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Sandy River Tipis at dusk and sunset

For many people, travelling is an opportunity to spoil themselves in luxurious accommodations with interesting architectural features, eclectic decor and indulgent amenities. Henk and I are completely on board with this concept – we just like to look for all of those characteristics in places that have, well, more character than you’ll find in a typical hotel – places like the 600 square foot, four-season glamping tipi we got to call home during our stay at Sandy River Outdoor Adventures in Virginia. But there was much more to our stay than just this unique place to lay our heads, because like the name of the company suggests, we got to enjoy a few adventures in this part of Virginia as well.

Glamping, Next Level

Glamping has certainly come a long way since it became part of the vernacular about 15 years ago. Henk and I first got a taste of this on a Tanzanian safari a decade or so ago, although that particular experience sometimes leaned more into the ‘camping’ part and less into the ‘glamorous’ part of the term. Still, we loved it.

So when we had the opportunity to experience tipi glamping while visiting Virginia, we naturally jumped at the chance, and were delighted with everything inside – and outside – our Thunderbird tipi. First off, each of the 6 tipis at Sandy River Outdoor Adventures is unique, and completely designed by the resort’s owners, Mark and Candice Smith, so kudos have to go to them for both their imagination and engineering in constructing these tipis – which are huge!

Thunderbird Tipi interior Sandy River Adventures
Our Thunderbird Tipi interior at Sandy River Adventures

From the moment I opened the door, I was impressed with not just the design of the space, but the actual size of it: at over 600 square feet, our tipi was bigger than most hotel rooms (and many condos in Toronto!)

spacious interior of glamping tipi
Our tipi was absolutely huge. This is only half of it!

Built to be a 4-season lodging, the tipi is outfitted with both heating and air conditioning to keep guests comfortable all year long. The floor is a heated concrete pad, which is a luxurious feature when you first get out of bed, (and a necessity in the colder months), and there is a comfortable sitting area with furniture that is as unique as the tipi itself.

Tipi furniture from Green Front
Our funky furniture came from a local company (more on that later)

Our tipi came with a king-sized memory foam bed, and a futon sofa bed as well, and there was even a TV mounted above the bed if we absolutely had to binge the latest Netflix series. (We didn’t.)

Wine glass inside Tipi

The kitchen area is fully equipped with everything you will need for a short-term stay, including a microwave and mini-fridge, sink, and of course, wine glasses! The central ‘block’ in which the kitchen is housed also helps to divide the space between bedroom/living area and bathroom, which is kitted out with a full glass shower, fluffy towels and all the lotions and potions you would typically expect to find only in a hotel. There is definitely no ‘roughing it’ here.

Thunderbird Tipi Bath amernities
Heated floors AND fluffy bathmats = luxury glamping

TIP: Tea and coffee are provided in the tipis, but if you’d like other groceries or sundries, you might want to hit up the stores in nearby Farmville which is only an 8 minute drive away. Or if you prefer to leave the cooking entirely to others, you can always book one of the restaurants in town for meals, like the North Street Press Club, where Henk and I chose to have dinner one night.

Tacos at the Press Club
Tacos at the North Street Press Club in Farmville

Firelight and Starlight

Tipi with firepit at dusk

It’s not a glamping stay without the opportunity to appreciate the outdoors, and Sandy River’s tipis are well equipped for that as well: each tipi has a firepit with both picnic table and lounge-y chairs waiting right outside your door, and it is the perfect place to enjoy a crackling fire as you sip a glass of chilled wine.

If you are looking for a nostalgic treat, you can even order a s’mores kit from the office. Or simply gaze overhead as the stars come out: this location may not be an official dark sky preserve but being out in the country means the stars definitely come out to play, like the Orion constellation which made an appearance right over our tipi following a pretty impressive sunset.

A moon AND the Orion constellation over our tipi

Solitude or Socializing, You Decide

The six tipis are spaced far enough apart from one another that if you want to enjoy a private glamping experience, you can definitely take advantage of some you-time. But if you do want to meet some of your neighbours from the tipi meadow or who may be staying at the log cabins on the other part of the resort, Sandy River provides a number of ways you can get more social, starting with morning yoga.

Tipi Glamping + Yoga Wednesdays

Yoga at Sandy River Outdoor Adventures

Our stay at Sandy River happened to fall mid-week, which meant I had the chance to do a morning yoga class, which Sandy River offers twice weekly in the warmer months to both resort guests and locals (Wednesdays and Saturdays). The class was held in the poolside pavilion a short walk from our tipi, where in between warrior poses and downward dogs, we could enjoy the morning’s fresh air and birdsong. Owner Candice joined us for the Wednesday class, and we had a chance to talk about how Sandy River Outdoor Adventures came about and how it has evolved from a tree-top trekking-style adventure park to a destination that now caters to overnight guests, families, couples, and soft or hard adventure-lovers.

Pool at Sandy River Outdoor Adventures
The pool next to the pavilion was also designed by the owners at Sandy River Adventures

Tipi Glamping + Cocktails!

Sandy River Distillery
Sandy River also has a Distillery on-site with their own craft spirits

Candice and Mark are clearly both born entrepreneurs and when they see an opportunity to add to their enterprise at Sandy River Adventures, or to incorporate more of what guests might want, they jump in with both feet. Seeing the popularity of craft spirits steadily growing, the Smiths were also inspired to open their own distillery on-site as well. Here they not only produce their own bourbons and more, they also bring in bands and offer events throughout the year so guests and locals can gather for good spirits and good fun.

Sandy River Distillery lounge
Trivia nights, bands, line dancing and tastings attract both guests and locals

Kayaking with Great Blue Herons

Although the tree-top adventure course was tempting me (especially the zipline component), Henk and I opted for another adventure offered by the resort: kayaking on the 740-acre Sandy River Reservoir, located about 5 minutes’ drive away. This reservoir is a popular spot for fishermen in the area, but it’s also a great place to go kayaking and spot wildlife.

Jane on Sandy River Reservoir

Henk and I had two kayaks reserved, and after getting outfitted with life jackets at the main office of the resort, we followed one of the staff who transported our kayaks to the launch at the reservoir. It was a warm day, even though it was still late April, and Henk and I headed out onto the water hoping to find an eagle’s nest we had been told about. Instead we got distracted when we encountered not just one blue heron but SIX adult herons who call the reservoir home, and who clearly love the fishing here as much as the locals on the dock.

great blue heron

Herons are one of my favourite birds, and it was amazing to see so many adults in the same place, criss-crossing from one bank to another, dipping into the shallows from time to time to snatch a fish and gulp it down.

TIP: There’s no swimming in the reservoir, so you’ll have to save that for the heated swimming pool back at the resort.

Riding the Rail Trail on High Bridge

It’s a good thing I had limbered up with that morning yoga class, because our adventure-filled day was nowhere near over. Our next stop was to cycle a rail trail that goes right through the nearby town of Farmville and across a famous landmark known as the High Bridge. To do that, Henk and I needed to get all biked-up at Sandy River’s Outdoor Adventure Store, located right in town in a former gas station (and literally 10 yards from where we could pick up the trail).

High Bridge Park sign with Jane on bike
The Outdoor Adventure Store is literally right beside this access to the rail trail

The Adventure Store was yet another initiative by the Smiths, and it rents everything from mountain bikes to tandems to 3-wheel cruiser tricycles, including a couple of different styles of electric bikes. Henk and I opted for the e-bikes (or easy-bikes, as I call them!), having really enjoyed riding them in Penticton the year before, and we found these bikes were even lighter and simpler to ride. Setting out on the 4.5 mile (7km) stretch of trail to get to the bridge, we took advantage of the beautiful weather and took our time so we could enjoy the scenery along the trail, and not just race to the bridge.

The High Bridge from Above…

High Bridge over the side showing supports
High Bridge was originally supported on brick pillars

High Bridge certainly lives up to its name: at 125 feet high where it straddles the Appomattox River and 2400 feet long, this is the longest recreational bridge in Virginia (and one of the longest in the US). It was build in 1853, and is now the centrepiece of HIgh Bridge Trail State Park, and because of its role in the Civil War, is a Virginia Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places as well.

