Up for some glamping, boondocking or bubblecamping? Campground owners, farmers and entrepreneurs alike in Maine and worldwide are pitching new ways of enjoying the great outdoors.
So, you want to go camping and impress the wife and kids with your wilderness know-how. Sounds like a plan, Grizzly Adams, but where to begin?
You could do what you’ve always done and drive up and down the back roads all day until you find a Kampgrounds of America in a small forest next to a car dealership. Or you could get with the times and do what everyone’s doing these days: hit the online camping listings and find exactly what you’re looking for, right down to the finest detail.
Be warned, though. The camping options out there are so numerous and so wildly varied these days, the sheer volume of choices alone could utterly paralyze you.
“Find yourself outside,” goes the listing on hipcamp.com. “Search, discover and book over 285,000 campsites, ranches, vineyards, farms, public parks and more.”
And it’s not just hipcamp. The number of online sources to hook you up with a “camping” spot are overwhelming. Even the popular rental service Airbnb offers camping options among its listings, as does similar VRBO, which soars the number of vacation options into the millions.
And don’t think these sources are just connecting you with scenic places to pitch your tent and roll out your sleeping bag. Among the options: “Camping” in a giant plastic bubble, in a glass-topped igloo to see the northern lights, hanging from a tree, in a human-sized bird’s nest and in an alien spaceship. And that’s just one website.
Me, I went with hipcamp.com and simply searched for all camping spots in my area. I didn’t narrow my search with specific options – treehouse, RV, glamping, domes, beachfront, etc. – so the number of choices that appeared on my screen was dizzying. Those area choices included:
* Toad Hill: “Tree house-style canvas tent in beautiful forest in Chatham, New Hampshire.” The same property owner also offered two tepees, a yurt, a retrofitted ambulance and a converted school bus painted with peace signs and flowers.
* Dragonfly Meadow Farm: “Interested in life on the farm? Enjoy staying in our platform tent on our 10-acre, solar-powered, organic farm! Wake with the chickens, enjoy farm fresh goat’s milk, harvest a meal in the garden, or just enjoy a more simple life!”
* Abundant Animal Encounters: “Hike in to a placid camping area at the back of this working farm. Two sandy sites are available for rough camping, each with its own fire pit. A portable toilet and water are available within a short walk of the sites. Turkey, deer, porcupine, owl and coyote are frequently seen in the evenings.”
* Rural Maine Horse Farm Experience: “Experience a vacation on a quiet, private, Maine horse farm in the quaint town of New Gloucester, Maine. Enjoy our vintage camper with all of the amenities: A/C, heat, hot water, fridge, shower and electricity. Within minutes of local fishing, hiking trails, quaint country store and restaurant.”
* Food Lovers Grove in Turner: “Pitch your tent in and/or around Nezinscot’s pasture overlooking the farm’s biodynamic vineyard and gardens. Spend your night around the fireplace grilling fresh food from Nezinscot’s gourmet food shop or join in on the farm-to-table dinners hosted throughout the summer and fall season.”
GOATS? A YURT? THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY BUS?
For most of an afternoon, I was stunned into inaction. For my first camping experience of the season, did I want to commune with goats on a working farm? Camp in a yurt and find out at last what the hell a yurt is? Bunk out in a painted school bus that looks like something the Partridge Family would party in?
So many options, so little weekend. I was really intrigued by that goat thing so the decision wasn’t an easy one. Ultimately I went with Toad Hill because, A) it has the word “toad” in it and that’s just plain fun; and, B) it’s got a treehouse made of canvas sitting in an area that looks like it might be occupied by elves and fairies.
So, we made the journey to Chatham, N.H., not knowing exactly what we were getting into. With most rental listings, one can get a decent idea of the terrain by reading reviews. Since this spot had no reviews just yet, we were going in blind.
And yet, we did have expectations. We expected the place to be deep in the woods and hopefully not next to a major highway. We expected there to be bugs because, come on. If you’re camping without bugs, you’re probably in a Motel 6.
