On New Year’s Day in 2013, Alyssa Ravasio, founder and CEO of Hipcamp, awoke in her tent, stepped out onto the Big Sur coastline, and immediately became sad and frustrated. She saw waves — hundreds of glassy, iridescent-green wedges and beautiful hidey-hole barrels just begging to be surfed. But she didn’t have her board. She had spent loads of time researching and planning this camping trip, yet never once read that it was a prime surf spot. The existing online campsite databases didn’t provide that sort of information — in fact, they hardly provided anything at all, other than park fees and rules. Her effort had gone into simply finding a decent campsite.

“I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to figure out where I could go,” Ravasio said. “Hipcamp was just a way to solve that problem — it was just a directory, with all your campgrounds in one map.”

Four years later, Hipcamp looks nothing like the basic directory of a few hundred California campsites that it once was. Today, over 280,000 U.S. campsites are cataloged in Hipcamp’s clean and user-friendly online database, most of which are on public land — state and national parks, from Acadia to Zion. Other campsites (about 2,500 of them) are privately owned, for rent — luxurious yurts, remote cabins, secluded waterfalls and so on — earning Hipcamp the unofficial title The Airbnb of Camping.

PHOTO BY MADDY MINNIS

Hipcamp works like this. You enter your trip dates, then specify what you’re looking for: location, price, amenities, group size, type of access (by car, by foot, by boat or by horse), preferred activities (do you want to surf? hike? climb?) and then Hipcamp pulls up all the campsites that match your criteria. Private campsites, which run from a few bucks to several hundred dollars per night, can be booked and confirmed on the website. Public campsites link out to government pages, where they can then be reserved. Each listing shows user photos, reviews and other useful information, making the quality of each campsite totally transparent.

The whole idea is to bring camping into the 21st century — to make it more convenient, less crowded, more accessible to inexperienced campers. “It’s the accessibility of car camping, with a lot of the upsides of backcountry camping,” Ravasio said. “Previously, [camping] has only been accessible to people who really know how to get out there, into the backcountry. We’re making that more accessible.”

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