Camp out in a tree house or a goat farm; Hipcamp site lets you rent hidden gem campsites
By TAYLOR DOLVEN | Miami Herald | Published: November 13, 2018
Looking to rent a tree house with a slide-down pole and space for nine? A tent site on a private horse farm? A riverfront spot to park your RV near a half-dozen natural springs?
You can find all these -- plus 300 other campsites -- in Florida thanks to Hipcamp, a website that has just launched in the Sunshine State.
Sites range from $10 per night for a backyard spot on a blueberry farm to about $150 per night (for the tree house). Florida is Hipcamp's fourth state (after California, Oregon and Washington) to officially launch. Travelers can also find properties in other states, but Hipcamp doesn't "officially" launch them until they have critical mass in an area.
Near Miami, options include an avocado grove in Homestead for $45 a night, a sailboat in Key West for $89 and a cabin near the Everglades for $20.
Los Angeles-based traveler Thuc Nguyen, 42, used the Florida site before it hit the "official bar" to plan a last-minute Fourth of July road trip last summer. A goat farm near Tallahassee caught her eye. She and her boyfriend stayed there for one night in their own tent for a $20 fee. The site includes breakfast,water, Wi-Fi; laundry; hot showers with soap, shampoo, conditioner and towels, and two kayaks.
"It was above and beyond what I had hoped for," she said. "For breakfast (the owner) brought out fresh goat cheese and milk, eggs and berries from the farm. There was a giant fig tree near our camping site. She walked us down to the water and told us the history of the flowers in the area, Native American history in the area. It was really simple. It felt like Airbnb."
That's just what Alyssa Ravasio had in mind when she founded Hipcamp in 2013. A camper herself, Ravasio was frustrated by having to use several different websites to research and reserve her own trips. While other sites list formal campgrounds, none includes as large a number of private options. Hipcamp lists almost 350,000 sites nationwide.
Ravasio wasn't alone: Roughly 18 million U.S. and Canadian households camp three times or more each year, according to annual surveys of U.S. and Canadian households by Cairn Consulting Group. And that number is growing rapidly -- by 64 percent since 2014.
The arrangement benefits landowners as well, giving them a platform to make money without developing pristine land.
Michael Foret, 45, has been using Hipcamp to rent the lot next to his house near the Santa Fe and Ichetucknee rivers -- "clear as an aquarium," he said -- for the past year. He said he's owned the property since 2008 and decided to clear it last year to accommodate friends who were visiting. Then, the idea of renting to more visitors occurred to him and he found the Hipcamp online by searching for "camping on private land."
"I've hosted tent campers all the way up to a semi truck with an RV on the back and everything in between," said Foret, who charges $50 per night. "Every different type of person you can imagine. All of them are really amazing, looking for an adventure, looking to get away. We've made some really good friends. We had one guy come for four days and extend his stay to nine days because he liked it so much."
After he listed the property, Foret said Hipcamp sent a "field scout" out to take a few pictures, stay the night and write a review. Since then 19 campers have recommended his property at 100 percent. He would rate Hipcamp about that well, too.
"Their customer service is amazing," he said. "The few times I've needed them they get back to you immediately and they're willing to do whatever it takes."