California has more State Park land than any other state in the nation — with 279 parks and over 15,000 campgrounds. And still, securing a campsite at any one of them can be a serious challenge. With over 7 million park visitors each year, it gets busy out there. According to a survey by The Dyrt, over half of California campers say they have difficulty getting a campsite.
There are a lot of factors behind that. Some of them can’t be changed — like the massive population of camping enthusiasts that exist in California. Other factors, however, can be changed. And a new bill from the state legislature is aimed directly at them.
AB 618 proposes “common sense changes” to California camping reservation policies. The policy should deter last-minute cancellations and no-shows, and it opens up more spaces for more Californians.
On June 2, 2023, the bill passed the State Assembly and is now on the floor of the Senate.
“California’s public parks and beaches are treasures that should be enjoyed by all Californians,” Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-San Ramon), who introduced the bill, said in a February press release. “Unfortunately, our current outdated reservation system has led to a situation where many campsites are left empty. By promoting responsible reservation practices, we can increase access to these vital resources.”
Camping in California: Will It Get Easier?
Most California campers have to book campsites months in advance. Or they have to be awake and waiting at their computers for the 8 a.m. opening window for reservations on the Reserve California system. But late-notice cancellations and outright no-shows mean that a lot of sites inevitably end up remaining vacant — even when hundreds of campers would gladly snap them up.
AB 618 adds incentives to promote advance cancellation and to prevent no-shows. If people cancel their reservation at least 7 days ahead of time, they will be compensated with a credit. That credit can then be used to book another site at any time in the next 5 years. And, anyone who doesn’t show up for the first night at their campsite will forfeit the remainder of their reservation.
The bill will also place a 30-day limit on the number of days someone can stay at the same campsite in a single year. And during peak seasons, people will only be able to stay at a site for 7 nights in a row, maximum (similar to the 7-day and 14-day BLM rules).
On top of all that, starting in 2025, AB 618 will implement a lottery system for up to five of the most popular sites in the state. These changes apply to all State Parks in California, including those that do not use the Reserve California booking system.
And There’s More!
Adding to those common-sense changes, AB 618 also provides a campground discount for low-income Californians. Anyone who holds a Golden Bear pass will be eligible for a 25% discount on any camping reservations made at California State Park campgrounds. The Golden Bear passes are available to anyone who receives CalWORKs and supplemental security income, and also to households making below a certain income level.
According to the State, roughly 41,000 Californians will benefit from that discount. “All Californians should have equal opportunities and access to reserve a campsite within our public parks,” Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan said.
The bill passed the State Assembly and was read on the floor of the California Senate for the first time on June 1. It is now awaiting a committee assignment from the Committee on Rules for legislative hearings.