If you’re thinking about camping with your kids, you should strongly consider camping on a farm. And while you are at it, add Vermont to the top of your list. The evolution of the sharing economy has now reached a level of creative genius that we tip our hat to, without dumping half our bank account. What started with renting otherwise free afternoons to TaskRabbit or leasing spare bedrooms on Airbnb has now evolved into “Go ahead and pitch your tent on that little corner of my farm.”
Read along for an overview of how we got into this stroke of genius. And more importantly, how to find a campsite near you. Whether you’re in Vermont as we were or not, we have our top tips and activities to pair with all of the fun you’ll have on the farm.
Our camping history
We’ve done our share of family-style car camping up and around the Midwest, East Coast, and New England. As a young couple, we stayed at the beautiful cabins in Hocking Hills, Ohio for a romantic getaway. For an adrenaline jolt, we pitched a tent, nuzzled next to bear spray in the mountains, and drank moonshine near Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania. As one does before thundering down Class IV Upper Youghiogheny River rapids (that’s Upper Yawk to our mid-west buddies). This fall we did an adult-only four-day backpack through Yellowstone with REI.
Now that we have little kids, we found ourselves at family KOA style RV / tent-camp combos that have everything from hayrides to swimming pools. The kids enjoyed them, but on our last KOA trip, the next closest camper was 30 feet away from us with a crying baby at 5:30 in the morning… wait, sorry, our baby was crying at 5:30 in the morning and the next camper was 30 feet away from us. Nobody complained, but we were in an awkward panic to help soothe the little guy. And of course, we felt bad for our camp neighbors so we started looking for alternatives to mix it up a bit. We also felt a little bit dirty with these contrived natural experiences rather than truly exposing our kids to nature. To us, a game room on a campsite is still screen time. Our research led us to farm camping!
What is farm camping?
Farm camping is exactly what it sounds like and probably exactly what you imagine it would be. We have found it to be generally cheaper than what we would call ‘child-friendly amenity camping’, but typically with access to better amenities like a shower bag and compostable outhouse that you might not get pitching a tent at a National Park. On top of all of this, it’s an amazing experience for city slicker kids like ours to wake up on a farm and learn first-hand about where their food comes from. You can’t grow jumbo carrots on your Brooklyn patio!
How to find farm campsites
There are a growing number of online resources for finding unique outdoor experiences beyond a KOA. The options can be overwhelming. Below we have detailed a few of the options we find the most helpful for finding a campsite and specifically farm campsites.
Tentrr tends to cater to the glamping experience, with unique and stylish campsites throughout the USA. The search field on Tentrr does offer “bring your own gear” spots but most of the listed inventory are fully equipped sites which start at $99/night, averaging closer to $130 a night. This set-up is ideal for a first time camping or for folks who don’t have a tent and gear. A “farm” is not one of their filters so use “farm” as a keyword and then look at the photos to narrow down.
Hipcamp is our favorite site finder and the one we have found easiest to use with the most helpful reviews. We are usually only looking for the land to set-up our tent and less for amenities (more in tips later in this post!) it’s our go-to! We also have a few close kid-less friends who use it regularly and agree it’s their favorite as well! Yeah, Hipcamp.
Hipcamp also lists public campgrounds in the area so you have an idea of what’s nearby. There is a “farms” filter which earns them even more bonus points. For $10 off your first Hipcamp stay you can use our referral link.
Tips for choosing a family farm campsite
Start a Conversation!
One thing we liked about Hipcamp is the ability to have a quick email exchange with the host ahead of your stay. We ended up messaging five different farms before selecting Sandiwood Farm in Vermont as our destination. We connected most with the farmer, Sara, she also had great suggestions on things to do in the area. Reaching out to the farmers with a quick message we also got a chance to ask a few specific questions not covered in the listings. We will cover those in tips.
Determine your rustic comfort
Be sure to pay attention to the amenities. Electricity is definitely an amenity. Showers are an amenity. Toilets are an amenity. Wifi, picnic area, etc… amenities. If something like WiFi is important to you, it’s worth asking the host about it. For example, WiFi might be available up at the farm stand, but not near the camping area. So while it’s listed as an amenity, that doesn’t mean you have WiFi out in your tent or cabin.
Challenge yourself and get creative!
Related to amenities, be comfortable with nature, and look for creative alternatives. The farm we stayed at did not have showers, but we found a nearby state park that had pay showers for $0.25 per 2 minutes that worked out great. We were able to swim and hike all day and then shower before returning to the campsite for dinner and an early bedtime.
How important is your camping privacy?
Another benefit of Hipcamp is that you can see how many campsites are on the grounds. For example, we found a few farms that had 30+ campsites and thought that was probably going to be just as overcrowded as a KOA so we took a hard pass.
We also noticed that a lot of farms double as wedding venues. It’s so hot right now to get married in a barn and property owners are rightfully taking advantage of it. If seclusion is important to you, do your due diligence and look at photos and reviews. Wedding venues also usually have a website with a name that matches the farm name on Tentrr/Hipcamp. Finally, again, just contact the owner. We stayed at a farm that was a wedding venue, but the wedding greenhouse was a solid 500 yards from where we were camped and they didn’t have any events at the time we were there.
Choosing a working farm vs tourism farm
Agri-tourism is a real thing and some farms exist for the sole purpose of making a profit on tourists through curated farm-life experiences. This is all well and good, but if you want an authentic experience on a farm, be sure to dig deeper to see if you’re staying at a farm or a family-run amusement park.
We had secret hopes we would get to help out a bit of a working farm, but also knew any time spent teaching our city slicker kids how to work on the farm would be taking away from the time the farmers would actually be working on the farm. And if you don’t know, farmers work very long and very hard days, if it isn’t a tourism farm, let the farmers to their work. We were super lucky Sara was generous and let our boys join her on two separate occasions to help harvest vegetables.
Things to do on the farm other than “camp”
Talk to the farmer! Every farm is different. We have another post entirely dedicated to our 4-days on a farm if you want to see what we did. Most of what we’ve seen on Hipcamp were either dairy or organic vegetable farms though so guests had the option of milking cows or helping harvest vegetables. Some farms don’t allow any of that and just put you back in the corner, which is fine too, remember the farms have work to do, they aren’t all full-time in the tourism business. We chose a veggie farm because we get enough stink living in NYC that we don’t need to be sniffing cow paddies in the morning.
As parents, we were a little nervous spending 4 days camping without being surrounded by kid-friendly activities. But of course, our kids had more fun building forts with piles of sticks, harvesting potatoes, and identifying animal poop on the trails than they would ever have on an enclosed playground. The last time we camped near a playground, the kids fought over who got to rumble on what equipment. On the farm, they were surrounded by so many open-ended options they got along the entire time. No really, we have repeated this magic. It’s real.
Final Reminder: BYO-Everything
You can expect to bring everything you need, closer to camping in the woods than camping at an RV enabled campground. We have an entire post dedicated to meal ideas, but just be sure to bring all your essentials. There won’t be a general store on-site and you don’t want to waste time taking an hour round trip to the local superstore.
Have you camped anywhere unique? Up next on our list includes yurts, Airstreams, treehouses… we will do it all eventually, how about you?