Camping on a ship is ‘Hip’ – Post Bulletin


If camping floats your boat, the Hilltop Queen is the perfect way to get your Hipcamp sea legs in shape.

Hipcamp is an online company that allows private landowners to rent their outdoor campsites, cabins and RV spaces. After hearing a neighbor rave about Hipcamp, I decided to give it a try and camp at one of the unique spaces he’d discovered, the Hilltop Queen — a house boat that had been repurposed as a primitive cabin.

Within six hours of requesting a stay at the Hilltop Queen, I received a confirmation email and text with all the info I’d need directly from the Hilltop Queen hosts: Mike and Joan Gilles. The Gilleses own Gilles Family Dairy and Woodland near Ridgeway, Minnesota, just under an hour southeast from Rochester, not too far off Interstate 90.

The Gilleses host four Hipcamp sites on their property including the year-round Rock Bottom Cabin (a cozy cabin with a wood-fueled stove), the Wooden Tent in the Woods (a small one-room A-frame structure), and the Round Mound Campsite (a space available for tent or RV camping). All the sites are primitive with no running water, but plenty of firewood, drinking water in thermoses, and composting toilets in outhouses.

The Hilltop Queen is the most recent addition to the Gilles’ Hipcamp sites. Before Hipcamp fees and on a weekend night, the clamping site costs $78. The River Queen houseboat that the Gilleses transformed into a cabin dates back to 1970 and was built in Michigan. Due to a broken exhaust pipe and Mississippi River ice, the vessel sank at dock in the spring of 2020 as the ice thawed, and it was salvaged by a De Soto, Wisconsin, salvage yard. The Gilleses purchased it in September 2020 and completed the remodel in May 2022.

After meeting Mike at the windmill on his farm around 3:30 p.m. on a Thursday, he guided me out to the Hilltop Queen and showed me the composting toilet in a separate building, the firewood supply, the outdoor gray water sink, the sturdy picnic table, recycling and garbage receptacles, the large thermos filled with cold drinking water, and the solar light switches on the houseboat. He chatted with me a bit about Hipcamp. The Wooden Tent, she said, was actually his family’s long-time campsite as his 10 children grew up.

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John Sievers stands on the prow of the Hilltop Queen, a houseboat converted to Hipcamp cabin located near Ridgeway, Minnesota, on Thursday Oct. 20, 2022.

Contributed / John Sievers

The Hilltop Queen is perched with its bow pointing out over a valley. Its covered front deck and second story roof-top deck above the main bunk room offer a beautiful view of the setting sun over the rainbow of fall foliage in the wooded valley. The aft cabin includes a small love seat and a bed that sleeps two. The smaller forward room includes a curtained windshield view of the wooded valley as well as a folding table and chairs and an option for a foam mattress. The boat can sleep four.

October camping can be nice with few bugs and temps perfect for bonfires, but it can also lead to chilly temperatures which might make a tent uncomfortable. The Hilltop Queen, with its solid walls and roof and even a covered front deck, made for a perfect cozy fall campsite that could keep you both warm and dry in case of rain. For those not wanting to cook on the outdoor metal fireplace, complete with two substantial grills at different heights, The Shed, a nearby restaurant could be an option, and the boat includes the restaurant’s menu.

Stepping onto the deck of the Hilltop Queen felt a little like sailing through the valley’s treetops. As the wind rose that night, the rustling leaves sounded a bit like rolling waves, and the exterior multicolored running lights on the boat made it a magical sight next to the roaring fire and under the bright stars as light peeked through its starboard portholes.

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A bridge on the grounds at the Gilles Family Dairy and Woodland is part of 6 miles of trails for hiking when staying at the Hipcamp sites.

Contributed / John Sievers

Gilles Family Dairy and Woodland has 6 miles of mowed trails through its wooded valleys. The trails wander near the brink of a stone quarry, past open pasture land, by stone outcroppings, and over a moss-covered wooden bridge complete with a troll hiding below. The trail system is very well-marked and a clear map of the entire winding system is provided. It includes part of the state-wide snowmobile trail system, and nearby property includes a spring perfect for soaking hike-weary feet.

Already, the Hilltop Queen has attracted campers from near and far. A quick look at the guest book shows guests from Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas.

The Hilltop Queen, and the way Hipcamp opens up new private camping options, provided an exciting outdoor adventure. Its grand being the captain of your own destiny, and this boat-turned-cabin made charting that course a possibility.

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The Hilltop Queen, a houseboat converted to Hipcamp cabin, is perched on the edge of a wooded valley near Ridgeway, Minnesota. Thursday Oct. 20, 2022.

Contributed / John Sievers

To get started on your own camping adventure with Hipcamp, visit



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