Set on the cliffs above the Pedernales River, about five miles northwest of Johnson city, Walden Retreats’ safari-style tents are decked out with king-size Casper beds, inviting clawfoot tubs with Hill Country views, air-conditioning, and leather-bound copies of Thoreau’s Walden and Civil Disobedience. Owner Blake Smith hopes his “Four Season Hotel version of a tent” will be the launch of a glamping concept he can bring to other areas near major cities around the country—he’s searching for land outside of Atlanta next.
Smith, a Dallas native, first started dreaming of creating a retreat of his own while living in Uganda, where he helped found the Akola Project, a social enterprise business. Weekends meant escapes to African ecolodges in tree houses, or going on safaris and staying in tents with friends who came to visit. His idea for creating a safari tent lodge gained momentum when he left Uganda to pursue his MBA at Austin’s Acton School of Business. “I spent a lot of time trying to find the right name for the kind of places we are aiming to create. Thoreau’s Walden is the embodiment of what we are after—giving people time and a place to escape to nature,” he says. “We aim to give people this easy and accessible way to experience the outdoors, in an elevated way while still experiencing the fun of camping out by cooking, building your own fire, and even splitting your own wood.”
Ahead of its opening on April 19, here’s a first look at Walden Retreats’ plush interiors and expansive setting on 96 acres of private land along the Pedernales.