Looking for something a little different for your Memorial Day camping experience next weekend?
Or maybe you want to make plans for a long Fourth of July weekend in the North Woods?
Hipcamp.com may be for you. Think of it as the Airbnb or Trivago of camping, but with an offbeat attitude.
Hipcamp encourages and recruits private landowners to open up space - in their backyard, along their lake, river, farm or ranch - for campers to rent. It then lists and promotes those sites, along with most public campgrounds, to prospective campers.
Alyssa Ravasio founded the site in 2013 but said the company grew slowly at first focusing mostly on public campgrounds - state parks, national parks and forests, etc. But campers continually reported that the public sites were already booked. (For example, most popular Minnesota state park campgrounds are full for Memorial Day weekend; many are already full for the Fourth of July.) That gave Hipcamp organizers the inspiration to recruit and encourage private landowners to open their property for campers.
"Our campers told us they need more places to go. The lack of access was an impediment to getting outdoors for a lot of people," she said.
The lack of camping equipment - tents, stoves, sleeping bags - also is an impediment, Ravasio noted, which is why the company encourages landowners to offer glamping options with more amenities provided.
"A lot of people don't have all the gear to go camping,'' she said. "We're trying to make it easier, both for the landowner and the camper."
You can download the Hipcamp app or use its website to search for camping and cabin rentals for a big summer trip to Yellowstone and Yosemite or a weekend much closer to home. The company makes its money by charging campers a service fee for the convenience of online shopping and bookings. (On a $45 three-night campsite bill, for example, the Hipcamp service fee is $6.75, much like the fees you'd pay to book a public campground online.)
Search for Duluth on hipcamp.com and a potpourri of options pop up on an easy-to-use, interactive map - from simple campsites in someone's backyard to remote tent sites, state parks, national forest campgrounds, municipal parks and off-the-grid yurts and tipis. Several locations offer full glamping amenities, like beds with mattresses. There are also both tiny house-sized cabins and traditional cabins listed.
Here's a smattering of what we found on hipcamp.com in the Northland:
• For $59 a night you can rent a clear plastic bubble to camp in. Bring your own sleeping pads and bags. The stargazing bubble is just a mile from Interstate State Park on the St. Croix River near Taylors Falls, Minn. It's received a rating of 100 percent from four reviewers. (The same location, Stone Creek Farms, also has a yurt for rent for $40 per night.)
• Camping With the Critters near Cook offers campsites on a rescued animal farm, like a petting zoo with tenting. "Yoga with goats meets camping with alpacas! We offer camping in the small animal pasture... We also offer campsites away from the critters,'' the Hipcamp entry notes. Bring your own tent; $15 per night, says owner Lisa P. "I have a menagerie of animals, many rescued or adopted, that love all the attention. My friends' kids love camping in the pasture with the animals and when I saw an ad for Hipcamp, I thought maybe others would want the experience, too!"
• Camp Floodwood is owned by the city of Floodwood. It's described the "best kept secret'' in the region. For $15 per night it offers campsites nestled under a forest canopy that are "large enough for RV's but quaint enough for tents." Enjoy fishing on the banks of the St. Louis River or throw your kayak in the water to play. Walk into town four blocks away for a burger, ice cream cone or stock up on supplies. Flush toilets, potable water, shower house and electricity on site.
• Sanctuary at Little Sand in the woods near Bayfield offers both a 12-foot by 14-foot safari tent and a 16-foot tipi, $87 per night. "Our eco-glamping tents are set up for simple and fresh comfort with real mattresses, cotton linens and minimal furniture,'' their Hipcamp entry notes. "However, at the end of the day, this is still the Northwoods. This may not be for everyone, as there are coyotes that howl at night, owls that hoot, a couple of pileated woodpeckers that stay busy, deer, our resident porcupine that likes to roam around the property, millions of stars and no major modern facilities."
• Run Wild is a 14-acre site along the Whiteface River just east of Cotton. Owner Patrick H. offers it for campers for $40 per night. Bring your own everything, but the site is reachable by car.
• Looking for a spot to camp in Duluth proper? Tonya B. will rent you a campsite for $15 per night in her yard along Kingsbury Creek in western Duluth. Tents only. She calls it Kingsbury Creek Paradise. It, too, has a 100-percent rating from Hipcamp "community" members who are verified to have stayed at the place.
• Up near Crosby Manitou State Park there's a small cabin - the owners call it a tiny house - for $40 per night. Long Haul Homestead also offers an even smaller cabin for $25 per night and canvas yurts and tents for as little as $15 per night. You can either hike in 45 minutes to the homestead or ride an ATV. The owner says a 4x4 truck might make if it has at least 10 inches of ground clearance to miss the rocks. The place is off the grid but offers wood heat and a wood-fired outdoor clawfoot bathtub. Outdoor-access composting toilet. Bring your own water and food.
• Just off the Gunflint Trail, Tall Pines Wilderness Yurt offers comfortable, upscale glamping on a lake with a canoe included. Wood heat, heated sauna and an outhouse. The yurt with padded bunks (bring your own sleeping bag) is $118 per night with a two-night minimum.
All state park and most national forest campgrounds are listed on Hipcamp, although you have to click and go to the state or federal reservation systems to check availability and book a site. Hipcamp also lists owner-rented, full-service, full-amenities cabins.
San Francisco-based Hipcamp calls itself the largest online camping booking service in the nation. It now offers online access to 370,000 campsites. Some 4.2 million people visited the site in 2018. So far, people have booked more than 150,000 nights through Hipcamp.
Other sites, like glamping.com and glampinghub.com, offer a higher-end list of glamping destinations across the globe (that includes a place in Belize on glamping.com that lists for $1,679 per night U.S. dollars.)
Ravasio founded Hipcamp with campers in mind. But it's also become a great place for landowners to get their feet wet renting campsites or cabins. Individuals with separate websites or Facebook pages often get lost in the crowd when people are shopping for vacation destinations.
Hipcamp takes care of all the work to list new sites, even sending a photographer out to the campsite, all free to the landowner. Hipcamp's only fee comes when the camper pays for the campsite.
"We don't get paid until the landowner gets paid," Ravasio said.
In addition to advertising and booking services, Hipcamp also provides free liability insurance for all their listed properties. Hipcamp monitors each listing to make sure they meet company standards in addition to keeping track of camper reviews of each site. If a campsite hasn't had many reviews, the website clearly states that.
What is glamping?
Glamping is a joining of glamorous and camping. One dictionary defines it as "a form of camping involving accommodation and facilities more luxurious than those associated with traditional camping." One description in Urban Dictionary describes glamping as "like regular camping but with nicer things than usual, being warmer and more comfortable. Glamping isn't done by usual outdoor types who climb mountains."
The term glamping is traced back to about 2005, originating in the United Kingdom, and it's been in the Oxford dictionary since 2016. But the idea of fancy camping goes back much longer. Historians say perhaps the most extravagant example of glamping occurred in 1520 when King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France met in a field in northern France for a major summit. Some 2,800 tents were erected and fountains ran with red wine.