May 22—DULUTH — This has probably happened to you, too: You head out on a camping vacation with visions of your destination — a wooded, private campsite, perfectly level with a great view and not too far from the bathrooms.
But when you arrive you find out the place looks more like a Target parking lot, with few trees and many RVs and tents crammed together like sardines.
If only you could have seen a photograph of the site before you made your reservation.
Well now you can.
It's called CampsitePhotos.com and the website already has photographs of nearly every site at more than 2,200 campgrounds nationwide. Information on hundreds of other campgrounds are listed even if there aren't any photos yet.
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The website is the brainchild of Eric Edwards, a Californian who would tour regional campgrounds and write down the best campsites for his own personal use in the future.
"I was thinking, why doesn't somebody have this information online? I checked, but nobody did. ... So in 2000 we went online with it," Edwards said.
The site does accept some verified submitted photos but most of the site photos are from freelance photographers that Edwards hires to make sure the pic is of the true campsite numbered.
"We started out West, and that's probably where 60% of our listed sites are. ... But we're all over the country now. We now have most of Minnesota's state parks, Florida, the Northeast. I have a photographer that will be doing just privy campgrounds this summer."
Edwards hopes to start adding Canadian campsites in 2022.
CampsitePhotos.com is adding more photos for more campgrounds constantly and now includes many national parks, state parks, U.S. Forest Service, city and private campgrounds nationwide.
You can search by name if you know it or click the map view to see either private or public campgrounds in whatever state you choose. (The search by map option is great if you know a general area you want to visit but aren't sure of which campground you want to try.)
Search for a campground and up comes a full page with photos of the sites, lists of amenities, fees, directions and a link to make a reservation. There are also comments and reviews by real people who have actually camped there and much of it good advice on the reality of the place.
There's even a new feature to click if all your campground choices are sold-out — called Campsite Assist — that will use a computer program to constantly check if there have been any cancelations for the campground you want. The site will automatically notify you when there's an opening so you can hurry and reserve the open site.
There's a fee for the text-alert Campsite Assist system, but all of CampsitePhotos.com's other services and information are free. They will even accept listings from private campgrounds for free. (The website makes money by selling ads.)
We checked out several Northland state park campgrounds like Gooseberry Falls, Tettegouche and Jay Cooke State Park on the website and the pages appear to reflect the true flavor of the sites. Most popular Minnesota state parks already have been photographed and listed. But the site has few options for private or Forest Service campgrounds in the Northland.
Like anyone involved in the outdoor recreation business right now, Edwards reminds campers to book as far ahead of their trip as possible. For many federal sites available at Recreation.gov, that means six months out. But even then you may have to pick alternate dates or a less-popular campground.
Edwards said visits to CampsitePhotos.com are up 40% this year over the long-term average.
"It's just crazy right now all over the country. It's a supply-and-demand problem and demand is way up," Edwards said, noting that reservations have become harder to get as both real people and bots — computer programs aimed at securing campsites the second they become available online — vie for a limited number of campsites, especially during the peak summer months. "You need to be online and ready at 8 a.m. the day your (camping dates) are bookable."