SAN DIEGO — Frequent campers at California state parks are no stranger to the difficulties of getting a reservation at one of the thousands of campsites across the state. But, a new state bill might make it a bit easier for outdoor enthusiasts to snag a spot.
AB 618, introduced by Democratic Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, proposes to amend reservation policies for campsites to add incentives for early cancellations and penalties for not showing up — regulations which aim to open up spaces to meet the current demand.
The bill will also direct the California State Parks department to implement a lottery system for a handful of the most coveted campsites, as well as provide a substantial discount to low-income visitors that hold a Golden Bear pass.
“California’s public parks and beaches are treasures that should be enjoyed by all Californians,” Bauer-Kahan 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 “Unfortunately, our current outdated reservation system has led to a situation where many campsites are left empty.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.”
According to Bauer-Kahan’s office, more than 6.5 million visitors camp in one of California’s 15,000 sites spanning 279 parks each year, with demand currently at an all-time high.
Frustrations around nabbing one of these sites — whether it’s having to reserve months in advance or wake up for the 8 a.m. window opening — has become an even more common phenomenon.
Nearly 59% of campers in a survey conducted by camping website, The Dyrt, said that they had difficulty finding a campsite to book, due to a lack of reservation availability.
Current regulations for campsite booking, according to Bauer-Kahan’s office, facilitate this inaccessibility, given that there are no penalties for spots that go unused — whether because of a last-minute cancellation or no-show.
Under AB 618, a cancellation made at least seven days before a reservation will result in a credit that can be used for another reservation within the next five years. Those who do not show up after the first day of a reservation will forfeit the remainder of the booking and not receive a credit for future use.
The bill would also cap the number of days that people can stay at the same campsite per year at 30 and limit the length of reservations during peak season to seven consecutive nights.
These provisions would apply to all state parks, including the roughly 150 parks that do not use the Reserve California booking system.
The new lottery system, on the other hand, would only apply to as many as five of the most popular campsites, decided at the discretion of the State Parks department starting in 2025. According to the bill, this will be decided by which sites have the most booking interest six months ahead of a reservation date.
It is unclear if the entirety of these popular campsites will be under the lottery system or if it will be a select number of spots.
“Reserving a campsite at popular state parks can be a highly competitive endeavor,” the California State Parks Foundation wrote regarding the bill. “We support efforts to ensure that the state’s campsite reservation system is fair and equitable.”
In addition to these proposed changes to the way reservations are made, AB 618 would implement a 25% discount on campsite bookings for low-income individuals that hold an annual pass to state parks called the “Golden Bear pass.”
The pass is free for CalWORKs and supplemental security income recipients, as well as households that have an income that fall below a certain income level.
“Not all Californians have historically enjoyed the same access to public spaces such as parks and beaches,” a report on the bill read. “State Parks has recognized these systemic barriers to access and has committed to providing equitable access to high-quality outdoor recreation for underrepresented park users and underserved communities.”
AB 618 was passed with unanimous, bipartisan support from the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife and is currently before the Appropriations Committee.