Looking for a luxury campground? Get a horse!

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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- I've done it in a pop up. I've done it in a tent. I've even done it au naturel; that is, on an island without shelter or facilities.

In other words, I have camped.

So when I heard that El Capitan Canyon, just north of here, calls itself "a luxury campground," I thought this was something I needed to check out.

When I learned that El Capitan Canyon, at 11560 Calle Real, opened the El Capitan Ranch earlier this year on the Gaviota Coast, a half-mile from the campground, I thought, "Aha! A luxury ranch."

It is, if you happen to be a horse. According to a spokeswoman, the ranch consists of stables and a guest riding area. Those of us who sleep lying down do it at the campground.

But here's the beauty part: El Capitan Canyon can indeed be called a luxury campground. Accommodations include 100 cedar cabins and 26 classic safari tents built along a meandering creek a short walk from the Pacific Ocean.

And for those to whom luxury is synonymous with spa, El Capitan Canyon provides spa services in their cabin or safari tent. These include massages with several therapeutic wellness treatments, ranging from a traditional Swedish massage to a hot rock massage.

But what El Capitan Canyon provides most of all is a sense of adventure for people of all ages.

Inside a safari tent at El Capitan Canyon."El Capitan Canyon appeals to a variety of demographics, as it offers a variety of getaways: a romantic cabin for couples; a family stay in a bunk cabin; or a safari tent for those former campers of an older generation now seeking more comfort than pitching a tent," said Terri Bowman, general manager of El Capitan Canyon. "The range of activities is similar. Guests can be as active or as inactive as they like because El Capitan Canyon offers everything from miles of hiking trails and adventure activities to stargazing."

Although the Canyon staff is there to plan a full array of day trips, including whale watching, ocean kayaking, surfing lessons and wine tastings, horseback riding is the main attraction.

"With the opening of the El Capitan Canyon Ranch, I anticipate an increase in family bookings," Bowman said. "Additionally, there are very few places in California where both travelers and their horses can be guests. The Canyon Ranch not only offers a multitude of activities and amenities but has opened miles of riding trails for horse enthusiasts and amateur riders to enjoy."

At El Capitan Canyon, you can bring your own (boarding a guest horse costs $35 per night and includes feed), but owners get a break on the organized trail rides (cost is $20 for any guided ride).

A ride along the Gaviota Coast with its sweeping ocean views costs $47 per person for two hours for those who didn't bring a horse.

The two-hour Canyon lunch ride includes lunch at the ranch, and the hour-and-a-half Canyon sunset ride winds down with a barbecue dinner. Both rides are $72 per person.

El Capitan Canyon features the following packages that combine adventure with relaxation:

• Trailer, Stay and Spa Package: Stay in a Canyon King or Canyon Suite cabin for $335 per night plus tax, Sundays through Thursdays. The package also includes boarding for one horse, one two-hour trail ride and a 55-minute Canyon Massage.

• Ranch & Spa Package: Stay two nights in a Creekside Queen cabin, enjoy a two-hour trail ride for two (approximately two hours) and two 55-minute Canyon massages. The rate is $570 plus tax, available Sundays through Thursdays.

• Ranch & Spa Weekend Package: A weekend version of the Ranch & Spa package. Price is $730 plus tax.

Packages are not commissionable, but the room rate portions are, at 10%. A stay in a Canyon King or Canyon Suite cabin costs $185 per night; two nights in a Creekside Queen cabin is $290. Both are for weekday stays. A weekend in a Creekside Queen cabin costs $350. All rates are valid through May 31.

For more information or to make reservations, call (866) 352-2729, fax (805) 968-6772, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.elcapitancanyon.com.

To contact Destinations editor Margaret Myre, send e-mail to [email protected].

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