Host Spotlight: Yosemite Camping and Rafting at Colfax Spring

Landowners are partnering with Hipcamp to earn extra money by connecting their properties with folks looking to stay and camp outside. All you need to get started is a flat spot where someone can pitch a tent or park an RV, or a structure (such as a yurt, canvas tent, or cabin) for them to spend the night in.

Marty McDonnell has run Yosemite rafting trips on the Merced and Tuolumne rivers for 50 years—the longest of any such outfitter in the region. His family-owned company, Sierra Mac River Trips, features 19 stunning acres perched on a ridge above the Tuolumne River canyon, just a 15-minute drive from Yosemite National Park‘s Big Oak Flat entrance.

In addition to serving as the Sierra Mac headquarters, this Groveland-area outpost known as Yosemite’s Colfax Spring is also the closest Hipcamp property to the national park.

Partnering with his son Tom and daughter-in-law Liza, Marty has developed the unique Sierra Nevada property with six tent and RV campsites, all offering convenient, pet-friendly outposts with toilets and hot showers to campers who might otherwise have a hard time snagging a coveted Yosemite-area campsite. With huge interest from Hipcampers, along with climate change and other factors that have contributed to shorter rafting seasons over the years, Marty and his family have found Hipcamp helpful in diversifying revenue and sustaining their rafting business.

We talked to Marty and Liza about the property—which includes sweeping views of waterfalls at sunrise and sunset—and their experiences as Hipcamp Hosts.

Photo courtesy of Sierra Mac
Photo by Hipcamper Courtney Pierce

Hipcamp: Tell us about your land and what makes it special.

Marty: “We’re looking out at the Emigrant Wilderness with views of a 1,000-foot cliff below, including several waterfalls at the confluence of two tributaries. Rainbow Pools, an iconic swimming hole nearby, is a popular spot for travelers to Yosemite. From the ridge you can see stretches of the Tuolumne River and hear water echoing out of the canyon. People watch birds of prey soar below them. It’s not like you’re looking up at the clouds—you’re in the clouds. It doesn’t get better than this, not even in Yosemite National Park with its crowded ‘sardine camping.'”

Photo courtesy of Liza Dadiomov

Hipcamp: How did you get started on Hipcamp?

Liza: “While living in the Bay Area I was camping every weekend, and using Hipcamp made it much more accessible. After Tom and I lived here on this property for a while, it seemed like an amazing place to share with other people. Knowing you have to reserve campsites in Yosemite a year in advance, hosting seemed like a no-brainer.”

Marty: “We tried out hosting last September and October with three campsites. It was exceptionally successful right away! People were booking during the week and on weekends. The fact that Hipcamp has the marketing platform well-established made it feasible.”

Photo by Hipcamper Angela Ginanni

Hipcamp: Tell us about your experience with Hipcampers.

Marty: “It’s a positive impact. I’d say 95% of them clean up after themselves and practice Leave No Trace. Bottom line: Hipcamp clientele are generally really nice people. Some are happy to converse with me, but others barely need a Host. One thing I like about Hipcamp is that I could be 100 miles away. By coincidence I’m living here and have staff, so we can offer more support.”

Liza: “Once people book a campsite they get the address with GPS coordinates. We also send detailed instructions on where to go once they arrive, what to expect, etc. They can call or text us if they’re having trouble. Lately we’ve had a lot of female solo travelers—women trying out camping by themselves. They feel more secure knowing there’s a Host and some amenities rather than camping by the side of the road or somewhere less established.”

Marty: “Negatives: People driving too fast in the parking lot and next to our house with dogs and kids around. Brushing teeth in the drinking fountain—not very sanitary.”

Liza: “Or accidentally pouring bacon grease down the sink with a fragile septic system. But most people are respectful of our space and considerate of our time.”

Photo by Hipcamper Sami Fuentes

Hipcamp: Have you made any upgrades to your land or the Hipcamp experience over time?

Marty: “Last year for my rafting clients I completed the bathhouse—a six-room “castle” with tile walls in the showers and bathrooms. Hot showers are a big part of our Hipcamp reviews. The water bottle filling station also has water from Colfax Spring. We put a picnic table outside this area where people can get wifi, because phones don’t work elsewhere on the property.”

Liza: “When people think of camping they may think all you need is a patch of dirt. It takes a lot more than that. It’s not just the property itself, but the infrastructure.”

Marty: “The major expenses—roads, pavement, septic system, site development—all came before Hipcamp. Even though we were commercially zoned, the county required a site development permit (for 12 campsites), which took five years to get. Right now we’re sporting six campsites, but we want to add more, maybe up to eight or nine this year. We’ll probably improve each individual site with an identified flat spot for parking. And make significant improvements for next spring: solar lighting, trails, and signage for driving around the hill and walking to the bathhouse. Improving Hipcamp sites is only about 2% of the costs we’ve incurred.”

