Spring is here, which means nature lovers are busy planning their next camping trip. Some will choose forests, others will decide on mountains and some will opt for the beach. All will leave technology behind and trade it in for crickets and moonlight.
However, finding the right campground isn't always easy. In fact, for many it requires hours of researching countless government websites and sifting through Yelp reviews and Flickr images to see what amenities are offered, what kinds of activities are permitted and details about the landscape.
That frustration served as the motivation for Eric Bach and Alyssa Ravasio to create Hipcamp, a website that puts all the information a camper might need in one place. Want to find a campground in a forest in northern California that allows pets, has a grill, showers and picnic tables? You can tailor your search depending on your needs.
That might sound like common sense, but this kind of organization just didn't exist before. Eric Bach told us about the inspiration for Hipcamp, "Our founder Alyssa was trying to find a place to camp on the beach for New Year's Day 2013 and the process was severely frustrating. She spent hours looking through various websites; the information was very fragmented. When she got to the beach at the campground, she noticed there was a perfect wave breaking and everyone had their surfboards. In all of her hours of research this was never mentioned and since Alyssa is a surfer, this really bummed her out. She knew there had to be a better way."
"Hipcamp is the only place you can go that lists campgrounds across all government platforms (national parks, state parks, national forests, etc.)," said Bach. "We make it easy for users to filter through campgrounds based on what matters most. So, you can easily answer questions like, 'Where can I go camping by a lake with my dog next weekend?' We're bringing the world's public campgrounds online, unlocking private lands for camping, and working overall to increase access to the outdoors."
Since the site launched in June, 2013, and raised a few million in seed money, Hipcamp has added campsites in California, Oregon, Texas and Florida with the goal of expanding to more states over the summer, and achieving national coverage by the early fall. Right now, the site has searchable information on 351 parks, 1,985 campgrounds and 52,597 campsites. They are even working on increasing access to private land for campers. Bach reveals that they have 'a few epic pieces of land" that they will be opening up this summer.
The website doesn't just include lists of amenities and general information about the terrain. Like Yelp, Hipcamp relies on users to give the on-ground experience. Bach explained, "Our users (or tribe) play a key role in helping us paint a more complete picture of a state's camping experience. They can upload photos and tips directly to the site. We could use any and all content around past camping trips. It's what helps us get more people outside!"
To streamline the process even further, some campsites can be booked directly on Hipcamp, a feature they are working to make available across the nation. Bach notes that, while that capability is moving forward, there are challenges. "This is an ongoing process, but you will see more and more bookable sites on Hipcamp. We would like to open up the camping industry, just like the travel industry (ex. Kayak for flights, Orbitz for hotels, etc.). A lot of our work is around advocacy and working with our partners to encourage a more open system."
To help make that possible, Bach encourages the public to check out Access Land, a coalition made up of Hipcamp, the Sierra Club, REI and Code for America, that is advocating for a more open system to help people connect with their parks.
Ultimately, Hipcamp is about making getting out in the natural world easier and more accessible, trying to remove the headache from the process, and providing more data where not enough can be found. And, of course, helping the public develop a meaningful connection with the earth.
"Getting out in nature fosters a deeper connection to our world," said Bach. "It's as much about using technology to get people away from technology as it is helping people discover the importance of protecting our beautiful planet. If you haven't experienced something, then you won't protect it."
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