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- When it comes to traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic, vacation rentals are generally agreed upon by experts to be safer than hotels.
- Camping, however, is likely to quell nerves even further as there's far less risk when staying in remote areas and pitching your own tent.
- According to the North American Camping Report, 47% of leisure travelers who like to camp plan to do so in place of one of their canceled trips this year.
- As a result, many traditional campsites are booking up fast, but these lesser-known sites offer convenient alternatives when national parks are full or if you're new to camping.
After hitting another dead end on Recreation.gov, I was just about to give up on my dream of a last-minute, mid-September camping trip to Washington's Central Cascades. The site was either already booked up for every weekend until Thanksgiving, was located too far, or didn't provide enough amenities to satisfy my camping troupe.
As my desired weekend inched closer, I felt more and more like I was in over my head, until I remembered, "doesn't Airbnb list campsites?"
Indeed they do. Scroll through the search filters and you'll find a box to check: Campsite.
I quickly came across a private campsite that fit all my needs. Not only was it available, but as with all Airbnb listings, I could see that it was well-reviewed, with a clear breakdown of pricing and policies.
However, at approximately $100 per night, the site I booked was admittedly five times more expensive than a federal campsite. But, it was located on private property with panoramic views, included a toilet and running water, and was very remote for safe social distancing.
As my trip approached, I discovered another benefit to booking this way. Wildfires were resulting in toxic air actually hovering above my weekend plans. Thankfully, rescheduling on Airbnb was easy. All I had to do was directly communicate my concerns to the host who graciously allowed me to postpone twice while waiting for the smoke to clear.
Had I managed to squeeze in a reservation at a federal campsite, there wouldn't have been an easy way to reschedule and I would have incurred a cancellation fee.
As such, if you're a latecomer to camping like I am, it's important to know that there are many options to consider besides federal sites, which are likely to be booked in your area as well. And Airbnb is only one such other offering.
But you may still encounter some competition as many travelers seek safer ways to travel close to home right now. In May, RV booking sites reported over 1000% increases in RV rentals and Kampgrounds of America (KOA) reported that advanced reservations for the fall months are 28% higher than they were in 2019.
Keep in mind that while campgrounds, and especially private campsites, are largely a safer alternative to hotel stays, there is still no guarantee of safety when it comes to travel right now. We always recommend following guidelines from the CDC and checking local and state regulations before making any travel plans. It's also wise to read up on the CDC's recommendations for best practices for visiting parks and recreation facilities. Additionally, there are currently unprecedented wildland fire conditions in the US and some campsite locations may be closed right now.
That said, if you do want to pitch a tent, these platforms make it easy to search for, plan, and book, great camping getaways. Additionally, KOA and ReserveAmerica are two good resources to keep in mind where you can easily search a large number of campgrounds quickly for availability. However, many of the campsites listed are the same as those you'll find on Recreation.gov and other popular aggregator sites — which means they may not help you out when it comes to finding under-the-radar spots to book in a pinch. Experienced campers can also look to pitch a tent on public lands away from developed recreation facilities on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas.
But for those not quite ready to set off on a backcountry trek, I've compiled the following list and recommendations based on my experiences, along with extensive research, and selected platforms that offer an easy booking experience and solid availability of campsites over the next few months. Additionally, several sites listed below offer private campsite bookings, which is particularly relevant in the COVID era.
These are the best lesser-known websites for finding a last-minute campsite.
Book a camping trip through Airbnb
The world's largest vacation rental site is filled with people who are more than happy to let you pitch a tent in their backyard, as well as small independent campgrounds that promote listings on the site, too.
All you have to do is plug in your desired location and filter for campsites specifically. You can still find plenty of the unique experiences that Airbnb is famous for, like camping on a farm in Maine or in a riverside meadow in California.
Although you won't be able to find a private campsite inside a national or state park, you can still find campsites close to the entrance like this well-stocked campground just 7 miles from Utah's Zion National Park or this beautiful forest-adjacent field just 10 minutes Washington's Olympia National Park.
Pros: It's familiar and if you've built up a high rating as an Airbnb guest, you might be more inclined to stay on the platform.
Cons: It's not commonly known as a place to list campsites, so it may not offer a good representation of all the private campgrounds in the area. Additionally, service, cleaning, and occupancy taxes may be applied to the total bill.
COVID-19 cleaning procedures: In April, Airbnb announced a new optional cleaning protocol that would distinguish listings that commit to them. If a campground has shared amenities like a pool or hot tub, these may not be available.
