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New State Park Rules May Impact Your Wallet

Officials with a certain state’s parks aren’t happy campers, and they’re hoping a new rule will change that. While it could cost some folks, you might actually be able to benefit from it.

To make the most of these changes, you better get familiar with this bylaw. If not, don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Today, we’re sharing what you need to know about this new State Parks reservations rule.

Let’s get going!

You may be losing money if you aren't careful about the new California state park reservation rules
You may be losing money if you aren’t careful about the new reservation rules

Rule Changes for State Park Camping Reservations

California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed Assembly Bill 618 into law. The legislation contains several significant changes impacting those with state park camping reservations. This bill goes into effect on January 1, 2024.

The purpose of California’s rule is to reduce the number of cancellations and no-shows in state park campgrounds. They’re doing this by introducing penalties for those who withdraw at the last minute or fail to show up.

Under the policy, guests canceling within seven days of their reservation won’t receive a refund. Instead, they’ll get a future credit redeemable within five years. No-shows will forfeit the booking and any funds paid. 

If you need to cancel a campsite, do it as soon as possible to avoid losing out.

Other changes included a lottery system for some of the most popular spots. They’ll also begin capping the number of nights visitors can stay in the same campgrounds per year. Doing so will prevent abuse of the system and ensure everyone who wants to enjoy the great outdoors will get their chance.

About California State Parks

California State Parks manages 1.4 million acres among its 279 individual units. The first of these, Yosemite Grant, was established in 1864 and eventually became a part of Yosemite. This makes Big Basin Redwoods, formed in 1902, the oldest unit. However, politically, the government agency didn’t begin until 1927.

Today, these beautiful destinations welcome over 70 million people each year. The guests enjoy viewing hundreds of miles of coastline and relaxing on nearly 1,000 miles of lake and river banks. 

Others take their adventures a bit more extreme and hike, bike, and ride more than 4,000 miles of trails. In addition, many maximize their time by staying in one of 15,000 campsites.

The 279 units include 87 state parks, 63 beaches, 51 historic parks, and 32 recreation areas. The remaining 46 are natural reserves, properties, vehicular recreation areas, marine reserves, historical monuments, and the like.

Unfortunately, California’s nine national parks often steal the show. Tourists spend most of their time exploring these fascinating places and often overlook the state-run units. But their loss can be your gain.

Go beyond the state parks with 150 Nature Hot Spots in California: The Best Parks, Conservation Areas and Wild Places.

Tips For Making Reservations

Making reservations in a state park can be tricky, especially if you’re booking a popular spot. Some of these locations can sell out within minutes of becoming available. You can improve your chances by arming yourself with some critical information.

It’s good to know that the booking window for these reservations opens six months in advance. Additionally, sites become available at 8:00 Pacific Time. 

You should be at your computer and ready to complete the transaction quickly. Set a calendar reminder on your phone so you remember.

As mentioned earlier, the new California State Parks rule should help make it easier to snag last-minute reservations. If you don’t want to lose money, cancel at least one week in advance. You can score a sweet spot if you watch the website as the date approaches.

Best California State Parks to Make Camping Reservations

California is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the entire country. Don’t miss your chance to make reservations in some of its best destinations. Here are a few to consider.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is in Southern California, only 90 minutes from San Diego. Its Mars-like landscape leaves you feeling like you’re on another planet. With five established campgrounds and eight primitive options, you’ll have plenty to choose from.

It has about 650,000 acres and plenty of space to explore. Hundreds of miles of trails make it a hiker’s paradise. Challenge yourself to see how many miles you can complete during your stay.

One of the only negatives of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the RV length restrictions. Campgrounds here don’t accept motorhomes or trailers longer than 35 feet long.

Dwarfed by redwood tree trunks, a young woman hiker enjoys the old growth forest in the Simpson Reed Grove in Jedediah Smith State Park, part of Redwood National Park California.
Wander amongst massive trees in Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park sits along California’s northern coast. Visitors flock here to walk amongst the massive redwood trees like the unit’s namesake would’ve done in the 1820s. You’ll find 20 miles of trails to hike through the thick temperate rainforest.

The 10,000 acres of land comprise approximately 7% of all the old-growth redwoods in the world. Load up your car and complete the 10-mile Howland Hill Road. This trip typically takes about an hour, but it’s a chance to get up close to these monolithic wonders.

If you want to camp, set up in one of the 89 sites. However, these are rustic spots that don’t have hookups. Some can accommodate rigs up to 36 feet long. So make sure you check the site’s length before making your reservation.

We wondered Can You Still Drive Your Car Through a Redwood Tree?

Sonoma Coast State Park

The beautiful Sonoma Coast State Park is approximately 70 miles north of San Francisco. It sits perched overlooking the Pacific. 

Want to wake up or fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves? Book a spot here! It includes 17 miles of breathtakingly beautiful coastline.

This park offers four campgrounds. Bodega Dunes is the only one with bathrooms and showers. Sorry, RV users. While there’s a dump station, you won’t find any hookups for your rig.

If you want to lace up your boots, check out one of the three designated hiking areas. Bodega Head is a great spot to catch epic views of the Pacific Ocean. If you’d rather trek to the beach, try Kortum Trail and Pomo Canyon Trail. These are relatively easy walks, and the sights will make them worthwhile.

Even more! 7 Best State Parks in California.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Last-Minute Spots!

While increased rules and regulations often make camping more challenging, the California State Park rule does the opposite. We’re happy to see that officials are doing something about a problem that frustrates many of us. 

Now, when a campground says it’s full, there’s a good chance it actually is. So watch for those last-minute cancellations and act quickly. You never know what might become available!

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers who love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below: