The reservation window for camping or lodging reservations opens six months in advance from your arrival date. For example, if you want to reserve a campsite starting on July 7, you’d make your reservation 6 months to the day prior, or on January 7. If you want to arrive on July 15, then you’d try to make your reservation on January 15th, and so forth. Your reservation could be for as many consecutive days as the park allows.
There are two ways you can make your reservation at California State Parks:
For most National Parks, a campsite can also be booked 6 months in advance (from the arrival date). So, if you want to arrive August 4th, you’ll want to make your reservation on February 4th starting at 7:00 a.m. (PST) or 10 a.m. (EST) – and remember to do the time zone math ahead of time!.
Notable exceptions include (but are not limited to) Yosemite National Park. So make sure to double check when the reservation window opens for Recreation.gov campgrounds.
|ARRIVAL DATES||RESERVATIONS OPEN (7 a.m. PST / 10 a.m. EST)|
|Jan 15 – Feb 14||Sept 15|
|Feb 15 – Mar 14||Oct 15|
|Mar 15 – Apr 14||Nov 15|
|Apr 15 – May 14||Dec 15|
|May 15 – Jun 14||Jan 15|
|Jun 15 – July 14||Feb 15|
|Jul 15 – Aug 14||Mar 15|
|Aug 15 – Sept 14||Apr 15|
|Sep 15 – Oct 14||May 15|
|Oct 15 – Nov 14||Jun 15|
|Nov 15 – Dec 14||July 15|
|Dec 15 – Jan 14||Aug 15|
You can make your reservation online or by phone for National Parks:
As pointed out earlier, trying to get a campsite reservation is very competitive, but fear not – the staff at CampsitePhotos.com has spent years practicing and fine-tuning their skills and we’d like to pass along our campsite reservation tips!
If you’re trying for dates that are not yet released, go through the process above and then click through the calendar to your arrival date. In the example below, we want to arrive July 26th (the reservation window will open January 26th at 8 a.m. PST). However, it is important to check to see what campsites are available the day before the reservation window opens (in this case on January 25th)! As shown below (checking on January 25th), there is one (campsite #10), and maybe more that are available for a July 26th arrival.
Here is where it gets exciting. On the day reservations are available (January 26 example above), login about 20 minutes prior to 8 a.m. (PST). Then go through the same steps/process and end up at the screen shown above. Also, open another tab on your monitor that displays a clock ticking by the second. At 7:59:59 CLICK ON THE DATE (July 26) of the available campsite (see below).
If you’re quick enough – a screen will open asking you to confirm your not a robot and to ‘Book Now‘. If you miss out, continue to go back and check for available campsites. On occasion, people may have booked multiple sites and will be cancelling the ones they don’t want.
Go to Recreation.gov and login to your account about 20 minutes prior to 7:00 a.m. (PST).
Find your campground and have the ‘Availability Grid’ highlighted. This shows available campsites by date. Click on the ‘Check In’ box and advance through calendar to see available dates. Click on a date to reserve if date you want is available (see example below).
If you are going for a date not yet released (NR), then the process is similar to reserving a site for California State Parks. Have your campground and dates all cued up and ready to go about 20 minutes before 7:00 a.m. (PST).
At 1 second before the reservation window opens click the “ADD TO CART” button and wait to see if there is availability. If so – get after it! If you have multiple windows open – start with the first window and click 1 second prior, then go to the next and next (clicking on the ADD TO CART button). You can also try for the same campsite or have different campsites chosen for each window. If you get a campsite, the website will take you through the payment process.
If you don’t get your campsite, then keep checking for other campsites and click to reserve if available. All sites at popular campgrounds will sell out within minutes. If the campground sells out – try Campsite Assist to get alerts when a site becomes available in the campground and dates you choose.
Yellowstone National Park – Upper Falls
Hope this is of some help in your adventures of trying to reserve a campsite. Please leave a comment, question or other suggestions. And also let us know if you were able to get a campsite!
Regards, Park Ranger
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204 Replies to “Tips to Reserve a Campsite at a California State Park or National Park”
Amazing pictures. I already travel in this park many times. good one place..
We are getting ready to go on a 2-3 year RV trip, camping in every state. This information is very helpful and also sounds a little scary! But thanks to you we will be prepared!
Thanks and you’re welcome Michele! Your trip sounds incredible! If you have the time – we’d sure like to hear about your adventures/travels during your trip!
Good Morning Camp Ranger,
It is nearly 3-1/2 years since most of these comments were posted. In May 2021 are your tips still valid? Any updates? eg., is ReserveCalifornia open at 7am now instead of 8am?
And… are you really a Ranger or just for CampPhotos.com? Have a great day and thank you for the tips.
Thanks for checking in and you’re welcome about the tips. Although published in 2018, the tips are pretty much still valid. ReserveCalifornia still opens up the reservation window at 8am PST 6 months prior to arrival date and the process for trying to reserve a campsite has not changed. It still is very difficult to reserve a site, especially since “bots” have become more active. There are about 14-15 recent comments (2021) that offer a few other ideas.
I’m finding the new Reserve California reservation system to be impossible! I was always able to get a campsite using Reserve America 6 months in advance, on the first of tbe month… This new rolling reservation system with Reserve California is just absurd! …9 mornings without any success. Some sites that are available at night, are no longer available at reservation time. I’ve made a couple phone calls to Reserve California to figure out what Is happening. Apparently if someone holds a reservation, they can extend it 24 hrs a day. A site that is seen as available when you go to bed…may not be available when you wake up. This has happened for several sites I have attempted to reserve…what? Are people using bots? Something isn’t right…
It seems most of the campers are experiencing the same issues. Hopefully Reserve California will re-evaluate their system and make some changes!
ReserveCalifornia is fraudulent. Third parties can book campsites and sell for profit. California State Park should use their own reservation system without charging a fee. Other government agencies have their own sites. Using ReserveCa. and paying $ 8.00 to book and the same to cancel is crazy.
I have had the same problem for two weeks! Every day I tried something different, used different browsers, a MAC and PC, and have not been successful. A couple times I thought I had a spot, only to discover that the reservation was for a completely different campsite than the one I was trying to make a reservation for. A friend of mine, my husband and daughter have had the same problems trying to make a reservation. The new Reserve California site has so many bugs it’s impossible to get a successful reservation. The only option I discovered is to pay a website $39/night to make the reservation for me using their computer program, that is obviously faster than a human can type – this is just wrong! I have been able to make a reservation successfully through Reserve America for the past 10+ years. The new Reserve California is horrible!
Do you think you can provide me with that website that provides their service?
The website is Firstchoicereservations.com, but be advised that they charge a significant nightly fee. They also require you to provide them with your credit card information, login information (for ReserveCalifornia.com, ReserveAmerica.com and Recreation.gov), and I believe additional information. And with all that – they do not guarantee they can get you a campsite reservation and/or the campsite you want.
Camp Ranger – why isn’t Reserve California doing something about First Choice Reservations? I believe what they are doing is unethical, possibly even illegal, and unfair to the general public who is using the website appropriately, only to get frustrated each day they can’t get a site.
Not sure what/if anything Reserve California is doing about First Choice Reservations. We did contact Reserve California (RC) about First Choice several months ago and all they said was ” . . . we are aware of the situation.”
We feel – as most of you do – that it isn’t right. First Choice is making much more (per reservation fee) than Reserve California (RC) charges so you’d think RC would be a little annoyed about it. BTW – First Choice was doing this before Reserve California, and they still do it with popular campgrounds on Reserve America. Regardless of whether First Choice is part of the problem with Reserve California, it isn’t right . . but apparently people are still willing to pay them a very high fee to get a campsite.
This site was making me crazy. I send email to all parks guys in october and told them someone abusing the system and they replied me they are busy. I am not able to book reservation from last 3 months. We need to come up some action plan against this site. Please send emails to Jorge.Moreno@parks.ca.gov , firstname.lastname@example.org
exactly the experience i’m having.. i usually go camping at 6 or 7 different parks every year… haven’t been able to get a single one yet.. all the way through October.
I agree with everyone that this is not easier… we have been trying for weeks now to get a site. When my wife finally got a site it wasn’t even the same camp ground.
That sure seems to be the consensus. We’re planning to do a survey on our Facebook page soon – about the ReserveCalifornia system. Hope to have that up in a few weeks.
Thank you, here is a new issue your having. I attempted to book again this morning for San Clemente SB and got all the way through only to find the system changed the location to Sugar Pine by Lake Taho. I have never been to that site and when I went back to beginning it still showed San Clemente. Same thing happen yesterday with my wife and moved us to Leo Carrillo SB. You should be shutting down your site until you get this fixed.
HI Patrick, Good to know for sure! And just to let you know – CampsitePhotos.com is not affiliated with ReserveCalifornia. We just provide the photos of the campsites, a little more info about the campground and link to make the reservation. We’re going to be accumulating all these comments, as well as do a survey soon and will pass along everyone’s concerns to California State Parks and ReserveCalifornia.
