at El Capitan. Walk or bike to the beach, relax by the solar-powered pool, sit on your cabin patio with a glass of wine and watch the deer roam at dusk, or get active and discover how El Capitan gives back to nature. We gathered at the general store for a hike up the Bill Wallace Trail, which provides public access to the 2,500 acre El Capitan Canyon backcountry. Our tour guide was none other than one of the owners of El Capitan, a gentrified cowboy who, as we walked up the hilly trail, educated us about the llamas we were soon to see at El Capitan’s farm. I breathed deeply to take in the clean air, and enjoyed the spectacular ocean views from the cool shade of sycamore trees. This would be the life, tending to a small farm overlooking the Gaviota coast. Everybody on the tour got a chance to feed the llamas, who were protecting the goats. The organic farm, as our guide explained, provides food to local farmer’s markets and restaurants around Santa Barbara.
There is also an onsite nursery where plants are grown from seeds and cuttings found around the canyon. The creek that winds through the canyon is being restored to encourage a return of the Steelhead fish population that once thrived here. Fallen trees are turned into picnic tables, fencing, stairs, signs, etc.
I tried to leave as small a carbon footprint behind from my trip as I could. I want this unique part of California, and the world, to stay as beautiful as it can for my children and theirs. Because what nature gave me on this trip, a sense of reconnection with my family, rest, peace and a commitment to do better, is far worth the extra effort it takes to carry my reusable bags into the grocery store.