A bill that would make it easier for campers at California state parks to snag a campsite reservation has passed the State Assembly with nearly unanimous support.
AB 618, introduced by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-San Ramon), proposes amendments to state campsite reservation polices that aim to open up spaces to meet demand by deterring late cancellations and no-shows with added penalties.
The bill also directs the California State Parks department to implement a lottery system for a handful of the most coveted campsites, as well as provide a discount to low-income park visitors through the Golden Bear pass.
“All Californians should have equal opportunities and access to reserve a campsite within our public parks,” Bauer-Kahan wrote in a report on the bill.
California has the most state park land in the country with 279 individual parks, with nearly 7 million visitors staying in one of the state’s 15,000 campsites.
Despite this, more than half of campers have experienced difficulty finding a campsite to book, according to a survey conducted by camping website The Dyrt — whether it’s because of reserving a spot months in advance or the limited 8 a.m. window opening.
Current regulations for campsite booking facilitate this inaccessibility that outdoor enthusiasts commonly express frustration about, Bauer-Kahan’s office told KTLA sister station KSWB in April.
Under AB 618, a cancellation made at least seven days before a reservation will be incentivized with a credit that can be used for another reservation within five years, while those who do not show up after the first day of the reservation will forfeit the remainder of the booking.
The bill would also cap the number of days that people can stay at the same campsite per year at 30, as well as limit the length of reservations during peak season to seven consecutive nights.
These provisions would apply to all state parks, including the 150 parks that do not use the Reserve California booking system.
The new lottery system, however, would only apply to up to five of the most popular campsites in the state starting in 2025. According to the bill, this will be decided by the State Parks department depending on booking interest six months ahead of a reservation date at a site.
“(AB 618) proposes changes to the reservation system that incentivize early cancellations, which in turn should make more campsites available to everyone,” the California State Parks Foundation wrote regarding the bill. “Everyone should get to enjoy our amazing state parks and (this bill) implements common sense changes to get more people into these beautiful places.”
In addition to these reservation policy changes, AB 618 would provide a 25% discount on campsite bookings for the roughly 41,000 low-income individuals that hold a the “Golden Bear” annual pass to the state parks.
The pass is free to recipients of CalWORKs and supplemental security income, as well as households that fall below a certain income level.
According to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, State Parks estimates that the ongoing annual costs of the bill will be approximately $256,000 from the general fund for two positions in the department’s accounting office.
AB 618 was read for the first time in the State Senate on Thursday, June 1. It is awaiting a committee assignment from the Committee on Rules for legislative hearings.