I would also encourage everyone to go here and leave comments: https://www.reservecalifornia.com/CaliforniaWebHome/ContactUs.aspx
I’m frustrated as well. I only have one week vacation and I can’t even get a campsite. I’ve tried six consecutive days without success. I’ve practiced my skill at hitting the reserve button instantly at 8am as if I were playing jeopardy. At this point I only have one more day to try otherwise I will need to set up my tent in the back yard for my week vacation. I’m also at a point that I will pay someone to get me a spot until the California system gets their program fixed. Thanks for the tip at hitting the reserve button at 7:59, I’ll try it.
Yes Roger – very frustrating! Our staff here at CampsitePhotos.com has had no luck. We’re going to put a survey together soon so stay tuned for the heads up on that. We intend to take the results to California State Parks (and to ReserveCalifornia as well). Hopefully it will motivate them to make some changes.
Thank you, I wish you the best of luck. Let me know if I can be of help.
Yeah it’s pretty typical for California to have stuckup snobby website to make reservations from. Kind of fits the overall vibe out there i’m sorry to say. Maybe he’ll get it fixed up eventually
Reserve California has been a disaster from day one when the system went down for three days on August 1, 2017, and campgrounds went empty except for the sites already reserved.
Twice this week I had a site and after filling in all my information and clicking reserve the website took me back to Homepage and I lost the sites. The website also sent me to a different park. With the height of prime summer reservations on the rise, I have a feeling that ReserveCalifornia servers will not be able to handle the mass increase people wanting campsites. That happened to ReserveAmerica about 15 years ago. Hitting the reserve button at 0759 only makes it worse and doesn’t work because you can’t enter the date until after 0800. It will only take you back to Big Basin
Well said Dave! And good tip on trying at 7:59 for ReserveCalifornia. That sometimes works for ReserveAmerica or Recreation.gov, but not for ReserveCalifornia.
Just a word of encouragement for those of you who might feel anxious and depressed after reading these comments about Reserve California. (I know I was!) We’ve been camping at a popular central Sierra campground for 30 years, and while it is not in the same league as Crystal Cove and other State Beaches, the coveted sites can be hard to get in early August. Nevertheless, I was able to snag one of the best at our favorite park this morning (2 February) without the aid of a bot, an agency, or even multiple windows. I did not get kicked off the site or have anything freeze. If you can be a little bit flexible about dates and individual campsites, it’s possible to book a place you’ll enjoy this summer.
I have tried for 19 straight days to get a site at San Elijo State Beach with no luck.
The problem is that the calendar doesn’t reflect the date until 8:00 am on the morning you want to book. By 8:01 all the sights are gone by the time you adjust the calendar to the correct date. This sight is a joke. I have been successful getting sites for 22 years but this is unreal.
THIS. Happened to me again today, same thing. Makes no sense.
Yes! This is exactly what is happening to me. The date used to open up a few minutes before 8:00am so that you could be poised to hit the booking button right at 8:00. Now it boots you out and by the time you get back in the site is gone. Also, with the rotating window, if you want a weekend spot you need to book the entire week because if you wait it will be gone. Then, later you cancel the days you don’t need and of course pay a cancellation fee. Pretty sneaky way for them to make more money and tie up sites that others might be able to use.
Still happening, thought I had it sorted out, I was on the list of sites in a campground and clikcing the refresh button and then at 8am nothing updated, even if I clicked the calendar icon on that page it did not show the 5th August date as having become available and the sites remained unavailable.
It was only a minute later I decided to go back to the home screen and then the 5th was available and I clicked back through to where I had originally been and…yep everything was gone.
I don’t get it though, looking at the sites before and after it looks like most just extended by a single day?
Oh, by the way I have been kicked off sites several times and landed in locations 500 miles away from my chosen destination.
This is getting so frustrating, we have never had so much trouble getting sites, and normally go out for a weekend a month in our trailer, but this summer we have nothing booked so far, and we try every morning. I HATE this new system, we keep trying different things to get something to work, today I got to the right spot to reserve the site right at 8 but the site was already Gone, someone must have a program that takes all the available sites right at 8
Yes – almost all the people we’ve spoken with (and/or on this forum) are having the same problems. There is a website that uses a program to snag multiple sites and we will be writing an article about it – asking for everyone’s thoughts – in the near future. We will also be doing a survey and intended to send to the California State Parks, as well as ReserveCalifornia in hopes that they address the problem soon.
I totally understand all the frustration everyone is going through. The site is very difficult and highly competitive. I DO HAVE A RESERVATION FOR JULY 11-15 (4 nights) AT EL CAPITAN STATE BEACH, SB, Group Site Drake if anyone is interested. We decided not to go on these dates and so we need to cancel it. Please email me if you’re interested so we can just transfer it which I think we can do
My family has been camping at Carpinteria or El Capitan for a week every summer since my Mom was a kid. I’m so stressed about getting our preferred campsite and dates this summer in August. I’d love to take over your El Cap reservation if that would work for you. Could I let you know at 8:10am on Feb 13 after I *probably* fail to get our Aug 13 reservation? My email is laina (underscore) levy (at) yahoo (dot) com.
Been trying all year so far with no luck. Today was the first day I actually got to the form where I would secure the reservation. Alas there was also a note on the top of the form saying my site was not available anymore and then it kicked me out to the main page. What a terrible system. This will likely be the first summer in many years that we don’t get a spot. If it is true there is a website automatically secure all sites, please release the name so we can all give them a piece of our minds.
Sounds like this ReserveCalifornia fiasco is a broken record for sure. We’re going to be writing a little article about the company/website that is using a system to grab multiple reservations (to resell). Their website is: firstchoicereservations.com. Their fees are high and they do require you to give them your login and credit card info . . . so they can ‘try’ and get you a camping reservation.
this reservation website is criminal and should be shut down.
This is a long rant, which I hope contributes to your article and your report.
First, the site http://www.firstchoicereservations.com/ returns a “404 Not Found” error page.
Second, I am having the same problems as everyone else. Last weekend I tried to book my August birthday at San Elijo SB. I tried for several days. Then, Sat am, I was on the site, I was logged in, and I was hitting refresh button. After a reload, a site was open (Magic!!! YaaY!), I clicked the green block, and up popped an *ocean view* site! I was elated! But, by the time I hit the “Reserve” button, I was kicked back to the ReserveCalifornia home page, with no site reservation showing in my cart, and I was not even at San Elijo SB page. By the time I returned, all the sites were gone. Clearly they allow multiple people to grab the same site at the same time. This has happened to me before. Just maddening. They are obviously using crappy web servers that are unable to synchronize the reservation system. A random lottery would be better. I too long for the 1 month system: at least you had lots of days to choose from, and more than one nanosecond to make a reservation.
This new system also fails because people grab 7 days, then extend the booking to move the window, and if you count the number of open sites (at SE-SB for example), you have like 10 total sites open. I heard a rumor online that you can book out 14 days.
What I am doing now is setting notifications. Note: the options to get an email or text message don’t work for me. So I also am monitoring my notifications manually, and just checking the site. Over the last couple of days I have “cobbled together” 4 days at 4 campsites. I will end up cancelling some and paying those change fees.
Would LOVE to see a swap site where we can offer up sites and swap them. I am willing to bet that on any given day during high season, a significant percentage of campers would benefit by exchanging.
Sadly, it doesn’t seem like ReserveCalifornia’s reservation website/system has improved much over the last several months. You are also correct in that FirstChoiceReservations is no longer in business.
Hopefully ReserveCalifornia will continue to make improvements.
I have nothing new to add but have experienced most of frustrations already posted. I never had these problems with reserve America. The new system is awful. I don’t know what,s going on with their time clock but it doesn’t seem to coincide with my phone or clock times. It doesn’t allow me to even go in at 8:00 and sometimes not even 8:01 or after. It was around 8:05 before it became available today and of course all sites were booked up. And it should not be permitted to allow outside for purchase web sites to purchase spots.
California State parks need to have their own booking site instead of using a private company charging a lot of money.
I have the same problem like everyone else. I was able to secure a site every year from ReserveAmerica. I don’t think the new rolling window is working.
Our extended family has successfully booked camping sites with Reserve America for the past 20 years. Yes, you did have to be organized and on it, but we did get sites. We have been trying to book for this years camping trips, but we have all been unsuccessful . When you can’t enter the correct dates until 8 o’clock, you have already lost any chance of booking, and yet someone is booking, everything is gone at 8:02 . Something is definitely not right.