The original bridge was supported by brick structures, which you can still see when you peer over the side of the bridge, but today it is supported by steel trestles instead. What is interesting, though, is that bricks from those supports were reclaimed and used to construct buildings in the town of Farmville, including one that served as a hospital for many years. (talk about reducing, reusing and recycling!)

Farmville at dusk
The red building in the background here in Farmville was one of many built with reclaimed bricks from the bridge

…High Bridge from Below

High Bridge from the River below
A pretty trail takes you to the river below High Bridge

Following the advice we received at the Adventure Store, Henk and I decided to also hike down to the base of the bridge where it spans the Appomattox River, so we could get another perspective of the bridge from below. The trail we hiked was an easy one, passing right by the site of a former Civil War defensive bunker, then down a pretty tree-lined trail to the river’s edge and continuing under the trestles. We chose to have a mini-picnic here under the bridge, and enjoyed the views from below as much as we did from up top.

High Bridge below trusses

TIP: There is a bike rack just past High Bridge where you can lock your bikes during your hike, and two paths that take you down to river level: the one closest to the rack is a gradually-sloping gravel path, the one on the opposite side of the trail is the prettier one (and not difficult at all). Both connect up, so you can’t go wrong with either.

High Bridge bike rack near trail

Bizarre Farmville Facts

Love sign near High Bridge Farmville
“Love” sign near High Bridge Farmville is part of Virginia’s #LoveVA campaign

Heading back to Farmville to return our e-bikes, we decided to explore more of this cute town, where we learned a little of its 225 year history, including that it is home to two colleges, and is one of the older towns in the States. It was also home to Vince Gilligan, who was the creator of Breaking Bad (who knew?), and that it was once the site of a scandalous tobacco plantation named Bizarre. The story of this plantation lives up to its name and reads like a gothic novel, with suspicions of incest and murder involving the landowners and their family.

Of course, nothing so bizarre remains today, either literally (the plantation is long gone) or figuratively; instead there are cute stores, brewpubs, super-friendly people and pleasant surprises. One of these is the fact that Farmville is the flagship location for one of Virginia’s most successful furniture companies and one of the US’s top furniture retailers, Green Front Furniture. Dickie Crallé, who heads up the business, comes from a proud, fifth-generation Farmville family who started this business in 1955.

Green Front Furniture showroom
Each Green Front showroom features different styles of furniture, from the exotic to the contemporary.

Today, not only does this company offer some amazing deals on exotic merchandise including Oriental rugs (I’m talking seriously good bargains here!), but they have also preserved much of the historic town centre by restoring old warehouse buildings and turning them into showrooms. (There’s even a printed guide to help visitors navigate the 16 different buildings!)

Green Front Furniture Rugs
Jane calculating if this will fit in a carry-on!

We were chatting with one of the store managers who toured us around some of the 650,000 square feet of retail space they have here, where we recognized some of the unusual furniture that was in our tipi, too. With all styles of furniture and accessories that they either manufacture or import from southeast Asia and beyond, this did feel a bit like a global shopping adventure, and I was only sorry that Henk and I hadn’t come to Virginia with a truck!

MORE HOPPY SURPRISES: After shopping, pop into the BrewHouse in Farmville for Happy Hour like Henk and I did and enjoy a local craft beer for only $3.50. And maybe stay for one of their amazing-looking burgers.

Jane Wings Farmville
Jane found her wings in Farmville

Much More than a Glamping Tipi

When Henk and I first learned we could experience tipi glamping on our visit to Virginia, we were thrilled. What we didn’t expect was that our stay at Sandy River Outdoor Adventures would offer so much to do and explore in the area, beyond a luxurious stay in a unique accommodation.

But then again, that seems to be our experience with visiting Virginia – there’s always so much to discover here and everything either comes with its own story, or gives visitors the opportunity to make their own.

Special thanks to Virginia Tourism who hosted Henk and I on our visit, and to Sandy River Outdoor Adventures for amping up our tipi glamping experience with some of their signature adventures.

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Jane with Hat Tanzania

Jane Canapini is a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada and the North American Travel Journalists Association. She established in 2014 to share information and tips based on personal experience so her readers could get the most out of their travels.

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