Tenting on a ship is ‘Hip’ – Publish 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 campgrounds, cabins and RV sites. After hearing a neighbor rave about Hipcamp, I decided to give it a go and camp at one of the unique spots he’d discovered, the Hilltop Queen—a houseboat that had been converted into a primitive cabin.

Within six hours of requesting a stay at Hilltop Queen, I received a confirmation email and a text message with all the information I would 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 of Rochester, just off Interstate 90.

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

The Hilltop Queen is the latest addition to Gilles’ Hipcamp sites. Before hipcamp fees and on a weekend night, the clamp is $78. The River Queen houseboat, which the Gilleses converted into a cabin, dates back to 1970 and was built in Michigan. Due to a broken exhaust pipe and Mississippi ice, the ship sank in dock in the spring of 2020 as the ice thawed, and it was salvaged from a junkyard in De Soto, Wisconsin. The Gilleses bought it in September 2020 and completed the remodel in May 2022.

After meeting Mike at the windmill on his farm around 3:30pm on a Thursday, he took me to the Hilltop Queen and showed me the composting toilet in a separate building, the firewood store, the outdoor gray water basin, the sturdy picnic table, recyclables – and garbage cans, the large thermos with cold drinking water and the solar light turns on the houseboat. He chatted me up a bit about Hipcamp. The wooden tent, she said, was actually his family’s longtime campsite when his 10 children were growing up.

John Sievers stands at the bow of the Hilltop Queen, a houseboat converted into a hipcamp cabin near Ridgeway, Minnesota, on Thursday, October 20, 2022.

Contributed / John Sievers

The Hilltop Queen is enthroned with her prow over a valley. The covered front deck and second floor roof deck above the master bedroom offer beautiful views of the sun setting over the fall foliage rainbow in the wooded valley. The aft cabin includes a small two-seater and a bed for two. The smaller front room offers a view of the wooded valley through a curtained windscreen, as well as a folding table and chairs and an optional foam mattress. The boat can sleep four.

Camping in October can be nice, with few bugs and temperatures perfect for campfires, but it can also result in chilly temperatures that can make camping uncomfortable. The Hilltop Queen, with its solid walls and roof and even a covered front deck, was a perfect cozy fall campground that could keep you both warm and dry when it rained. For those not wanting to cook outside on the metal fireplace, complete with two large grills at different heights, The Shed, a nearby restaurant, could be an option, and the boat contains the restaurant’s menu.

Stepping onto the deck of the Hilltop Queen felt a little like sailing through the treetops of the valley. As the wind picked up that night the rustling leaves sounded a bit like rolling waves and the multi colored running lights on the boat made it a magical sight alongside the roaring fire and under the bright stars as light streamed through the starboard portholes.

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A bridge on the Gilles Family Dairy and Woodland grounds forms part of the 6 miles of trails that are available to hike when staying at the Hipcamp sites.

Contributed / John Sievers

Gilles Family Dairy and Woodland has 6 miles of manicured trails through its wooded valleys. The paths travel near the edge of a quarry, past open pasture land, past stone ledges and over a moss-covered wooden bridge with a troll hiding under it. The trail system is very well marked and a clear map of the entire tortuous system is provided. It includes part of the statewide snowmobile trail system, and near the property is a spring perfect for soaking hike-weary feet.

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

The Hilltop Queen and how Hipcamp is opening up new private camping opportunities provided an exciting outdoor adventure. It’s great to be the captain of your own destiny and this boat converted into a cabin made it possible to dictate that course.

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The Hilltop Queen, a houseboat converted into a hipcamp cabin, is perched on the edge of a wooded valley near Ridgeway, Minnesota. Thursday 20 October 2022.

Contributed / John Sievers

To start your own camping adventure with Hipcamp, visit www.hipcamp.com/en-US.