Camping and Backpacking

Campsites Opening on Private Lands in the Bay Area

April 29, 2016

Want to go camping close to the Bay Area, but all the parks are booked? There is, as they say, a website for that. Hipcamp, a company founded in 2013 to improve the reservation process for public parks nationwide, is now facilitating camping on private land—opening up more than 200 new places in California for overnight outdoor trips, Hipcamp founder Alyssa Ravasio says.

Areas nearby that a longtime resident might have learned to consider not campable due to the absence of public parks—or just the impossibility of getting reservations at the few existing sites—are now available. You can stay in a tepee with a 270-degree ocean view on a horse ranch overlooking the Pigeon Point Lighthouse in Pescadero. Pitch your tent in a vineyard in Napa or in an olive grove on a farm near Lake Berryessa. Or take a group to a secluded redwood grove on Salmon Creek in Sonoma. Or sleep in a yurt on a private farm on the Garcia River near Point Arena, upstream from the new Stornetta Public Lands California Coastal National Monument.

The theory, Ravasio says, is that connecting campers and private landowners is win-win: campers find new places to stay, while ranchers, farmers and land trusts looking for financial help to hold on to their land make extra money. The landowners list the property with Hipcamp and control their own pricing and availability; it’s more or less VRBO for outdoor camping. “All these different landowners have this desire to share their land with the community and also make some revenue and offset the cost of owning the land,” Ravasio says.

Hipcamp requires that landowners supply a toilet. Aside from that, the listed sites vary widely in activities, accommodations, and amenities. “This really is about empowering local people to access nature, all around them,” Ravasio says.

The idea to start adding private lands to Hipcamp came from a landowner in Big Sur who thought additional revenue from campers could help him stave off development. “He was trying to figure out how to hold on to his land,” Ravasio recalls. “Property taxes were enough [that] he was having a hard time, and he didn’t want to subdivide it because he knows the animals that live on the land, and he thought camping could be a way to keep the land the way it is.”

Ravasio describes supporting private land stewardship as the “next frontier” for conservation. “You’ve got people who want to get into nature, and you’ve got people who own land,” she notes. “It seems like we can help those people meet each other and create something really powerful for the world.”

About the Author

Eric Simons is a former digital editor at Bay Nature. He is author of The Secret Lives of Sports Fans and Darwin Slept Here, and is coauthor, with Tessa Hill, of At Every Depth: Our Growing Knowledge of the Changing Oceans.