I believe that the reservation system is corrupted by resellers or bots or something. I have found that popular campgrounds in fact are not full when I go there. I just spoke to a ranger at Big Basin, and she suggested that I call first on the day I am coming to check if campsites are available. It is unlikely that Big Basin is actually full on Winter weekdays. I showed up at Charles Van Damme which the website showed as full, and it was half empty. This reservation system discourages use of the campgrounds because it falsely shows the campsites as full. It would serve the public to shut the website down, and switch to first come first served.
Just tried AGAIN this morning for a San Elijo site. Everytime I hit the “Reserve Unit” button, it logged me out and went directly to the site’s homepage. So frustrating! This is the worst system ever. I never thought I would say this, but I really miss Reserve America.
Besides Reserve California being a terrible reservation site this could also be part of the problem with San Elijo.
Beginning March 2018 – June 2019, California State Parks will be constructing the new Lifeguard Headquarters building at San Elijo State Beach. Construction will occur Monday – Friday, but major electrical and plumbing work will keep some of the campsites closed during the construction process. Campsites will open intermittently during the construction process as they become available once the infrastructure work is completed and it is made certain that they are ready for campers. However, campsites 50-78 will remain closed for public safety throughout the duration of project. There may be construction noise during the week. The park will notify campers prior to releasing camping inventory on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/castateparksSD/, Twitter: https://twitter.com/CaStateParksSD and Instagram
We’re located close to San Elijo and the last time I was down there (about a month ago) – the sites were open (no construction). The construction/project may have been cancelled/put on hold.
My wife and I have been trying every day for two weeks to make a reservation at Crystal Cove, using all the techniques described here, to no avail. Today we had three possibilities lined up, and all three got taken just before 8:00:00am. Like, ten seconds before. How can this happen? I’ve gotten to the page where you think you have a reservation, and they give you 15 minutes to fill out the form. I filled it out in three, hit PURCHASE, and got the dreaded SITE NO LONGER AVAILABLE message. Either someone is able to make their reservations before 8, or the system has some really serious bugs.
Sorry none of our tips helped with ReserveCalifornia. Their reservation does seem to have some serious bugs, and it also could be that ‘entities’ are using super fast connections to grab campsites. Crystal Cove is super difficult to get, but with the added problems – probably impossible. CampsitePhotos.com is gearing up to do some surveys and take the results to the California State Parks. We hope to have that going in a few weeks. Just from comments here, and others we’ve spoken with – 99% have had problems with ReserveCalifornia, with nobody getting reservations.
Yes Kristen, They tell you to refresh on the hour, and dumps you back to homepage. And who is booking only 1 day when they are getting in? Supposedly, “available sites”, after 8, show 1 day booked, really?? Even the sites that use to hang around are now showing booked. What is up? ? ?
None of you mentioned the new “modify -your-reservation” system. If you got a reservation (say in May) you can go into your account and change (forward) the date and the site. Call your friend and he can pick up the days you are leaving behind. There is no limit on how many times you can do this. That may be why a site available last night is no longer available this morning. I think its a crime to allow people to hoard sites.
Good point on the ‘modifying your reservation’ feature. This may be causing some of the problems as well.
D Getz – I have tried modifying a reservation and it will only allow you to select a date that is available. You can’t select a date in the future, and you can only select the current date when it is available at 8 am. If you have been able to get it to work otherwise, please let me know.
It’s not hoarding sites, its the ONLY flipping way to even get sites! The system is a JOKE. We’ve been going for years and it has NEVER been this difficult to get a site.
And most recently we found out that the BOTS are BACK . . . that a few individuals have developed programs to snag campsites. Some of these people are charging for their ‘service’. Unfortunately they are also making it difficult for the average human camper to get a site. ReserveCalifornia did shut a few of these people/entities down awhile back. Hopefully they will continue to go after the new ones.
Had to cancel reservations made through Reserve America. Six months later after numerous phone calls and emails still know refund! Is Reserve California subcontracted by the state?
Reserve California is a spinoff of Reserve America and both are sub-contracted by the State of California. Not sure when the contracts come due.
This “new and improved” reservecalifornia reservation system is not only annoying to use, but also unethical and illegal.
The State of California is fully aware that the website is being gamed by bots, much like the resale ticket industry, and has done nothing to fix it.
I have already been in contact with a class-action lawyer and we plan to help everyone who has been affected by this egregious new system.
We would like to be part of the class action lawsuit. We too have been bumped off after we entered all info including credit card and hit reserve. Is this system rigged?
I’d like to know the name of the attorney you’ve contacted because I’d like to inquire with him about illegal nurse of the pass Exchange program they gave us all lifetime disability passes some of us many years ago and now because they’re switching to reserve California they want everybody to exchange those lifetime passes for a new style lifetime pass that works with the reserve California system but they have no online availability to exchange the past they expect disabled people to drive in some cases several hundred miles to the nearest parks office to exchange the old lifetime pass for a new lifetime pass and then when you called parks that are listed as Exchange locations many of them are not actually capable of exchanging the passes like the website says…….. I’m going to be contacting some class action attorneys myself in the next couple days particularly one I found who won action lawsuit against the California state park system a few years back but if you have one already working on this they may want to know about the lifetime passes that are apparently not lifetime now that they’re making us exchange them and making the old ones no longer valid meaning they’re not actually lifetime like they told us they would be
Thank you, I would love to join this class action suit
I just noticed something today when refreshing the page on Reserve California. I clicked refresh with 7 seconds before 8am (watching the online clock with seconds). The page refreshed with 3 seconds to go, and all the sites were already booked!
I’m going to try again each day to find that sweet spot. But my fear is that somehow First Choice or some other company has figured out a ‘back door’ into the Reserve California database/server.
I’m not buying that it’s only available at 8am. Perhaps it is on the ReserveCalifornia.com website, but the servers must release the date lock beforehand for the website to have access to the servers.
Wow Tom – good find. Or should we say – bad ;-|
Let’s us know if you find that sweet spot!
This whole new reservation system is so awful. Like many of you, my family and I have been able to reserve a camping spot at South Carlsbad State Beach every Summer for the past 10 years without the added of frustration of trying to secure a spot every day. This morning we tried again and my husband actually got through to reserving a camping spot even filling out the pre-information screen but was suddenly kicked off and denied our spot as soon as we pressed the continue button for payment. It said the spot was no longer available!!! How is that possible?!! There has to be a way to address this problem with this new reservation system.
I think it sucks that you can’t get a reservation bc someone hack with a program beats you to it to make a quick buck. As a lifetime California native, its a sad state of affairs when I can’t even use my state resources which I’ve been paying for in taxes for >40 years goes by way of corporate greed. State of CA needs to get their priorities straight
Been going to San Elijo since 1970…was easier when had to reserve by phone…very discouraging…they should call their site “Disappearing California” because things seem to vanish once you hit the reserve button.
Another approach is to use https://www.campnab.com. It scans parks for cancellations, and then texts you when something opens up.
We made it for use in B.C., and it’s worked out pretty well for campers around here. So, we added California, too. 🙂
Another BOT type site that charges
You found another one?
ReserveAmerica used to let you set up alerts for cancellations for FREE. I checked with ReserveCalifornia and, of course, they do not offer that feature.
We have to charge something. It’s a lot of work to make the site, and the servers cost us as well. That said, we’ve worked to make it affordable. Memberships are as low as $5/mo. (or $1.67 a scan).
Eric K – I understand you are a business and there are costs associated with the service you offer. My complaint is something that used to be FREE (or paid for with my tax dollars) is no longer available and I have to pay a non-government company if I want the same service.
Thank you Camp Ranger.
I also was all set and hit “reserve” when it kicks me to some other camp ground.
I use the phone number at the same time as their web site.
I have better luck with talking to them. They can check availability quicker than I can and lock you in.
Then you go back and fill everything. Also, remember to set up an a account, saves lot’s of time.
I’ve been camping at South Carlsbad every year for 30 years. The reservecalifornia website is a disaster. Started booking sites in February. Have tried almost everyday following the rules. Haven’t secured our family week at the beach yet. This website is broken or a robot has taken control. Very Sad.
Your photos in the above article are just gorgeous. Will you please give the name of each photo campground? Thanks so much. Very happy to have found your website.
Hi Mic and thanks so much! Glad you found us and hope our photos and info will help with your camping planning. Be sure to spread the word about CampsitePhotos.com!
As for those photos – we have links on each photo to the campgrounds/parks, but they are in order:
Carpinteria State Beach (CA)
Big Basin Redwoods State Park (CA)
Half Moon Bay State Park (CA)
Doheny State Beach (CA)
Acadia National Park (ME)
Yellowstone National Park (WY)
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (CA)
I think First Choice Reservations snaps up ALL the good campsites with their bots, and then scalps them out like concert tickets. They just push the reservations as needed, which may partially explain why the sites get snapped up seconds before 8am. I have yet to hear back from anyone at Reserve California with my complains. They’re probably on the take from First Choice.