And for roughly 70 bucks a night, we expected that we’d have to make do without things like showers and televisions and wifi connections during our trip. Common sense, right?
But not everyone has a firm sense of what camping is all about.
“Somebody asked me one time, ‘Where are the streetlights?'” said Justin Fisher, who rents out various spots on Toad Hill. “I said, ‘That’s exactly why I have this place. So I won’t have to look at streetlights.'”
Fisher has had campers rent one of his tepees and then complain because they didn’t realize that the tepee would be surrounded by woods.
“People occasionally will come across something like a yurt and it doesn’t always work out so good because they’re like, ‘OK. We’re in the middle of the woods in a yurt.’ And I think, ‘Well you didn’t read the description of the place, did you?'”
As it turns out, some folks will find themselves camping when, in fact, they want to be glamping. It’s only a two letter difference, but man, it’s huge.
WHAT IS GLAMPING?
It sounds like something that might involve a pulled muscle, but no. The website glamping.com defines this form of recreation as a fusion of camping and glamour.
“Glamping is where stunning nature meets modern luxury,” according to the website. “It’s a way to experience the untamed and completely unique parts of the world — without having to sacrifice creature comforts.”
Glamping is a concept that riles some traditional campers, but it seems perfect for those who want to be outdoors without being – you know. TOO outdoors.
You can find glamping areas that cost roughly the same as a hotel room, although they’re not as abundant as regular tenting spots. Or you can forget about rates entirely and just go whole hog – what’s a few dollars more when you’re on vacation, right?
Try Sandy Pines Campground in Kennebunkport, for example — note, I just said campground — where at roughly $358 for two nights, you can get yourself a glamour tent and take the “rough” out of “roughing it.”
“This 24 x 18 tent features a king-sized bed with luxury linens, seating area, clothes storage, small bath amenity, small fan/heater, cooler, mini fridge and outdoor deck,” goes a standard glamour tent listing at Sandy Pines. “Guests have access to a shared bathhouse.”
Go glamping and you can tell your buddies at the office that you spent a week living in a tent in the Maine woods. Just skip the part about the king-size bed and air conditioning, and technically you’re telling nothing but the truth.
LET’S GO BOONDOCKING
Also big in outdoor accommodations these days is RV camping – which you might have deduced is camping in a recreational vehicle. Careful, though. As with most things camping, when it comes to renting an RV, the devil is in the details. Option A is a 38-foot Winnebago parked next to a golf course and complete with DIRECTV, running water, a working toilet and wifi.
Option B is something slightly smaller: a vintage camper parked on a New Gloucester horse farm, not far from lots of popular beaches.
Option C, meanwhile, is “The Groove Bird,” a Blue-bird short bus, painted like something out of San Francisco’s summer of love, and parked on Fisher’s land out there on Toad Hill. “Kitchen, bathroom and other amenities,” goes the description of that one, “are in or by the barn.”
Camping in “The Groove Bird” would be a blast, if you were prepared for that kind of thing. If you were expecting the Winnebago on the golf course? It could be a long, hard weekend.
The definition of “boondocking” depends on who you ask. Generally, it’s RV camping where the RV in question is wheeled into a remote, underdeveloped area and parked without hookups of any kind. You still get the bed. You still have cupboards, a sink and maybe some solar power to get you through. But DIRECTV and wifi? Get real, yo. This is boondocking.
Let’s face it. Some people don’t consider it camping unless you’re hiking 10 miles into the woods with a tent and sleeping bag slung across your back and nothing but a water filter and hunting knife for survival.
Others like sleeping in a tent just fine, but they prefer to have people around; go to any KOA or most state parks and even though you feel like you’re in the deep woods, there’s a family of eight sleeping in another lot just 20 feet away and there’s probably a cluster of bathrooms and showers just a little ways up the path.
These days, you don’t have to pick one or another. There’s so much available that’s in between that the toughest thing you’re going to face is narrowing down your choices.
