As experienced campers know all too well, reserving a campsite in popular parks and outdoor recreational areas often requires a considerable amount of planning. The most sought-after parks and campsites open up for bookings months in advance and spots sell out quickly.
For those of us who are incapable of committing to a camping trip so far ahead or are, quite frankly, looking for something different than the usual campsites that attract the masses (we’re looking at you, Yosemite), a growing list of websites and apps offer a way to book a unique camping experience.
Whether you want to rent an Airstream or customized Sprinter van or book a stay on a camel dairy farm or pristine plot of private land, these are the apps and websites connecting outdoor enthusiasts to camping adventures that are bound to be a refreshing departure from the traditional road trip.
Rent an RV and book local experiences on Outdoorsy
Not only does Outdoorsy—a sharing economy-style booking tool for recreational vehicles that is available in 14 countries—list some 50,000 RVs and camper vans to rent, but as of this summer the booking site also offers thousands of experiences you can tack onto your rental.
Billed as the Airbnb of RVs, Outdoorsy enables RV owners to list and rent out their vehicles to would-be road-trippers. The listings include Airstreams, more compact camper vans, teardrop trailers, tricked-out Class C RVs with all the bells and whistles, and more.
In a sharing economy win-win, the site allows the vehicle owners to make some money off their RVs when they aren’t using them, and gives the rest of us the opportunity to road test the model of our choosing.
Once you have booked your desired wheels, you can round out the rental with local experience add-ons (for an extra cost) thanks to a recently inked partnership between Outdoorsy and online tour and experience provider Viator. You can search for activities based on your destinations or interests. Examples of the types of experiences you can book include a winery tour in Napa, a helicopter flight over the Poconos, and a snorkeling excursion in the French Riviera.
The one caveat is that Outdoorsy does not yet offer the ability to book an actual RV campground or site, something it hopes to make available by the end of the year. In the meantime, the site directs renters to Kampgrounds of America (KOA), a network of more than 500 campgrounds in North America. Outdoorsy also provides recommendations on how to reserve and book campsites in and around local, state, and national parks and recreational areas in its extensive park guides. (Pro tip: Head to sites like Hipcamp and The Dyrt, listed below, to find off-the-beaten-path RV sites.)
The Outdoorsy RV rentals range from around $50 per day, all the way up to $800 per day, with most falling in the $100 to $250 range.
Use Hipcamp to stay on a mushroom farm or in a military bunker
Forgo mainstream camping locales, and pitch a tent on a vineyard or at an ape conservation center instead. The booking platform Hipcamp lists camping sites in locations throughout the United States that you would be hard-pressed to dream up.
Among some of the most interesting listings are the option to camp on a working shiitake mushroom farm in the Finger Lakes region of New York; to stay in a yurt on a camel dairy farm in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado; and to sleep in a 1939 World War II military bunker in Washington off the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The site specializes in untraditional camping and RV sites on both public and private lands, as well as in cool and unusual lodgings, such as tiny homes, farmhouses, yurts, dome huts, and tree houses.
Added bonus: Hipcamp recently launched a new mobile app on which you can book its more than 300,000 convention-breaking campsites.
Glamp in a platform tent on private land with Tentrr
Available in 39 states, Tentrr offers two different levels of camping experiences—one glamorous and one rustic. For the former, campers stay in a safari-style platform tent set up by the company on a private plot of land. The tents go up at the start of the camping season and typically come down in the winter, especially in places where there is snow.
The large canvas tent is situated atop a wooden deck and is outfitted with an air mattress-topped queen-size cot or queen-size bunks. Each site comes with an additional five-person pop-up dome tent, a five-gallon container of water, an outdoor sun shower, a stone fire pit, a metal grill, a picnic table, two Adirondack chairs, a dry food storage area, and an outdoor camp toilet. To that, CampKeepers (the property owners hosting the tented space) can add a variety of extras, such as the option to rent bikes or kayaks or the ability to order farm-fresh produce or a s’mores kit.
The Tentrr Backcountry experience (the more rustic option) offers campers and backpackers a plot of private land to set up their own equipment and supplies on—essentially space to pitch a tent in someone’s backyard.
Tentrr Signature platform tent experiences range from around $100 to $200 per night; the Backcountry sites start as low as $15 per night.
Use The Dyrt to vet camping experiences with crowdsourced reviews
Not sure which campground you want to settle into?
Campground, RV park, and lodging review site The Dyrt prides itself on thorough user-based photos and reviews of its more than 300,000 listings of sites on both public and private lands. It’s the Yelp or TripAdvisor of camping, if you will, and is now also accessible on The Dyrt’s recently launched mobile app.
To help motivate reviewers to submit high-quality summaries of their experiences, The Dyrt hosts monthly contests. Reviewers can submit for a chance to win prizes based on the quality and usefulness of their reviews—the more elements (photos, video) to the review, and the more times it was shared, the more points the review scores. Users then reap the benefits of detailed reviews to ensure their next camping experience will be a good one.
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