Hello! We have encountered all of the frustrations listed above (logged out unexpectedly; sites that were available yesterday suddenly gone at 5 minutes to booking time; when attempting to pay for a site in my “cart” with 10 minutes to spare, the site suddenly becomes inexplicably “unavailable”; spending 20-30 minutes making reservations every morning for a week and coming up empty-handed). It is so bad. I will be writing the parks director.
In addition to the above, I have found several times where the information on the site is just plain inaccurate, and when I have called the regional park offices to verify, they have informed me that they have a long list of “updates” waiting to get into the new reservation system. (One example is listing a site as “ADA Requred” when it was really only supposed to be “ADA Accessible”, basically blocking the gen pop from reserving it. Another example is not distinguishing between the “off-season, walk-up only, no online reservations” dates and instead listing them as “booked dates”.)
Furthermore, I think I have figured out a tricky way that the new site is being used, and it’s related to the “modify reservation” feature. Its a little tough to describe, but I’ll do my best!
–> On January 20th, I make a reservation for the max 7 nights, starting on July 20th (departing on July 27th).
–> Because of the new rolling window, I can log into my reservation on any day between January 21st and January 26th and “modify” my reservation to be 7 days from the *current day*, meaning…
–> On January 26th after 8am, I can modify my reservation to arrive on July 26th and depart on August 2nd. Becuase I already had the site reserved for the night of the 26th, I basically get priority for the next seven days. Yes, I have to relinquish the earlier nights (July 20-26) but I am able to force my way into reserving whatever weekend dates I really want.
–> In effect, if I am willing to pay the $7.99 change fee, I can continue to hold the site, rolling my reservation forward one week at a time, indefinitely.
All in all, I have managed to make about 8 reservations at 3 parks with the new reservations system. This would have taken me a maximum of an hour on the former ReserveAmerica system last year, but it has already consumed 10-15 hours of time this year, and I have very little to show for it.
Please let me know if I can sign any petitions or participate in any letter writing campaigns, as it is a seriously inferior system that is a major disservice to the people of CA!
Excellent (albeit sad) commentary on the ReserveCalifornia system. And very interesting (did not know) about how (if you have a reservation) you can modify/extend out indefinitely. I can see this ‘feature’ really causing problems as well. We’re going to do a survey soon on our Facebook page and after we get the results – we will share with the California State Parks . . and we may also do a petition. We’ll make an announcement on our website soon about the survey and possible petition.
I’ve heard from people who have done this same thing. Also, people will make a reservation beginning on Monday or Tuesday, then modify it later so they only stay and pay for the weekend plus the change fee. Ridiculous that this system works best when people figure out how to manipulate it,
As long as I’m here, I love this campsite photos website! I use it often.
Thanks Diana for the kind compliment and support! Look for several new campgrounds to be added throughout the spring/summer.
And hopefully ReserveCalifornia will get their acts together.
I have been trying for the last 4 days to get a site at Seacliff SB. Granted there are only 25 total spots, but with the rolling window there are only 1 – 5 sites available on any given day. The tried and true tricks for Reserve America are an epic fail. Refreshing the screen at 8am on the nose costs the second that is required to snag a spot. Once refreshed all sites are gone. Why is the refresh step even needed? Reserve America allows you to just push the button at 7AM. GAHH.
Same thing has been happening to me. What I encounter is when I have a campsite picked out and the hit “reserve” it says that the booking window isn’t open yet, even though it’s past 8:00. Super frustrated with this system. And I also had to cancel a reservation at Seacliff last August and still haven’t received my refund.
We have a poll up on the CampsitePhotos Facebook page regarding whether you’ve been successful at getting campsite reservations with ReserveCalifornia. Please check it out and cast your vote. The poll ends February 27. Thank you!
After trying almost every day for 2 months, I was finally successful in getting a beachfront spot at Silver Strand SB. I think the stars were all aligned that day and I was granted a miracle. It was also my daughter’s birthday that day so I thought I might get lucky on her behalf. Otherwise, I have no explanation for how I got a spot. What used to be a one day exciting event to get a spot for the summer, has now turned into a daily frustrating grind. I hope ReserveCalifornia does some serious changes before next summer season!
Way to go Annette! Finally a success story. It must have been because of your daughter’s birthday! 🙂
Trying to get a labor day weekend campsite. I called to see when to book since labor day weekend starts August 31 and there are not 31 days in February. The agent stated booking starts March 2. I looked it up on line as well and the RC site said March 1. I looked on the website on February 28 and the sites were not available to book yet. I get on the site on March 1 and they are all gone. I called and talked to an agent and they said that people booked on August 28 for the weekend. I think those people are going to go back and fix their dates. Or the bot got them. So frustrating. Something has to change. We used to be able to get sites easily.
Let me add my frustrations with ReserveCalifornia. Seacliff SB has been my CA preferred camping destination for the past 40 years. Up until the ReserveCalifornia system was activated, I had no problem making an online reservation through ReserveAmerica. I have tried unsuccessfully to make an online reservation since ReserveCalifornia was implemented. Today is March 10, 2018. I wanted to make a reservation for September 10 for 5 nights. Prior to 8:00AM, I had my campsite reservation ready to go. However, September 10 was blocked for the first night. I assumed that at 8:00:00 AM, September 10 would open and my campsite would be booked. September 10th did no open until ~8:04 AM. When it did update, the entire campground was already booked for my start night, I assume because of the reserve bot systems. And, don’t get me started on trying to get a cancellation refund. I’m still waiting months after the cancellation was made.
I/we feel your pain Ted. Nothing but problems and no reservations with ReserveCalifornia. CampsitePhotos.com did do a quick poll on our Facebook page. An overwhelming 90% of those responding indicating they were not happy with ReserveCalifornia.
Great! Do you know if there is a fee to reserve tickets? Are there other suggestions or rules to follow in order to camp there?
ReserveCalifornia, ReserveAmerica and Recreation.gov do charge a reservation fee.
This new site is definitely not as user friendly as the reserveamerica site, especially on any mobile device, including an iPad. Not being able to navigate the campground map while reserving and not seeing the visual of the location of the available spots and the site/pad length has proven to be very limiting and frustrating. I see still no option to set email notifications when sites become available, as there was with the reserveamerica site.
I, also, have now waited 6 months (and had multiple follow-up phone calls) for a one night refund that had been promised to us after we arrived at Crystal Cove,after hours, in September with reservations, only to find that other campers had occupied our site. We had to park up near the park range station in a driveway and had been reassured they would right the situation by refunding us our money. We had spoken with 4 park rangers while there and have had at least that many phone conversations with both the Crystal Cove park rangers in charge and with the reservecalifornia employees and have yet to receive the refund, which had been originally stated to take up to 2 weeks from our planned stay, to taking up to 6 weeks from when they mailed it in January, to still…..
Waiting… We have lost all confidence in the State of CA reservation system.
I am so relieved to finally find a place with others who have been dealing with the same problem my family and friends have been! We’ve been going to Crystal Cove for a few years now and never had a problem with reserveamerica. This new system has been horrific. I don’t understand how it is possible for them to continue operating it the way they are. It was so much easier when there were a couple thousand people trying for 20ish cottages for an entire month. Now you’ve got a couple thousand people trying for just one cottage each day. Maybe more if they are available but usually not. And now people are just modifying their reservations constantly so that what shows as available at night, before I go to bed, is no longer available in the morning.
Interesting you should mention Crystal Cove Cottages. We’ve been fortunate to get cottages over the years, but not with ReserveCalifornia. I believe one of the big problems in regards to Crystal Cove Cottages is that one of the Bot companies (First Choice Reservations) has been grabbing most all of the cabins as soon as they become available. First Choice doesn’t ‘resell’ exactly. What they do is have you give them your account information, credit card information and dates you want the cottage. If they are successful (and they usually are), they will secure your reservation, but at a very expensive per night fee added on.
And I’m with you – ReserveCalifornia (and these bot companies) are ruining it for most people.
Hmmm, I had just the opposite experience. I had tried for Crystal Cove for years-and never got a spot. Once Reserve California took over i did. Not by a robot-but just being available. I know others who finally could get a spot at other coveted locations. Just as it’s disconcerting that some people can’t get spots now, i found it equally disconcerting then, that the same people could book prime locations “for years” ( which is verified by comments here). Also people transferred their bookings to others, in the past- so apparently this is not new.
Prior to Reserve California, I ran into a person who “booked” Crystal Cove every summer for a week for her family-every year for five years on the Reserve America site. She felt sorry me-but not enough to tell me how she was able to do so for years :).
I guess what I am saying is that all systems have their idiosyncrasies. But i have to say my experience and that of friends and co-workers, has been Reserve California appears to even the playing field-because (and especially based on the comments here) the wealth wasn’t being shared. That being said, i completely agree that a robot company is wrong-and should be disallowed.