Liza: “Tom and I also started managing the lodge across the road, which can accommodate about 24 people. We do weddings and vacation rentals, and there’s quite a bit of property, so maybe we’ll have Hipcamp sites over there too.”

Photo by David Robbins

Hipcamp: What has supplemental Hipcamp income allowed you to do?

Marty: “Our rafting season ends Labor Day, but Hipcamp allowed us to extend business throughout the year. The income is significant.”

Liza: “We’ve had people join our river trips who initially found us through Hipcamp and vice versa. It’s a very compatible business. Hipcampers recently said their favorite part of their trip to Yosemite was rafting with us.”

Photo by David Robbins

Hipcamp: How accessible are natural attractions like the waterfalls?

Marty: “Rainbow Pools is a US Forest Service day-use area. In July and August, it’s a classic swimming hole. We don’t take people there, but it’s really close. We’ve also got e-bikes, great for the six different roads that go through beautiful forest right on the edge of Yosemite National Park.”

Liza: “We’re also thinking of doing 1- to 3-hour guided e-bike tours.”

Marty: “We have a permit with the Forest Service for guided hikes on about six different trails. Some include camping spots next to beautiful swimming holes on the Tuolumne River. We already have vans and buses for transportation.”

Liza: “Or we may partner with local outfitters. There’s a lot of potential.”

Photo by Hipcamper Sami Fuentes

Hipcamp: Tell us about the Extras you offer.

Marty: “We have tents, sleeping bags, and thick sleeping pad rentals for our rafting clients. But a fair number of Hipcampers rent our equipment as well, especially those who are new to the camping world.”

Liza: “We don’t allow wood fires due to wildfires, but propane fire pits are a big hit. I like that Hipcamp has the add-on feature. Offering these Extras makes people’s experience nicer.”

Photo courtesy of Sierra Mac

Hipcamp: We know there are other hosting platforms. What about Hipcamp stands out?

Liza: “It’s easy to navigate the Hipcamp platform as a Host. It’s really intuitive. I can do everything from my phone, which is super convenient. Campers appreciate our quick responses and easy communication. When you’re camping at a new place, that puts you a little more at ease. It’s also cool to see photos with reviews, to see the land and experiences through campers’ eyes.”

Marty: “I really like doing business with [Hipcamp founder] Alyssa Ravasio. We’re very appreciative of the Hipcamp team. It’s satisfying a need all over the country.”

Hipcamp: How do bookings compare seasonally?

Liza: “We were pretty much sold out during spring breaks. We have a lot of bookings for summer, and September and October are busy. From November to March it slows down, maybe a couple of campers a week, as it does get cold here and we’ve had some snowstorms. In winter, being in a van is more accessible. We can block and unblock dates, and turn certain campsites on and off to book. We’re getting last-minute bookings too. People appreciate that availability.”

Marty: “I wish more people knew how beautiful it is here in the spring. Most people want to go rafting when it’s sunny and hot, but in the spring you’re floating through a garden of waterfalls with maidenhair ferns pouring into the river.”

Hipcamp: Is there anything else people should know about Yosemite’s Colfax Spring?

Marty: “It’s very good for first-time campers, but there could be better communication for people who are new to camping. Maybe a box they can check so we know upfront to check if they have what they need. I’m interested in providing the best service possible.”

Liza: “My hope is that people feel connected to this place and how it’s related to their day-to-day lives—they can see where their drinking water and power comes from. There’s also the mental health aspect: We all need time and quiet places to decompress.”

“My hope is that people feel connected to this place and how it’s related to their day-to-day lives. There’s also the mental health aspect: We all need time and quiet places to decompress.”

Photo by Hipcamper Alex Powell at Colfax Spring

How to start earning money hosting campers on your land

Inspired by this Host story to start welcoming Hipcampers to help pay for property taxes, home expenses, and future dream projects?

If you’re looking for more creative ideas for building structures and campsites to add to your land to enjoy and to help earn more income, check out The Top 7 Types of Campsites Generating Income on Hipcamp.

Nicole R. Zimmerman (she/her) is a Bay Area–based freelance writer. She has contributed to Hipcamp, TripSavvy, Viator/Tripadvisor, the Los Angeles Times, and The Best Women's Travel Writing. Born in São Paulo, Brazil and raised (mostly) in Northern California, she holds an M.F.A. in Writing and leads women’s workshops using the Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) method.

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