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Camp in Luxury at Walden Retreats’ Hill Country Safari Tents

Get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life: Stay in a luxury safari tent overlooking the Pedernales River at Walden Retreats in Johnson City. Staff photo by JoAnna Kopp

Glamping, the mix of a wilderness escape and a luxury retreat, has found its way to the Highland Lakes. Located five miles from Johnson City, Walden Retreats has equipped its 500-square-foot safari tents with claw-foot bathtubs, leather lounge chairs, and plush bedding. Currently, two tents are available, both with one bedroom, a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom.

The 500 square-foot safari tents at Walden Retreats are a ‘glamping’ (glamorous camping) experience, offering five-star comfort in the great outdoors. Staff photo by JoAnna Kopp

The tents are hidden on 96 acres of relatively untouched wilderness in the Texas Hill Country. Rugged roads lined with prickly pear lead the way to the facilities, which are perched on a cliff overlooking the Pedernales River. The nearest Wi-Fi signal is miles away in Johnson City. Cellphone service is spotty at best. The closest neighbors are wild turkeys, deer, armadillos, and other wild creatures that call the Hill Country home.

A short, steep hike down to the natural spring-fed pool at Walden Retreats serves as a cool respite from the Texas heat, even when the rest of the river is dry. Staff photo by JoAnna Kopp

“Texas looks a lot like the safari experiences in East Africa, so choosing safari-style tents seemed like a natural fit,” said Walden Retreats CEO Blake Smith, who spent two years living in Uganda. “We’re giving people the opportunity to cook and build a campfire on their own but in a very refined and sophisticated kind of setting.”

Smith considered other options for his Hill Country haven such as yurts, teepees, and geodesic domes. In the end, he felt safari tents were the most fitting for the weather and geographical landscape.

Walden Retreats provides a Field Guide for its guests with information on the grounds, camping basics, and things to do in Johnson City. Staff photo by JoAnna Kopp

“What we’re trying to do is marry the DIY camping experience that you would traditionally have at a campsite with nicer rooms and pre-setup accommodations,” Smith said. “Guests don’t have to worry about the drudgery of setting up a tent, blowing up an air mattress, or even cutting their own firewood.”

With top-tier amenities such as Aesop bath products, a Tivoli bluetooth radio, Wüsthof knives, and a thermal-drip coffee maker, guests can relax in luxury while enjoying the beauty and quiet of a primitive setting.

With fine linens, plus bedding, and air conditioning, Walden Retreats has everything you need for the most luxurious camping experience imaginable. Staff photo by JoAnna Kopp

The creative touch behind the interior design, Sarah Contrucci Smith, is founder and lead designer for Ara Collective, which collaborates directly with master artisans from around the world.

“We wanted the tents to feel well-designed and thoughtful — simple, but luxurious,” Contrucci Smith said. “Bringing in a lot of Latin American accents makes the space feel collected. There are the items I sourced on my trips to Mexico and Guatamala specifically for Walden and vintage pieces from Ara Collective’s line that I knew I wanted in a specific spot.”

The tent interiors are bright and airy. The textures and small details throughout the space make it feel like a home away from home. Staff photo by JoAnna Kopp

The handmade rugs, blankets, baskets, and pillows make the space feel cozy and personal. Each tent has a different design and color palette as well — an artisan world apart from a carbon-copy hotel room.

“I think that people are looking for more personal experiences with the places they’re staying,” Contrucci Smith said. “That’s the difference between Walden and a hotel. You don’t get that personal element with a hotel.”

‘We all need to slow down,’ said Contrucci Smith, who designed several sitting areas for guests to post up and relax with a book in hand. Staff photo by JoAnna Kopp

Hotels aren’t nestled in the wilderness either. Here, the Pedernales River snakes around the edge of the property, and a natural spring-fed pool stays cool and full even when the river has dried up from drought. The water’s edge is a 10-minute hike down a steep but well-groomed path. Guests can enjoy their time by the water swimming, fishing, canoeing, or just relaxing in the sunshine. The property is a beautiful and quintessential representation of the Texas Hill Country.

The Pedernales River cuts through the property, offering the opportunity to hang out by the water. Guests can take out the canoe and cast a line or relax on the shore and catch a tan. Staff photo by JoAnna Kopp

In creating a sanctuary for guests to relax, Blake Smith found Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” a perfect fit for the retreat’s name.

Thoreau wrote about living away from society and spending time with nature.

“‘Walden’ sets the tone for what type of place we’re trying to create,” Smith said. “I spent a lot of time thinking about the name because I wanted it to communicate what type of experience you would have.”

Guests can brew a fresh a cup of coffee and slide into the beautiful clawfoot tub — an excellent spot to soak, read, and relax. Staff photo by JoAnna Kopp

Although he started small with two safari tents to prove his concept, Smith plans to eventually expand to 16 tents. They will be spread across the property so each maintains a feeling of space and privacy. Hiking and mountain-biking trails are also planned as well as a swimming pool and a pavilion for a central gathering point.

An expert in the hospitality business, Smith seeks to provide comfort, luxury, relaxation, and a good time.

Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ is about the author’s pursuit of refuge to reflect on nature, the earth, and humanity. He offers a simple concept of getting away from society, even if just for a little while. Staff photo by JoAnna Kopp

“That’s what I love the most about Walden,” he said. “The guests come out here, and I know they’re going to have a really great time. That gives me a lot of personal satisfaction.”

Visit to book a weekend in the wilderness. Contact (830) 321-0295 or for more information.

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