One other comment. There has been a huge amount of publicity regarding Reserve California and the California “hot spots”- Crystal Cove, Jalama etc. which puts California camp sites on more people’s radar- and in greater demand. In the last year, I’ve seen three top magazines feature California campsites, specifically naming the top locations. In the last month, there have been four newspaper articles and featured commentaries on three different news stations! Even on the radio!! The word is out about our beautiful spots- and more people are aware. We have a big state and a lot to offer. The truth of the matter is – demand is high!!
Reserve California fails when using Google Chrome. I cannot enter a campground nor click “Reservations and Lodging” without an error message.
Does anyone else have this problem?
yes, sometimes if I clear the history it helps, but not for long. though I’ve been having issues on pretty much every browser. . . chrome is the worst
Thanks, when I use Microsoft Edge I get error 404 quite often. ???
Still sucks worst thing ever
So very frustrated with Reserve California site! It is impossible! Especially if you only want to stay 3-4 nights (or a weekend)! I feel like I at least had a chance with Reserve America site – but this is totally crazy. They need to do something better! Plus, when you do show up to camp (if you get lucky enough!) there are ALWAYS sites open for days (not just the 1 night people come in late) that get unused. Really not a good new program – they need to make it better and more user friendly – so everyone gets a chance!
Here’s an update on error 404… This seems to be fixed about two weeks ago, at least using MS Edge on my PC. (it was nearly impossible to make a reservation)
Also, opening morning inventory seems to have changed several days ago.
I am very frustrated with Reserve California. I was able to get lucky for Crystal Cove Cottages on Reserve America a few times but not on Reserve California. The morning of, the time doesn’t change until about 8:05 and then the sites are all gone! Also it’s not clear to me where the BOOK/RESERVE button is nor the REFRESH button. I called the Reservations desk and no one could help me.
If anyone can at least tell me where the BOOK button and REFRESH button I would really appreciate it. Thanks!
Clearly the problem is that no one at Reserve CA gives a hoot. Also the governmental body in charge of this doesn’t seem to care either. We see signs that say “campground full” and at least half the spots are empty. This must be the result of people booking days ahead in order to get a weekend. This is wasteful and this is WRONG!
Why should ReserveCA care. They just want to sell campsites and do not care who they sell it to. State Parks would have to pay the contractor to fix the First Choice issue and they do not want to spent the money.
Just went camping last week. Surprised to see mostly 40 ft RVs, mostly new, with 3 to 4 pullouts. Looks like only people that have money get campsites, since they pay First Choice $39 per night. The average camper can not afford that and has no chance to get a site at Seacliff, unless they take overflow sites that cannot be reserved.
I talked to two people at Reserve California today and they seem to have no clue. The gave me instructions that would work under normal conditions but are no longer effective. It was different when you could pick the date 10 minutes before 8am and be poised to click Reserve. Now, by the time you get to Reserve, all sites are gone.
I’m wondering if Reserve CA are reading these comments, it’s obvious that First Choice is still in operation, (web site still active) Even though 3rd party vendors are not permitted to book spaces effective August ’18 or lose your right to camp anywhere.
Several of the issues that they are facing;
-Unable to select your spot before 8am & click reserve
-Campers who have spots & EXTEND those dates for another 14 days
-The interactive map does not work on MAC
-You need to click refresh to get updated openings @ 8am
-First Choice is obliviously still in operation
Sadly my senior parents who worked all their life & now want to enjoy camping/retirement, are unable to. They are not that fast on a computer & why should they be…they’ve been unable to camp at their favorite beach spots along the coast, due to this new system & the greed of campers who extend their spots or use First Choice.
Hopefully with this avenue available for all to read, there will be a more friendly site to come if Reserve CA takes a moment & listens to it’s customers.
We know you’re on our side Camp Ranger!
Yes, it appears not much has changed with this situation. Reserve California is still having issues, and First Choice is still in business. We did notice that First Choice was even using a URL: reservecalifornia.firstchoicereservations.com for awhile! however, they stopped using this pretty quick – most likely at the request of Reserve California.
Most everyone we’ve spoken with, including online comments and from a poll earlier this year, have not had good experiences with Reserve California and they are also not happy about First Choice. The current situation makes it extremely difficult for anyone to get a campsite reservation, yet the campgrounds are still selling out. We suspect many of the reservations are going through First Choice, with customers paying a premium.
Camp Ranger and CampsitePhotos.com is on your side for sure. We’re going to be doing additional research, conducting polls and posting articles about this in the near future. Our goal is to also speak with Reserve California to get their (latest) input and position.
I have complained to both of my state representatives and I urge everyone else to do so. That is the only pressure that Reserve CA will feel. Because of the impossibility to find some kind of site, we no longer go camping once a month. Instead, we are now taking a few longer trips out of state. I was able to get a Sun-Thu at the beach off-season but that was it this year.
You are one of thousands thanks to RC. They know they are useless but at $7.99 per change they are making a fortune. This will not stop until they are gone. Please let the CA state parks know how you fell.
I really love the beautiful pictures. Thanks for your contribution to camping tips, it provides me with useful information
Thank you Cindy! Really appreciate the kind words and support.
Last year at New Brighton Beach, my wife and I watched, as three premium sites across from our campground, (that we have tried for years to get) sat open the day we arrived. The next day, three separate families arrived at roughly the same time. Within a few minutes they were all congregating.. Obviously, they all knew each other and their children were all familiar to each other… We sat and wondered how it could be, that these three groups could by chance land 3 of the 6 or 7 premium spot on the same day in peak season! It made me wonder, if their decals in the back windows of their vehicles (touting a certain government fraternity) allowed them special access or if they just figured out how to game the system… nonetheless we try each year.
I think you’re on to something! It appears that RC has learned how to block LEGIT customers like you and me, so that their “friends” can score premium reservations.
Has anyone started a ‘Class-Action Lawsuit’ against RC and the State Park system for getting ‘cheated’ out of the ability of making a reservation at our State Parks?
There’s been some talk of it (class-action lawsuit), and a few mentioned it on this thread. Not sure if anything happened though.
I have been trying to get a campsite at South Carlsbad SB or Doheny State Park everyday for 10 days. Several of those days I have gotten a “403 FORBIDDEN” page which knocks me out completely. I even found a space that someone had reserved, space #73 at Doheny, for July 4-6 several days before the dates even came available!!!! Called Reserve California and they said they didn’t know anything about it! If someone wants to start a class action suit against the state I’m in!!! I NEVER had any problems getting something somewhere sometime…now I can’t get anything anytime!!! I’m angry and frustrated! Let’s do something about it. I believe the third party company that touts it can get you prime spots is one of the problems. This has to STOP NOW!!!
I had https://www.reservecalifornia.com/CaliforniaWebHome error “403 FORBIDDEN” happen to me 2 days ago. The web site went offline all day. 1 day ago it worked fine again. The web site worked fine this morning, but at 2 minutes before the 8:00 reservation time “403 FORBIDDEN” happened again. It still does not work from my PC/ATT FIOS.
My cell phone could log in, but my PC could not. The reservations were all taken.
I am so confused by Reserve California I called and did not get any clarification. I don’t even know what page to be on. I have been on the page with the list of sites but the date doesn’t change when the clock strikes 8am. It used to be the date was not an issue, you just clicked on todays date of the site you wanted to reserve and it would automatically update and tell you yea or nay. can someone please tell me what I am doing wrong?
Another thing is their servers can not handle the traffic and I have had all kinds of issues from being kicked out too having pages superimposed on one another. It’s just a hot mess and not getting any better.
It has been just a nightmare trying to get a campsite reservation through Reserve California. I tried signing up for FirstChoice and I haven’t gotten any response. What a big problem. I called the 800 number for Reserve California and was told she wasn’t aware of any third party bot buys and she was sorry there were no campsites left for my date in August.
Well, I got knocked out of my reservation process on the website four times after I had put in information for a specific site. I got an error and my cart has an error also. I sent a complaint to the California State Park in hopes they will hear and change this process.
Ditto everything that has been said by everyone. It’s Jan 16, 2019 and it’s been this way for me and cadre of family trying to get a site. We’ve been camping at Pismo for over 20 years. The tradition could be dying a sad death to to ReserveCalifornia. Disaster!
reservecalifornia doesn’t work. I have tried for several weeks to book Pismo sb north. I have diligently followed the 6 month 8am rule. I know in advance every spot that will come available at the magic moment. I know every spot I can’t use (disabled, 24′ pad length). by the time I hit the key, the 1st spot is gone. when I go the next spot, it’s gone. etc. really sad for people who have to schedule their family vacation. I am completely baffled. are people able to hack the system? very unfair to we who follow the rules.
