We’ve discovered something new—a type of camping that only exists in commercials. You know, the ones where some soulful dude plucks a guitar by a roaring fire, while his attractive friends laugh amiably in the background…? Like that. Except in our case, it cast our one year-old toddler running around giddily because she’s just seen her first chicken, and we’re sipping wine at a picnic table while looking out across rolling vineyards, enjoying the life of a pair of relaxed ranch-hands—if just for a moment.
We live in San Francisco, a place where natural beauty is second to none. But I dare you: Try to find a campsite close to the city. No luck? Me neither. If you want to secure a campsite in California, you need to be poised at your computer, mouse in hand, at 8am on the first of every month, when campsites become available for reservations six months out. Don’t know your schedule in six months? Join the club. And don’t forget, you’ll be competing with thousands of other bone-tired urban dwellers, all looking to lock down that prime spot near the beach or the cliff-side patch with the spectacular ocean view.
Many times, we’re vying for campsites that are jammed up against each another, and while these campgrounds have their advantages—there’s nothing like seeing everyone’s kids scrambling around the redwoods in their pajamas—sometimes you want a bit of space. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could drive to a place and have it all to yourself? Just raw, unspoiled land?
Enter land sharing. Think Airbnb, but instead of houses and apartments, you get to stay on unique parcels of private land. At the moment, there are a handful of companies connecting campers to land sharing opportunities, including Hipcamp, Tenttr, and soon-to-be launched, Untrodden. Last weekend, we tried one of Hipcamp’s new additions, the Sonoma WineFarm, and it was fantastic.
We left the city after work and made it to the Winefarm around 5:30pm on a Friday. Once we hopped out of the bus, the toddler-whimpers gave way to wonderment. Cindy Studdert, the owner, quickly saw how much our little one loved animals and offered to send the sheep out to graze on the earlier side. After 20 minutes of watching our young’un chase the animals around, we could’ve driven home right then and been completely satisfied.
Their hospitality didn’t end there, though. The Studderts set us up for the morning feed, with chicken feed and alfalfa flakes for the goats. (Our daughter was beside herself.) They also made sure to feed the humans, leaving out two bottles of wine in a little outdoor sitting area for us to swill at our leisure. As I watched the sun set over the vineyards on Saturday, I appreciated how, only a few months ago, this experience would have been impossible.
While not every site is guaranteed to come with baby farm animals or amazing hosts like the Studderts, what’s currently available is impressive. Every site offers something unique, and for the most part, they share one common feature: privacy.
We think land sharing is going to change the camping paradigm in a few ways. Half the challenge of getting people outside is helping them discover and learn about camping. Through this new crop of land sharing websites, reviewing potential getaways is not unlike thumbing through an issue of Outside Magazine. Properties feature private lakes, creeks, hilltops with stunning views, redwood groves, hot springs, and even caves.
It’s also making it easier for everyone to get a piece of the action by adding a large and growing number of campsites to the pool. Perhaps most important, though, is that for those of us who live in cities where booking is basically a bloodsport, the prospect of land sharing has redefined convenience. Now, we can decide a few days before the weekend to drive one hour outside the city and have an overnight experience on a beautiful farm. With a backyard petting zoo. And complimentary wine. And no one to fight for a view.
Kip Clifton is the founder of Fireside Provisions and Chief Executive Officer of Trail Mixes. Read more about his story here.