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New California law seeks to improve state park campsite access

Anyone who has tried to reserve campsites at a California state park or beach knows how tricky they can be to secure, with spots sometimes being completely booked minutes after slots open up.

A bill recently signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom seeks to improve access by discouraging residents from reserving campsites they do not plan to use or canceling their reservations at the last minute.

Assembly Bill 618, introduced by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda), creates a set of restrictions and financial penalties related to reserving campsites at California state parks beginning in 2024.

It also creates a temporary system that will use random drawings to assign reservations at five of the most popular camping destinations, to be implemented by 2025 and used through 2028. Those parks are not identified in the bill, but will be determined by the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

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 “Unfortunately, our current outdated reservation system has led to a situation where many campsites are left empty.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

California has about 280 state parks, with more than 15,000 campsites, cabins, cottages and yurts available for use. Roughly half of state parks use an online system called Reserve California that allows reservations to be made up to six months in advance.

The specific restrictions outlined in the bill include limiting peak season reservations — those between Memorial Day and Labor Day — to a maximum of seven consecutive nights, and to 30 days total per calendar year. It also prohibits someone from using the state’s online booking system for a year if they fail to show up to three consecutive reservations.

Financial penalties would be possible for no-shows or those who cancel on short notice. They could include forfeiting the cost of one night for anyone who cancels within two to six days of their reservation, and the entire cost for anyone who does not show up or cancels within 24 hours of their reservation start date.

Anyone who makes a reservation will receive two reminder emails detailing the timing restrictions to receive refunds for cancellations.

Finally, the bill requires reservation slots be made available online for others within three calendar days of a cancellation.

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