We (CampsitePhotos.com) believe it’s a combination of 3 factors: 1) Bots are grabbing campsite reservations within seconds, 2) ReserveCalifornia.com has issues with their website and 3) supply & demand. CampsitePhotos.com is looking into ways we may be able to help.
thx for your quick reply. there is a site (firstchoicereservations.com) that says they will beat the 8am magic moment for a fee. i played the dumb card and gave them my email address. no response. heard thru the grapevine that they charge $39/night for the service. obscene for most folks, including me. i had 2 friends help me on their computer also. in spite of triple power, we couldn’t book a site. i don’t know what a bot is that you referred to but someone is definitely hacking into the system. is it Hillary or comey?
Yes, we’re familiar with firstchoicereservtions.com. That site is using bots to get campsite reservations. A bot is “an autonomous program on a network (especially the Internet) that can interact with computer systems or users”. It basically can get reservations much faster than a human can. Bots have been used for years to get tickets for concerts, sporting events, etc.
wonder what the motives are for bot users. I don’t see anyone trying to resell spots on craigslist. campers must be using them. where can I get one. are they little people? beyond the silliness, reserve California should be concerned but they’re not. in two live conversations with “reservation consultants”, neither had heard of any problems or complaints. uh duh?
Be nice to have your own bot to get camping reservations! How FirstChoice is doing it is that you’d give them your ReserveCalifornia login, your credit card info and then let them know when/where you want to camp. Their bot grabs the campsite reservation (most of the time) and then contacts you to confirm you want the site. As you mentioned, FirstChoice then tags on an extra $39 per night. So they are not ‘technically’ reselling it. They are acting as an ‘agent’ for you. That’s how they’re getting around the legalize. ReserveCalifornia is trying to prevent, but has not had much luck. I’m sure everyone at ReserveCalifornia is aware of the (bot) situation. Many have complained to ReserveCalifornia and California State Parks about it.
Greetings, The best thing ResearveCalifornia should do is to integrate a two factor authentication process where a one-time code would be sent to the registered cell or email. Capcha is not the best tool for this.
Entering the one-time code would require a human in the loop and prevent botnet type of connections. Similar tools (e.g. Google Authenticator) could also be employed.
Just FYI I tried using First Choice (I used them last year), signed up with them back in December, and they couldn’t get me a site. They have been shut down I think. I emailed the owner and he apologized, saying they have not found a solution.
Thanks Wendy and most interesting. I know there’s been a lot of heat on California State Parks and ReserveCalifornia to deal with the situation, so maybe something is happening in regards to bots / First Choice. I know First Choice is also trying to get reservations on Recreation.gov (federal campgrounds).
just ran across a service called “campnab” that supposedly sends you a text in the event of a cancellation in a campsite of your choosing. no history with it but I will try it for giggles. just an fyi to campers who read these notes. sadly, I didn’t see Pismo sb north in their list.
unbelievable! I was able to book 4 days (using my fat little fingers on just one computer) @ Pismo sb north this morning at 8 am. there were 13 sites that became available at the magic moment. by 8:12 am, all were taken. you snooze you lose. be advised camper people, the screen doesn’t refresh automatically.
At what time did u refresh it?
hi heather; I start refreshing at exactly 8 am. you want to be on the screen with the campsite availabilities showing. as soon as it refreshes, hit the calendar and select “farthest date available button” until the new date shows up. this can take several refreshes. I don’t think it refreshes at 8 on the second. select the campsite and you should get the green spot fill ins for the # of days selected. if youre lucky, as you go thru the reservation fill in pages, you wont get booted back to the start screen. if you do just keep trying. popular sites will fill within the first minute. l know, its maddening. give me a call if you want Richard, escondido. 7607030316.
I too have had the same issues the past few days, site kicked me out, would not load properly, and when I had a site it kicked me out again!!! Should I refresh on the page that has the different camping options (premium or hookups) or on the page with the boxes? This is so frustrating worse than the old way
this doesn’t seem to be a widely read blog but here goes; when I tried to log on to reservecalifornia this morning at 8, I got kicked off multiple times with a message “too many people using the site”. i finally got on and selected 4 days at Pismo sb north. i was into page 2 or 3 of the reservation details when the “system” suddenly it kicked me back to the home screen. i went thru this process several times until all the spots were taken. i will send all these comments to reservecalifornia, but i don’t expect much from them when their “reservation specialists” say they haven’t heard any complaints. does anyone out there in camperland know of another site where we can vent?
The person in charge of CA state parks in relation to Reserve CA is Jimmy Low, his number in Sacramento is 916 653-7733. Their office has been very helpful to us in the past.
We need everybody to call and explain what they are going through. If someone at the state parks office would simply try to get a reservation in a popular park at 8 am they would see all of our frustrations are about.
thx for the info on jimmy low. I will try to get an email address and send him these comments. they pretty much explain the real situation.
hi sherrie. try these rules;
1. The night before, note which sites that work for you will open the next morning.
2. At 745 am, logon to the website so you don’t get locked out wit a note “too much traffic”.
3. Select number of nights and select “go to furthest arrival”
4. Stay on the page that shows the campsites and dates available. You are now teed up to start the refresh
5. Have your mouse arrow on the refresh circle and your finger on the enter key
6. At exactly 8am, hit the mouse and the enter key.
7. While it is refreshing, move your mouse arrow over the date button.
8. As soon as it finishes refresh, hit the mouse to see if it has refreshed to todays date plus 6 months.
9. Select the date and the site number of your choice. It accepts you light speed efforts, the number of days you selected will populate.
10. If you’re lucky, it will accept you but be prepared to be kicked back to go without collecting your $200.
11. If it does, obviously just start over with this mayhem. Ya gotta love beach camping!
12. Practice this a few times and you will get good at it. I know you’re younger than I am and have faster fingers.
That use to work…. I’ve been able to get a site at Carlsbad State Beach every year for the last 20…. Even last year but not this year. I’ve been trying for the last 2 weeks. I get in to reserve my site, I click on the 3 boats in the screen then click ok but then I get the “Sorry, someone else is already reserving this site” HOW, I even clicked refresh 1 sec before 8… I can’t get any quicker HELP!!!!!!!!!!!
tried to book south Carlsbad following my own rules. it accepted my 4 night request and took me to the reservation screen. the reserve button was light green but turned dark before I could push it. pushed it anyway and a bogus error message popped up saying “didn’t reserve 1 night” or something like that. by the time I dove back into the request mayhem, all sites were gone. maddening. anyone out there in camperland have any other ideas? heard of an employee in the govt who works on this stuff, jimmy low, phone 9166537733, email email@example.com
I have pretty much thrown in the towel on reservations at popular California state beaches. Being a bulldog by nature, I have tried every morning at 8am. I must be missing something because my best efforts are not good enough. somebody is grabbing these sites faster than I can. I wish I knew how they do it. This website is called “tips to reserve California campsites” but where are the tips website people and camper people? defeated in Escondido.
Absolutely maddening! Have been trying for weeks to get a spot at Refugio. This morning I actually got on, so I thought, went to put in my credit card information, hit the checkout button and POOF, it vaporized! I thought once one actually got a spot you have 15 minutes to check out? Apparently not because I lost the spot because it was “no longer available for reservation”? I think I’ve lost a spot every way imaginable now. What a joke…
hi karl. I love refugio. i have been trying to book south Carlsbad for weeks. I have every duck in row that is possible and still come up with a goose egg. my wife is concerned about my mental health. this morning I was trying to work two computers, which I don’t recommend. there were 16 sites available at the magic hour. I snagged one for 4 days and started down the walk of reservation hell. the next screen popped an error message saying I had requested less than one site, or some such nonsense. I noticed that it had changed my request from 4 days to 1day. I have also been in the shopping cart and it gives me some bogus message. I don’t know how everyone else is so fast that all sites are gone within a minute. what is your technique to refresh the system and get the latest available date to change? I don’t think it refreshes automatically. I am going to try and have my wife run one computer and I will run the other. I called and emailed some bureaucrat “in charge”. he was as useless as the system. I have talked to “reservation specialists”. they arent aware of any problems. sounds like the democrats (no offense intended). call if you want Richard, Escondido, 7607030316.
answering wendy and the camp ranger on comments regarding the website firstchoicereservation.com who charge you a ripoff $39 per site per night; it’s sad that these sites even exist. most hardworking families who are trying to plan a vacation cant afford a “fee” that is sometimes more than the campsite. I understand the need for the 6 month 8 am reservation window. the problem is when you refresh at 8 am and see the spot become available, and select it, the next screen says “sorry Charlie, spot already taken”. and by the time you stumble back to the site selection screen, all spots are taken. why cant the screen be instantly updated so you don’t waste your time only to find the spot is already gone. better yet, why cant the screen automatically refresh at 8 am so campers with fast fingers can just bang on the site at the magic moment? maybe somebody has a time machine that lets them go one minute into the future. that’s it!. by the way, this website should change its name. I don’t see any “tips to reserve a California campsite” coming from ranger rick. also to you campers out there reading this drivel, do you know of any other sites or a blog that collects comments and is more pro active than this one? if reservecalifornia had any intelligent life, they would have one. over and out.
