[Note: this is a long (but entertaining) story. If you’re just here for the pictures, here’s the gallery , or scroll to the bottom]
Preface: April 2017. This trip happened in July and August of 2017, but its story began in April. My wife and I had a one-year old, and had recently decided to have a second child. I could foresee the fun of being a family of four, but I was definitely not looking forward to the first year of having two very young children: lots of diapers to change, and not a lot of leaving the house for adventures.
Around that time Suzanne and I were sitting in our living room after our daughter had gone to bed, each doing our own thing. I was reading something about cycling, and I said aloud “I miss bike touring.”
Suzanne and I had gone on a bike touring honeymoon five years earlier, and we had plans to go touring with our children. A newborn, however, is not amenable to that, since most medical advice is to wait until one year old before subjecting a child to the bumps and vibrations of cycling. So when I said “I miss bike touring” it was with a degree of wistfulness, knowing that would probably be a few more years before I could do so again.
This is a map of my tour that is written up in this post. It may not work with all browsers; it did not render for me on a mobile device (Chrome on Android), so if you’re not seeing anything here, maybe try a different device or browser.
I have gone on three bike tours in Europe, mostly in France, but also in Germany, Italy, Ireland, and Switzerland. I just wanted to give a quick rundown of the ways that I have been able to find campsites, and also hopefully attract other people to this page you can tell me what to do for other countries.
Wherever You Are: Try OsmAnd.
I have only done this within France, but there’s no reason that it wouldn’t work in other countries except that the data coverage might not be as good. OsmAnd is an Android and iOS application that shows OpenStreetMap data, which is sort of like the Wikipedia of cartography. It also has the best filter to show a particular feature type — like campsites — even better than the online OpenStreetMap.
Last summer I spent two weeks biking a loop in Normandy, and used this method almost every night in order to find a campsite. The main advantage of OsmAnd is that it has a lot of information, so it has both municipal and commercial campsites. The downside is that the data is not necessarily verified. One time I showed up at a campsite, and it used to be a campsite, but had become more like a trailer park. The people living there were friendly so I stayed there anyway. And the other ten times I used it I found a for-reals campsite. The idea is: there’s probably going to be a campsite where they are indicated, but is not guaranteed. Usually I did a quick Google search of the campsite name and town to verify that the campsite would actually be there.
The user interface of OsmAnd is decent but complex and it took me a few tries to figure out how to display campsites on the map. Here’s a video of me showing how to find the campsites using OsmAnd:
I’d be interested in hearing from anyone else who has used this method in other countries, and how accurate the campsite data is.
In Germany, another good way to find campsites are ADFC biking maps. The ADFC is the national biking organization for Germany, and their maps show bike routes, bike shops, restaurants, and… campgrounds. They also exist as digital downloads, which requires some navigation of their only-in-German website.
In France, Camping Qualite is a kind of campsite industry association that has its own map. They are usually going to be more full-featured and expensive campsites (so like twenty euros a night, with a pool and a playground).
Update May 2018: The OSMAnd application accomplishes this task better than Overpass Turbo; see this post for more info.
Campgrounds make for a quick cheap place for a bicycle tourist (or other tourist) to stop for the night, pitch a tent, and get a warm shower. Sometimes, though, it can be hard to tell where all of them are.
For any given region, there are usually some campground associations or governments that list a certain sets of campsites. However, in planning an upcoming bike tour around Normandy, I wanted to have a single map of campsites that cast a wide net. In Europe, the open-source mapping service OpenStreetMap is quite popular and often is the best source of data for geographical features. It’s not perfect. It is sort of like the Wikipedia of cartography: inclusive, but also prone to the occasional error or out-of-date information. Still, it’s exhaustiveness can be helpful for planning: it will tell you all the places there might be a campground.
To get one particular type of map feature out of OpenStreetMap, the best tool is a service called “Overpass Turbo“. It allows you to make a request for one type of feature, and then shows all of them that appear on the current map. Making requests looks a little bit like computer code, but even folks who are not computer nerds can make simple ones. Like for campsites.
Find the geographic region that you want to search in. You can either do that by dragging the map, or typing in the name of a geographical location (state, region, etc.) into the search box on the map.
Replace the entire query box with this (borrowed from this example for parking lots):
The search may take a while. The more territory you had displayed on the map, the slower it goes. A search for all the campgrounds in a city will take a few seconds; a search for all the campgrounds in a region or state will take a couple of minutes or may not complete at all. You may need to reduce the size of the map that is displayed, to make the request in smaller chunks.
You can get a shareable link for the map you’ve created, but it will have to re-run the query when someone else clicks on it. I found it most useful to use the export button to export my data as a GPX or KML file, and then importing it into a Google “My Map“. I then changed the style (click “uniform style”, “All items”, then the little paint bucket) so that the campsites show up as green tents. You can see that map here. Either on Overpass Turbo or in the Google Map, where there is additional information about a campsite, like its name or website, that information will appear when you click on the icon. That can help in evaluating whether the information is current and other information about it. Now as I am planning my route, I can take into account where the campsites (probably) are.
You can also get this information through OSMAnd, which (I’m updating this post after the tour) is what I actually ended up doing most of the time in Normandy. Tap the “layers” icon in the top left, tap “POI…”, tap “Search”, type “camp” and choose “Camp site” (make sure you do not tap “former prison camp” which also shows up and which would be a very different experience). It will initially give you a list of the closest campsites; click on the map-with-pin icon in the bottom right.
** Update 5/22: it turns out that there is a bike nav sign at this intersection heading south, but it is set back about 200 feet from the intersection, so it is not very visible. Consider moving it closer to the intersection. JMM**
This is a request to Oakland Public Works to put in a bike nav sign on E 21St Street for southbound bike traffic, indicating that there is a bike route going uphill on 21st Ave. I frequently blow past that turn because it is unmarked. This is, as far as I can tell, the main bike-route way to get from downtown to the Dimond district, so I would imagine it would say “Dimond 1.6 mi”. You probably want to also label continuing south on E 21st St, although I’m not sure what the “destination” would be going that way (Foothill Blvd? San Leandro?). Video below at the intersection describing the issue further.
I’ve always enjoyed the Bay Trail, on several occasions riding SF to Berkeley or the reverse. This weekend I rode from approximately Fruitvale BART to Hayward BART, going through MLK regional shoreline, Oyster Bay Regional Shoreline, and Hayward Regional Shoreline, and I brought my camera. When I’d ridden the trail before I’d often stopped to read the informational signs about birds, and I was surprised that I was able to photograph pretty much all the common birds I’d read about, plus several more. And a bat ray.
I’ve moved to Oakland from Berkeley, and so biking to things goes over longer distances and often I find that I need to bring a cue sheet. That meant I needed a way to hold a cue sheet. I already have a section of my handlebar taped over with electrical tape where I attach my front light, and so I just put a velcro cable tie through a binder clip and then around the taped area. The tape helps hold it in place and prevents scratching.
Last weekend I was the event host for a trip from San Francisco to Point Reyes with the NorCal Bicycle Touring and Camping Meetup. We ended up getting six people together for the trip, all from San Francisco and Berkeley, except one coming in from Sacramento. I had picked up a camping permit for Sky Camp at Recreation.gov about two months earlier. It is still the rainy season in San Francisco in March, so we felt lucky to have a weekend of sunny weather predicted.
I planned the route, which was to go out on Highway 1 and back via Sir Francis Drake (Google Maps or Map My Ride; during the trip, we used the Marin County Bike Coalition’s map, which was up-to-date and accurate, $12 including shipping). The wind is usually from the north along the coast, so ideally we would have gone out Sir Francis Drake and back on Highway 1, but the ferry schedule didn’t really have a good Saturday morning option, so I had to go with the reverse route.