What does AB 618 mean for your next campout?

New California bill to impact campsite reservations in state parks

Four people sit at a picnic table with two camping tents and redwood trees in the background
Enjoying Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, one of the five most popular California state parks for camping. Photo by Daniel Gorostieta.

If you’ve ever tried booking a California state park campsite for a popular weekend, you know that sinking feeling. Scrolling past booked campground after booked campground, it seems like the entire state shared your dream of pitching a tent beneath the trees, roasting S’mores over glowing coals, and gazing up at starry night skies. For many would-be campers, those dreams remain the stuff of fantasy.

But landing a coveted state park campsite may soon get easier, thanks to California Assembly Bill 618. Introduced by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan and recently signed by Governor Newsom, the bill is designed to free up more campsites by incentivizing campers to cancel reservations they won’t use.

“California’s public parks and beaches are treasures that should be enjoyed by all Californians and demand for them has increased greatly,” said Bauer-Kahan in a statement. “Unfortunately, our current outdated reservation system has led to a situation where many campsites are left empty.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.”

Saying “no thanks” to no-shows

A man in a red jacket sits inside a one-person tent beneath the redwoods
More than 6 million visitors occupy state park campsites annually, making a place to rest your Therm-a-rest hard to come by. Photo by Vivian Chen.

California State Parks oversees more than 15,000 campsites and other lodging options throughout the state, most of which book up months in advance. Under AB 618, modifications to the parks’ reservation system, Reserve California, will include harsher penalties for late cancellations and no-shows:

  • Campers who cancel 2–6 days before their reservation start date will forfeit the cost of their first night, plus any reservation fees.
  • Campers who cancel within 24 hours of their start date—or who fail to show up—will forfeit the cost of their entire reservation, plus fees.
  • A clause in the bill penalizes those who fail to show up at reserved sites three times in a calendar year. These “repeat no-shows” can resume using the online reservation system after a year’s hiatus.
  • Campers cannot reserve a site for more than 7 consecutive nights in peak season. They also can’t reserve sites at a state park if they’ve occupied a site at that same park for more than 30 days in a calendar year.

These changes go into effect January 1, 2024. To prevent surprise fees, the bill requires State Parks to send two emails reminding campers about their upcoming reservation.

Winning the campsite lottery

At a shady campsite, two people sit inside a green tent while a man kneels at a water spigot to fill a cooking pot
A site at the popular campground in Samuel P. Taylor State Park, less than an hour from San Francisco. Photo by Vivian Chen.

AB 618 also includes a lottery system for campsites at up to five of the most popular state park units, to be implemented before January 1, 2025. These sites are yet to be determined, but may include spots at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, a redwoods park that in 2022 was among the five most popular California state parks for camping.

Too eager to wait for these changes take effect? Try snagging a site at one of these six lesser-known redwood parks.

About the author

Since 1918, Save the Redwoods League has protected and restored redwood forests and connected people with their peace and beauty so these wonders of the natural world flourish.

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3 Responses to “What does AB 618 mean for your next campout?”

  1. Nell

    Overall, I love this change. It breaks my heart to be enjoying a stay at a stunning park that was extremely difficult to reserve, only to see several sites go begging. Such a shame.

    These rules need to be shared with the staff helping campers at the ReserveCalifornia number. I had a staffer on the phone recently, helping me cancel a duplicate, concurrent web-reservation (how did that happen?) at Pismo, and she warned me that I may get kicked out of the parks for reserving for more than 7 successive days there. Cue needle scratching record on the turntable…

    I’d never heard this, and happened to be calling her from my 12th day at a current stay at Pismo. “Why was I offered an unpermitted length of stay on the web site?” I asked. No answer. Common sense dictates the web site not permit users to reserve for more than 7 days, or any other unpermitted option, not be offered to campers. Each park should clearly state its peak season and when the 7-day rule applies.

    Reply
  2. J graham

    Tx! Finally, impolite campers will be punished for not having the courtesy to cancel their reservations ahead of time! It’s about time.

    Reply
    • Laurasilva

      Need to ask for more of a deposit and cancellation penalty. Because dozen people will monopolize all the weekends in June July august then just come when the weather suites them. And don’t care about losing the deposits

      Reply

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