over the last week or so, i and two helpers on separate computers have had the same nada results as those above. but reservations are being made, as the park is full according to reserveCalifornia. so it seems to be the case that many people are trying and some are lucky enough to get a spot, the rest of us, no so much. i agree that bots should not be able to jump the system..
hi Thomas, have been trying to book south Carlsbad sb for the last few weeks. nada. heres what I do to get prepared. doesn’t seem to help though; the night before, I mark every spot that will become available the next morning. I use an excel spreadsheet. at 7:45 am, go to the site and logon with name and password. select park and furthest arrival date. select the section of the park you want. reduce your font size so you see more of available sites. at 8am, refresh the screen. reserve California doesn’t refresh itself. go to calendar and select date which should be todays date plus 6 months. grab the site and hope for the best. it usually kicks me out with some bogus error or spot not available.. yesterday I had already entered my credit card data and it kicked me back to the park selection screen. this morning I noticed that a spot that was available last night was gone at 7am, an hour before the window opened. go figure. within 30 seconds, all sites are gone. I have had 3 computers in front of me booking different sites. zippo. Richard 7607030316
fyi campers. firstchoicereservation.com, the ripoff bot site that was charging camper $39/spot/night to grab sites before normal fat fingered campers could, is no more. reservecalifornia put them out of business
If you charged what the sites are actually worth, maybe it would not be impossible to get a reservation. If you could book a room at the ritz carlton for 20 buck a night they would be full up every night too.
hey dan, south carlsbad sb is 50 bucks a night not 20. for working families that’s not chump change
They now have implemented Captchas to rule out the use of bots which directly or indirectly kicked out Firstchoicereservations.com.
I was able to book yesterday a site on BolsaChica SB with first try. Although I did not get a premium site, even after 8:05 -8:10 I had the choice if 10+ sites. And the reserving/booking was straightforward.
Hopefully the dark side does not find a way around the Captchas 😉
So at least the guys at ReserveCalifornia did their job right!.
It appears that ReserveCalifornia is using a more robust Captcha that is making it more difficult for Bots to intercept reservations. Bot (developers) can attempt to work-around, but it’ll be more difficult. Hopefully things will get better for the humans!
I was able to book a beach site at south Carlsbad sb this morning. log in before 8 am. be sure your browser has the site selection page open and refresh at exactly 8 am. reduce your font size to so you can see more of the available sights without scrolling. fractions of a second count. you’re running the 100 yard dash of reservecalifornia
1. The mission is to hit the reserve key before thousands of other camper bees trying to do the same thing. Follow these rules and your chances to hit the lottery may improve.
2. Have a list of the sites you are interested in that will become available at 8 am.
3. Open the reservation page that shows the sites you are interested in.
4. Logon to reservecalifornia and enter your user/pass. Do this no later than 0745 because the site gets busy and may not let you on.
5. Reduce your screen size to 50% using the zoom feature (windows 10) accessible thru the three dots in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Refresh the screen. This allows you to see more of the reservation screen.
6. At 0758, click on any pink spot with an x on. this will bring up the 1st reservation screen with a button that says “refresh availability”. Reserve California does not automatically refresh at 0800.
7. At 0800 exactly, click refresh button on this smaller screen.
8. Grab your spot when it goes green.
9. Who knows, you might get lucky.
Thank you, Richard Sloan – another success story! I’ve been camping at the same group site annually for decades but had been stonewalled by the new system for the past 2 months. This morning I used your steps and got our wonderful spot again for our annual reunion – thank you on behalf of the whole group!
Called Reserve CA after being kicked back to home page several times & they said using Apple products will cause this and to use Chrome because it is more compatible. Just now using Chrome had home page pop up over campground list disabling both pages. Opened new tab to start over and it happened again. Interested if only Apple users are having this issue or if others users also are?
Many thanks Richard Sloan, I followed the list of instructions posted 2/23/19 and was lucky to book 7 days!
Reserve California advised me to use Chrome browser with Apple products and I had a lot of issues; disabled pages, nonsensical messages.
This morning went to the site using Safari browser and following your instructions with smooth sailing. Again many thanks for your help, you saved the day (seven of them)!
One of the major BOT sites is no longer in business. FirstChoiceReservations.com no longer offers the service. From their site:
“Thank you for visiting our website. Due to recent changes, we are no longer offering our service. We thank all our customers for their support and we sincerely wish you success with your independent efforts to secure campsite reservations.”
This may have to do with changes made (technology and policy) on ReserveCalifornia, Rec.Gov and other reservation agency websites. In any regards, humans will now have a better chance at getting campsite reservations.
Another awesome rental service I wanted to mention since it wasn’t in the article is Travellers-AutobarnRV.com. They rent fully-equipped, converted campervans. They also offer renters unlimited mileage, 24/7 roadside assistance and all the tools you will need on your trip. Check them out if you’re interested in an affordable road trip!
The pictures for the RV Camping by the beach are amazing. Is there a way to add the name & where they are located?
Great idea Terri,
We made some changes to the article and it now includes titles for each photo, and links to the campground page associated with those photos.
I to suffer the pain of the Reserve CA game! One huge issue is the site is not a “Live” real time booking system. 48 hours!!!! that’s ridiculous, as we have all seen, there are always plenty of empty spots that make us all scratch our heads as we walk the camp ground with our cktails. If you want to camp Friday night last minute at Doheny and there is a spot available you should be able to book it! Real time cancellations and bookings would allow for a lot more flexibility and availability. And yes sadly I do miss Reserve America as well!!! LOL. How could have the system have gotten worse.
You can now use Campsite Assist to get alerts (text & email) when a campsite becomes available at a sold out campground for the dates you want to stay. Campsite Assist will continually scan the sold out campground for availability and notify you when one is available so you can try and reserve it! Click on ‘Campsite Assist’ from top menu bar to check it out!
Here’s a new one. As with many of you, have been trying for two weeks to get a site at Refugio with the same “bugs’ that everyone has been experiencing. I finally managed to get one yesterday using two computers and two login IDs, mine and my wife’s). Today I tried again using two IDs to get a site for some friends; sometimes when I login I get the “I’m not a robot” pictures to click on, sometimes I don’t. In both cases whether or not I get it at initial login, I clicked on the site I wanted when the timer clock hit 00:00 and the stupid pictures showed up again as if I was logging in for the first time! needless to say I failed to get a site. I wish I could go back a few years in time to the old system.
That waterfall picture is just pure magic, wow.
Do not use Recreation.gov. I recently made the mistake of reserving two different campsites for the same weekend. I realized it within minutes and called Recreation.gov to see if I could cancel one of the reservations. They said no. So then I thought, well maybe I’ll try to go to both locations but the week before I realized it wasn’t possible so I tried to go online to recreation. gov and change the dates for one of the two reservations. It would not work correctly. It kept acting like it was taking the update, but then the dates never changed. So I tried calling them again and the wait times were always 30 minutes so I left my phone number for a callback, and they never called me back. I did that twice. At this point, I needed to cancel and was willing to lose the $10 for a cancellation fee. I finally got through to a live agent the day before and they informed me that I would lose all my money (the full $32) because I had to cancel at least 2 days in advance. I explained that it was on their end (website not working and no one called me back) and they did not care. They need to get things fixed on their end. This is terrible service. I do not recommend using them.
Does anyone know who in CA government has the power to fix the reservation system for California State Parks? It’s criminal how it is being run.
We agree. It’s a shame, that after all these years they can not come up with a better / more user friendly camping reservation system for the state parks. And it’s almost impossible to get a campsite reservation any more. That is one of the reasons why we introduced our Campsite Assist feature. It notifies you when a campsite becomes available on the dates you want to camp. You get an email and a text alert – with a link to try and reserve the site. There is a one time fee, but we’ve had hundreds of satisfied customers and have sent out thousands of alerts this year. Basically, you get an alert if someone cancels a campsite at the campground and on the dates you want to camp.
Hello campers, I’m trying to follow the helpful hints for ReserveCalifornia listed on this site. I’m wondering if the website has changed, or if it’s that I’m not understanding how the reservation date step works. I’m not able to pre-set my reservation start date so that I can move to the next step and focus on watching the clock to hit the refresh button. I have to wait until exactly 8:00am for the current morning’s release date to be available to set for the reservation start date. It seems from the past posts that this wasn’t the case previously. Is there something I’m missing? Another question I have is, why am I seeing so many people each day completing a reservation for just 1 day, the current release day? Just coincidence? This is such a frustrating process. I’m feeling like I don’t have a fighting chance unless I can understand what the others already know. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. =)
Thanks for sharing camping guide tips. I am a beginner camper, your tips will definitely help me in my next camping. How long have you been camping? Keep writing.
