California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill on Sunday that will make it easier for campers to reserve a spot in the state’s parks. The bill, AB 618, was introduced by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan and received unanimous support from the legislature.
How the new law works
The new law will change the current reservation system for campsites in California state parks, which has been criticized for being outdated and unfair. According to Bauer-Kahan, many campsites are left empty due to late cancellations or no-shows, while others are booked months in advance or within minutes of the opening window.
The new law will incentivize early cancellations by giving campers a credit that can be used for another reservation within five years, if they cancel at least seven days before their arrival date. On the other hand, campers who do not show up after the first day of their reservation will forfeit the remainder of their booking.
The new law will also limit the number of days that people can stay at the same campsite per year to 30, and the length of reservations during peak season to seven consecutive nights. These provisions will apply to all state parks, including those that do not use the Reserve California booking system.
Additionally, the new law will direct the California Department of Parks and Recreation to implement a lottery system for up to five of the most popular campsites in the state, starting in 2025. The lottery system will be based on the booking interest six months ahead of the reservation date at a site.
The new law will also provide a discount to low-income park visitors through the Golden Bear pass, which offers free or reduced admission to state parks.
Why the new law matters
The new law is expected to increase access and equity for campers who want to enjoy California’s natural beauty and diversity. California has the most state park land in the country, with nearly 280 individual parks that offer over 15,000 campsites and other lodging options. These sites host more than seven million campers per year.
However, according to a survey conducted by The Dyrt, a camping website, more than half of campers across the country have experienced difficulty finding a campsite to book. Many campers have expressed frustration about the current reservation system, which allows people to book up to six months in advance or at 8 a.m. on the day of availability.
Bauer-Kahan said that the new law will promote responsible reservation practices and make more campsites available to everyone. “All Californians should have equal opportunities and access to reserve a campsite within our public parks,” she said in a statement.
The California State Parks Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports and advocates for state parks, also praised the new law as a common sense solution. “Everyone should get to enjoy our amazing state parks and (this bill) implements common sense changes to get more people into these beautiful places,” the foundation wrote in support of the bill.
How campers can book a site
Campers who want to book a site in California state parks can use the Reserve California website or call center, which operates from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The website allows campers to search for available sites by park name, region, date, or amenities. Campers can also create an account and save their preferences for future bookings.
Campers who book through Reserve California will receive at least two reminder emails prior to their arrival date, informing them of their reservation details and cancellation options. Campers who book through other methods will also receive confirmation letters with similar information.
Campers who want to cancel their reservation can do so online or by phone, depending on how they booked their site. Campers who cancel at least seven days before their arrival date will receive a credit that can be used for another reservation within five years. Campers who do not show up after the first day of their reservation will forfeit the remainder of their booking.
Campers who want to participate in the lottery system for the most popular campsites will have to wait until 2025, when the California Department of Parks and Recreation will announce the details and criteria for the lottery. Campers who qualify for the Golden Bear pass can apply online or by mail, and present their pass at the park entrance.