I certainly didn’t need to purchase a membership at Harvest Hosts before we bought a big stand, but that allowed me to get specific details about all the incredibly cool places – like the riverside brewery/brewery group in South Dakota and the family owned whiskey distillery. In Kentucky, we can book overnight accommodations on our 7-week trip from Colorado to Maine and back. Researching all the different options for mapping our winery stays between longer periods in private campgrounds and state parks helped get me excited about our first trip.
Two years after being an RV owner and upgrading from our original RV to a new one, I’m still enamored with the opportunity to spend the night next to vineyards in scenic rural locations across the country. My husband and I have stayed at 14 different Harvest Hosts locations on three different multi-week RV road trips, and are looking forward to checking out a winery not too far from our home on our Colorado RV adventure later this summer.
In fact, in full disclosure, I quickly became a fan of Harvest Hosts, I emailed the company owner to ask to do some freelance writing for their website. I have since contributed to the blog, marketing materials and even handled the company’s Instagram account for a short time. However, I will continue to renew and use my membership (currently a $99 annual fee) as long as we own our RV.
Here are five reasons why I love camping at wineries, breweries, and distilleries with my Harvest Hosts membership.
1. Wineries are more fun than Walmart
Harvest Hosts members are allowed to stay one night at each host site and there is no limit to the number of sites you may visit in any given year. Hosts are small businesses that are not set up like camps. Sites that open their properties to RV road-goers are meant to be an alternative to storage (“dry camping” without hookups) in places like Walmart parking lots or Cracker Barrel.
I can personally attest that enjoying a wine cruise before bed and then waking up to the green countryside is better than sleeping in a concrete parking lot and waking up to the noise of delivery trucks at the store loading station.
Pro tip: Not all Harvest Hosts sites are rustic and laid-back. Some locations are located near highways, train tracks, or in urban downtown areas. If you’re a member looking to book, be sure to read the host’s online description, as well as member reviews, so you know what to expect in your planned overnight stay.
2. I support small businesses
Harvest Hosts are places where campers rest in a safe and scenic setting during the night and in return, expect to make a small purchase – at least $20 recommended for drinks, food, farm goods, a museum tour, or other souvenirs. So while this caching isn’t free by any means—and in fact, my husband and I typically end up spending more than $20 on food and drink at each location—I view the expense as subsidizing a small local business. I’m happy to go for my “camping fee” to a hard-working small business or family-run business owner rather than a large, privately owned camp or business.
Pro tip: Some of the host sites are non-profit organizations, such as historical libraries or religious houses of worship. For these sites, if there is no gift shop to buy something, Harvest Hosts members can leave a donation.
3. We enjoyed some great food and drinks
Usually, when we move into a winery, brewery, or distillery, my husband and I do our research ahead of time. In this way, we determine whether to sample wine, beer or spirits. We also determine whether we will have an appetizer or a full meal. Oftentimes, we happily share brewpub snacks or a lovely charcuterie to accompany our drinks. After several homemade meals in our camper, it’s always nice to wait and delve into local foods, like delicious cheese curds at Tumbled Rock Brewery in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
My husband discovered a new favorite whiskey that he always eager to share with guests visiting our home in Colorado. We picked up a few bottles of Wood Hat Spirits in Florence, Missouri, a distillery that uses corn of different colors, like red, blue, and white, to distill their corn whiskey. I’m not a whiskey drinker, but my husband swears it’s surprisingly delicious.
4. We had fun with live music
My husband and I love listening to live music at the places to eat and drink. If there is a dance floor where we can show off our country dance moves, that’s even better. Occasionally, we find performers at Harvest Hosts locations, like the time the duo was performing folk favorites at the White Winter Winery in Iron River, Wisconsin.
Other times, we intentionally schedule our visits to coincide with live performances. In Bana, Illinois, we danced in the rain while a country band played at the Arpeggio Winery, and we won free isolated beer holders. “We always reward the first on the dance floor,” the lead singer told us.
5. We met some very friendly and generous people
On the whole, the people who run the wineries, breweries and distilleries that we had the night with are incredibly friendly people. They sign up to be Harvest Hosts because they are happy to share their corner of the world with visitors. They are usually happy to have conversations and get to know all the travelers who pass through their property. We’ve also come across some very generous people.
For example, when we walked into the Casey Jones Distillery in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, we realized we were on too low a water level, having somehow forgotten to fill our tanks at our last camp. The owner had us run around on a tap to fill up our depleted tanks for free. Once again, we were talking with the owners of 4e Winery in Mapleton, North Dakota. We overstayed our welcome as they were closing their restaurant and tasting room all night. They asked us to join them for a homemade dinner (a delicious vegetarian dish made with mushrooms harvested on their patio) and some wine that is not usually served to the public.
We also met some other interesting Harvest Hosts members. While parking areas at host sites are not intended to be used as campgrounds – in general, campfires and barbecues are not permitted outside. It is usually acceptable for members to place chairs near the campground to enjoy a bottle of wine or a roar of beer they just bought. We did just that night at Mac’s Creek Winery & Brewery in Nebraska and happened to meet other campers who were from my childhood hometown. It was fun talking to them for a while about the same people and places we’ve known.
Pro tip: As fun as it can be to chat away with like-minded winemakers or campers, sometimes all you want to do is buy an item on site and hit the bag. Good. The beauty of Harvest Hosts is that you can make membership work for you. While my husband and I enjoy sampling local wines, beers, and spirits, you can make an entire itinerary of family-friendly farms if you’d like. Maybe if we had an RV with the grandkids we’d change our tune. For now, we’ll continue drinking our way through some great wineries, breweries, and distilleries on our travels, thanks to Harvest Hosts.