Alex Treadway/Getty Images
Claire Trageser
August 21, 2018

After a major outcry over changes in how California state park campsites are reserved, the California State Parks Department is changing course.

Last August, the state launched a new website called reservecalifornia.com, where campers would go to book campsites. Previously, the California State Parks Department had used a website called reserveamerica.com — the same website used by most other states in the country — to handle its reservations.

Under the old system, campsites would open up for reservations at 8 a.m. on the first of the month six months in advance. For example, reservations would open on February 1 for all dates in August.

On reservecalifornia.com, it was a little different. Campsites were open to book exactly six months in advance — so February 11 for August 11, February 12 for August 12, and so on. But campers found that the website also allowed people to extend existing reservations, which meant that someone hoping to reserve a campsite would find all the sites were already booked before he or she even had a shot at snagging a site.

Many campers had problems with the new system. When the TV station KSBY covered the change, the story’s comments were flooded with people reporting problems.

“Absolutely terrible! The problem is that once you have a reservation, you can modify it every week for $7.99 ... FOREVER,” one user wrote. “Clearly someone is taking advantage of their ‘awesome’ new system. It's been going on since day 1.”

“Thank goodness!! I thought it was just me,” said another. “I thought the other system was bad but this has it beat. So frustrating and NOT serving the people of California at all.”

Some frustrated campers began turning to outside companies, such as First Choice Reservations, which offers to book a site for you, for an additional fee.

“Stop losing at 8 a.m.,” its website advertises. “Our computers complete your reservation for you, in 1/100th of a second, so you and your family get the site you want.”

“Since launching ReserveCalifornia last August, the department heard both positive and negative feedback from our visitors,” said Jorge Moreno, a spokesman for the California State Parks Department, in an email. “Complaints included sites were being booked prior to the 8 a.m. open window for new dates, some visitors were taking advantage of the system by modifying their reservation multiple times, (and) use of third parties to book reservations.”

California Campsite Booking in 2019

Due to the complaints, the parks department is making some changes, he said.

Now, campers can only modify their existing reservation twice, which is meant to prevent people from continuously extending reservations. At Crystal Cove Beach Cottages, no modifications are allowed.

“Prior to the new policy, visitors with existing reservations were able to modify their reservation anytime prior to the 8 a.m. open window up to the maximum stay limit of that park,” Moreno said.

The reservecalifornia.com website is also moving to ban third party vendors, stating in its terms and conditions that “any resale, transfer, use, for profit activity, or memberships that are not approved in advance by California State Parks are strictly prohibited and will be subject to immediate cancellation without notice, refund or reimbursement.”

There are currently no approved vendors to operate as third party partners, Moreno said.

The changes are meant to make California’s state park reservation system more user-friendly, and allow more people to access the 13,000 campsites available on the reservation system, Moreno said.

Campers will find out this winter whether things have improved when they begin booking their camping trips for next summer.

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