For me, the Toad Hill excursion proved just about right. I wanted to be far away from people, and I was: To get to our canvas tent in a tree we first had to drive about a mile up a narrow, barely-there dirt road and then hike another few minutes down a grassy path. There were thick clouds of mosquitoes, ticks the size of manhole covers.
There was a fire pit, a little stream and the canvas, barracks-style tent, which had four walls, a roof and a bug screen. Beyond that, we were on our own in the woods and that was just perfect. Our closest neighbors were a couple in a tepee further up that barely-there dirt road, and a tiny country store roughly 4 miles away.
“I see this place as having the potential for people enjoying nature,” said Fisher, who began offering camping spots on the land two years ago. “You’re kind of around other people, but it’s not like a campground where you’re REALLY around other people.”
Although, to be honest, I’m still kind of curious about that goat thing.
This tent on a platform in the woods, which was booked by the writer on a mosquito-filled weekend in early June, is one of several options offered by Toad Hill owner Justin Fisher in Chatham, New Hampshire. (Mark LaFlamme/Sun Journal)
Maine camping in late spring: The writer’s wife, Corey, and niece Lauryn, swat and scratch. (Mark LaFlamme/Sun Journal)
A floating tent experience in Germany. (Roadtrippers.com)
An alien-like camping option in France. (Roadtrippers.com)
Clear bubble tents put campers close to nature, but keep out the bugs. (Roadtrippers.com)
Glass-roofed igloos in northern Finland allow campers to watch the northern lights. (Roadtrippers.com)
Intrepid late-spring Maine campers head to their treehouse tent on Toad Hill in Chatham, New Hampshire, on a recent weekend for some fun in the outdoors. (Mark LaFlamme/Sun Journal)
Diverse camping options on Toad Hill
By Mark LaFlamme, Staff Writer
These days, everyone and his mother seems to have something to rent to weary strangers on the road.
Cozy cottage on the lake? Write it up on Airbnb and offer it up at $100 a night. Single bed in a garage apartment near the downtown? Clean it up a bit and you might snag $35 from strangers looking to save a buck or two in their travels.
Then there are the yurts, tree houses and patches of grass just big enough to accommodate a couple tents. If you’ve got a bit of forested land, a farm or even just a big backyard, chances are good people will pay you to camp there.
Up on Toad Hill in Chatham, New Hampshire, Justin Fisher’s foray into the offbeat camping business began a couple years ago.
“I was doing an internship up in the Acadia area doing stonework,” Fisher says. “My buddy had a little gypsy caravan and a little tent thing that he put together. I was like, ‘Dude, you should Airbnb these things on occasion. What about me building some sort of crazy tent?’ He wasn’t super into the idea. He runs a stone business and didn’t really want to get involved in anything else. Seems like it wouldn’t be that hard to rent out the gypsy caravan.”
So Fisher went off on his own, shopping around with his brother for a piece of land where they could set up a few camping spots. Fisher ultimately found a remote, wooded spot on Toad Hill and bought it.
“It happened to have a tepee on it,” Fisher says. “I thought, well it has a tepee already, I might as well create a listing. Everything kind of evolved from that.”
Fisher set up another tepee, a yurt and built a platform between a pair of trees and a couple of boulders onto which he could erect a roomy, canvas-style tent.
The idea, he says, is that campers can spend time on his property without having to haul a bunch of gear all over the place.
“You’ve got a fire pit and a stream. You’ve got four walls, a platform and an air mattress,” Fisher says. “You’ve got a lot of stuff that you don’t have to bring, or set up or tear down.”
From there, things got weird. Fisher landed an old Blue-bird school bus and converted that into living space, as well. Parked a short distance from the school bus: the body of an ambulance that can be yours for $30 a night.
“That was another crazy idea of mine. I went to a junkyard and I was like, I want that ambulance body. How much to put the ambulance body on a two-axle trailer? I gutted the whole thing myself and turned it into a small office and sleeping area. I think it might be one of a kind.”