If you’re thinking about camping with your kids, or anywhere for that matter, you should strongly consider camping on a farm. The evolution of the sharing economy has now reached a level of creative genius that I tip my hat to, without dumping half my paycheck. 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, how to find a good campsite near you, whether you’re in Vermont as we were or not, as well as other activities to pair with all of the fun you’ll have on the farm.
Our Camping History
I’ve done my share of family-style car camping up and around the Midwest and East Coast. As a young couple, Brittany and I stayed at the beautiful cabins in Hocking Hills, Ohio for a romantic getaway. For an adrenaline jolt, we pitched a tent, nuzzled in next to some bear spray in the mountains, and drank moonshine near Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania before thundering down Class IV Upper Youghiogheny River rapids (that’s Upper Yawk to those of us who’ve been there a few times). This fall we’re doing a four-day backpack through Yellowstone with REI.
Now that we have little kids though, we found ourselves on camping treks on these family KOA style RV / tent-camp combos that have everything from hayrides to swimming pools. The kids enjoyed them, but on our last 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 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.
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 I’ll 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 have the opportunity to learn about where their food comes from.
How to Find Farm Campsites
There are two great resources for finding unique outdoor experiences beyond KOA.
Tentrr – Tentrr tends to cater to the glamping experience, with unique and stylish campsites throughout the USA. There are filters but you cannot select ‘farm’ so you’ll have to look at the photos.
Hipcamp – Hipcamp is basically the same thing as Tentrr, but we found pricing to be a little bit cheaper. I’m not sure if that is by design or luck. Hipcamp also lists public campgrounds in the area so you have an idea of what’s nearby. We ended up booking through Hipcamp, just because we found the farm we liked most with this service.
Farm Camping Tips
Start a Conversation!
One thing we liked about Hipcamp is the ability to have a conversation with the host ahead of your stay. We ended up messaging 5 different farms before selecting Sandiwood Farm in Vermont as our destination. We connected most with the farmer, Sara, and felt a great match. We had questions about the camping experience with our 9-month-old and she also had great suggestions on things to do in the area. We also were able to ask specific questions that I’m going to cover in the rest of the tips.
How rustic are you comfortable with?
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, but it will be listed as an amenity on the website.
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 because there won’t be a general store on site.
Related to amenities, be comfortable with nature, and look for 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 shower before returning to the campsite.
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.
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. 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.
Things to do on the farm
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. 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 mornings.
As parents, we were a little nervous spending 4 days camping without being surrounded by kid-friendly activities, but our kids had more fun building forts with piles of sticks, harvesting potatoes (which to them was like digging for gold), and identifying animal poop on the trails than they would ever have on an enclosed playground. In fact, the last time we camped near a playground, the kids fought over who got to rumble on what equipment, but on the farm, they were surrounded by so many options they got along the entire time.
Have you camped anywhere unique? We’ve seen people camping in yurts, Airstreams, treehouses and other unique experiences in between.