Book a camping trip through Hipcamp
A site that is touted as the "Airbnb of Camping," Hipcamp lists hundreds of campsites, RV sites, and glamping tents on its streamlined platform. Built with campers in mind, you can filter specifically for your camping needs from running water to ADA accessibility to equestrian access.
You'll also be able to find many listings near popular national parks like this plateau plot near the Grand Canyon, or this site at the largest campground overlooking the sweeping views of Shenandoah National Park. Hipcamp is also a great resource for less traditional camping alternatives and you can rent everything from open-air treehouses to shipping containers.
Pros: Campsite listings are incredibly thorough and they don't stop at just listing amenities. You can also filter by available activities like swimming and climbing or terrain features like hot springs, waterfalls, and caves. Unlike Airbnb, reviewers are able to upload photographs with their reviews which helps create a realistic picture of what to expect.
Cons: You will have to pay a non-refundable 8% to 18% service fee with every listing.
COVID-19 protocol: Hipcamp has introduced a set of safety standards for their hosts to commit to. This includes adjusting the space between sites to ensure social distancing and disinfecting shared spaces and allowing for contactless or physically-distant check-in.
Book a camping trip through The Dyrt
Like Trip Advisor, but specifically for the outdoors, The Dyrt is an incredible resource for planning a camping or hiking trip. It's full of detailed information, reviews, and user-uploaded photographs that can help provide a realistic expectation of what you find before you head out into the great outdoors.
Although you can't book campsites directly on the website, you can still use the website to find thoroughly-reviewed cabins and campsites in state and national parks, as well as private campsites. Every campsite listing includes a link where you can book directly, whether it be on recreation.gov, KOA, or an independent campground.
Pros: Along with campsites, you can also find information about nearby hikes and other things to do, which can help you thoroughly plan your whole trip.
Cons: You can't book directly on this website, but you will be able to check availability for state and national parks.
COVID-19 protocol: Because it's a resource and not a direct booking platform, the Dyrt cannot influence how campsites are managed, but they are compiling information on which campgrounds are open.
Book a camping trip through Glamping Hub
If you're not quite ready to rough it at a traditional campsite, there's always glamping. Glamping Hub has listings all over the world with over 15,000 glamorous camping sites in the US alone.
This booking site is chock-full of unique accommodations from cabins and tiny houses to train cabooses and geodesic domes and there's no need to pack a sleeping bag. Granted, you're not going to convince everyone that a weekend in a cabin with running water and Wi-Fi is still camping, but with a little digging, you can still find off-the-grid locations, like this romantic tent on Washington's Whidbey Island, and hosts that offer traditional camping with a twist like this hanging tent playground in California.
Pros: Glamping Hub's specialty is in unique accommodations, so if your travel tastes align with the eccentric, this is a great place to find hidden gems.
Cons: Prices for some of the most upscale and decked-out glamping sites will be much more similar to a hotel stay than a traditional campsite.
COVID-19 protocol: Glamping Hub has not introduced a standard cleaning protocol for their hosts to follow, but has instead encouraged hosts to highlight their sanitation practices on the listing.
Book a camping trip through Tentrr
A site that is exclusive to listings from private landowners, and even includes property in state parks, Tentrr features listings in 41 states and Puerto Rico. You can filter by the website's "signature" or "backcountry" campsites depending on whether or not you want to bring your own camping equipment or shack up in a glamping tent.
The model of this site offers unique camping opportunities like this abandoned zoo in the Catskills or this quiet forest just five miles away from the Oregon Coast.
Tentrr also lets you purchase extras for your trip right when you book your reservation. These extras are offered by the hosts and vary based on the site. They could be anything from a prepaid firewood bundle and a cooking set to a tour of the on-site apiary or a needle felting workshop.
Pros: Booking a campsite on private property offers seclusion and the opportunity to enjoy landscapes not accessible at any other time. Tentrr also sells its own glamping tents, so many listings will have both a backcountry and signature option.
Cons: At the time of writing, the majority of listings are concentrated on the east coast, particularly in New York. Also, the platform does not allow you to click through to a user profile to see other posts by reviewers.
COVID-19 protocol: Tentrr requires all hosts to follow strict guidelines and an enhanced cleaning procedure that includes providing guests with potable water and disinfectant, allowing self check-in, and thoroughly disinfecting campsites between stays.
Axel Springer, Insider Inc.’s parent company, is an investor in Airbnb.
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