And the crew around CampsitePhotos.com has been camping pretty much our whole life – ranging from 25-45 years.
Like many others, I am frustrated with ResCal site and my inability to land a campsite. I feel there is a secret reservation method I do not know about. I have been looking to reserve 1 of 35 spots. Somehow, many of the next-to-be-available campsites I am looking to reserve are being taken sometime in the 24 hours between the 8:00am refresh lotteries. At 8:05 (after losing the lottery again) I notice 10 sites available for the next day. The next day, as I survey the list of available sites just at 7:45am, I only see 2 of the 10 still available. The others already reserved. There is something going on and it is certainly a secret to me and very likely unfair to anyone confined to the 8:00am refresh lottery. Does anyone know what is going on here and willing to share?
It is sooo frustrating. We’ve heard the same story from other campers – and it is happening all the time. Not sure what is going on with ReserveCalifornia. Something strange. BTW – this is why we launched Campsite Assist to help campers try and get cancelled campsites since it’s almost impossible to initially reserve a site. Campsite Assist will send a text and email alert if a campsite becomes available on the dates you want to camp. It includes a link to the reservation site so you can quickly try and grab the site. We will also be launching new features such as being able to choose a date range, and buying scan packs at discounted pricing.
I remember when the reservation system used to do this same type of notification for free but not it wants you to pay just for a chance at getting a site. This is sad and ridiculous. It has been a tradition to go camping at Leo Carrillo every year but it looks like this year I couldn’t get a site after trying constantly. I wonder who is getting these sites and who they know at Reserve California.
Thanks for your tips! I tried your step by step guide for Reserve California, South Carlsbad Campground yesterday and was unsuccessful. I made a few modifications and was successful this morning. Could have just been dumb luck but thought I’d share:
At 0745 I logged in, found my campground and put the *day prior* to my arrival date. Of course everything said Not Available, but you can still click on the red Check Availability button. This takes you to the list of campsites and you can strategize what campsite you’d like to try for. Get that campsite lined up in your browser window.
There’s a Refresh icon just above the calendar. At 7:59:59, I hit refresh, my campsite’s actual arrival date changed from green with a slash to green and I snagged it. I think this way saved me valuable seconds of scrolling and clicking.
Great info/tips Sarah. I actually tried that the last two days, but just missed out. Will keep trying!
Yes, I’ve been doing that for 2 weeks now. I even get to the window that has me click on the boats or fire hydrant’s but when I click ok I get the message that someone is already in the process of reserving this site.. I don’t think I can get any quicker, I use all the tricks but unless I get a supercomputer with crazy internet speeds I’m screwed….
Our staff and others we hear from are experiencing exactly the same thing (selecting the pictures in the ‘not a robot picture prompt’, only to get the notice that it is not longer available).
Like others, I’m sure you check in advance to see what campsites will become available on the date you want to camp – but usually there are only a few.
The “challenge” (problem), is that with the 6 month rotating reservation schedule, there are only a handful of campsites available on a specific date at the popular California State Park campgrounds – like South Carlsbad State Beach, San Elijo, etc. As a result you have hundreds (maybe thousands) of people trying for just a few of the sites that are available on any given date. Not sure how much quicker you or anyone can be with the process, but at least 1 of MANY is able to reserve the site.
Sorry we didn’t have any special tip to help. Unfortunately it is just the way the ReserveCalifornia system works and also that there is a huge demand for a very little supply of campsites 🙁
Our Campsite Assist tool has helped many snag cancelled campsites. You can order scans for specific dates or use our Matrix scan that will send an alert if a campsite becomes available on any date in a 7-day window. We also offer Scan Packs (with discount pricing) if you think you’ll be camping a lot over a 12 month period.
First time user of California Reservation system. Very familiar with Reserve America and the old and new versions of Recreation.gov
I’m unclear as to what the Filter does in the Availability view. I would have expected that it would narrow the results displayed, but not the case.
For instance, Russian Gulch does not allow any campers greater than 24 feet. If I select Trailer and > 50, I would expect to see no entries in the availability grid. Yet, the grid does not change and all sites are still listed.
I have not found a way to determine campsite length without clicking on each campsite in the map and scrolling the Amenities window, very tedious.
What am I missing?
Agreed – a tedious chore to click on each site to get the sizes. It appears ReserveCalifornia has not incorporated the sizing data in their filter(s). You’re not missing anything.
I’m unclear as to what the Filter does in the Availability view. I would have expected that it would narrow the results displayed, but not the case.
For instance, Russian Gulch does not allow any campers greater than 24 feet. If I select Trailer and > 50, I would expect to see no entries in the availability grid. Yet, the grid does not change and all sites are still listed.
NONE of these tips and tricks will work at a S. California state park campground. You have to be SOOOO quick, use all the tricks, and be extremely lucky. I’m part of a group of friends and we have been reserving sites for years and it was tough to get a site before, but when California took over it became nearly impossible. Not sure how to solve the situation, but getting a site has made camping almost a thing of the past, at least at the beach. And yes we know ALL the sneaky tricks.
I feel your pain! Also – most recently – we found out that the BOTS are BACK . . . that a few individuals have developed programs to snag campsites. Some of these people are charging for their ‘service’ and others are just using it for themselves and friends. Unfortunately they are also making it difficult for the average human camper to get a site. ReserveCalifornia did shut a few of these people/entities down awhile back. Hopefully they will continue to go after the new ones.
First complaint is my daughter has an account with Reserve California and when I weint on to set up a account they would not allow me to set up an account because they only allow one person per house hold…so I have to use my daughters account…STUPID!
We have been trying unsuccessfully to get reservations at Carpentaria State Beach thru Reserve California, and I understand it is happening at most state park campgrounds. With our computers all set up with the sites and dates etc. as soon as the timer hits 0 and and when the timer 0 and we punch reserve, the sites are all ready reserved. This has been going on now for quite a while now, it is totally frustrating.
I have been told that computer geeks have created BOTS to beat the system, if so, this leaves out the regular joe on getting a reservation.
Bottom line we will not be camping at our favorite beach campground this year or years to follow if this continues to happen!
Thanks for your comment and we all agree here. You are RIGHT too about the BOTS. The BOTS are back in full force and grabbing reservations on ReserveCalifornia. Those include computer geeks grabbing their own reservations for themselves, friends and family, as well as other BOTS that are charging big bucks for the service. There use to be a company called First Choice Reservations that was very aggressive with charging for the service, but it was forced to stop and went out of business. Still, others BOTS have sprung up and are preventing the average person from getting a campsite reservation.
I agree with all the complaints about the ReserveCalifornia site being infested with bots. Cheaters have been ruining the recreational possibilities for everyone. I’ve been booking camping spots (mostly cancellations) for years, but especially since June 2021, I’ve noticed that they disappear within milliseconds. No human could possibly move that quickly to book them, so it’s obvious that rogue computer programs are to blame. Two posters commented above that there is a person who can be contacted about this problem – said to be “an employee in the govt who works on this stuff, jimmy low, phone 916-653-7733, email firstname.lastname@example.org ” and I had been thinking that possibly we should try to get his help.
Two days ago, however, ReserveCalifornia itself came up with a “new” website. What do people here think about it?
I agree as well. Prior to ReserveCalifornia most “regular campers” seemed to be able to get a campsite through the online reservation system. The popular campgrounds did sell out quickly – within a few minutes, but never in a millisecond as they do today. Definitely cheaters and bots grabbing campsite reservations off ReserveCalifornia.com.
Seems like the new generation of campers is cool with paying exorbitant fees the bots charge to get them a campsite reservation.
Also interesting that I/we don’t hear the same complaints with other reservations systems like Rec.gov, ReserveAmerica, etc.
Camp Ranger, you’re right – during all the years that ReserveAmerica.com was operating the California campground reservation site, I never experienced bot problems of this kind. In those days (now the good old days), normal customers had a fair chance of getting a cancellation. Now they don’t.
But I’m also interested in answers to the question I asked above:- what do people think of the “new” website introduced by ReserveCalifornia about a week ago? I’ve been comparing the old and the new, and I notice that the “new” website doesn’t accurately pick up on the available cancellations, at least for the Crystal Cove Beach Cottages. Where the original website occasionally shows cancellations (usually for the less desirable cottages), the “new” website does not. So as far as I can see, it isn’t an improvement.
I have not used or explored the “new” ReserveCalifornia website much so can’t really comment. What little I have used it I have not had any success getting a reservation. Perhaps others can comment on their latest experience.
cancellations come back online at 8am the after they were cancelled. at least that’s what it says somewhere on the website- haven’t tested it myself.
Camp Ranger – Just a note that recently, something seems to have changed for the better on the original ReserveCalifornia website. For the past two weeks, cancellations for Crystal Cove (at least) have been lingering normally on the site so that they can be picked up by normal, honest customers. A big THANK YOU to whoever is responsible for this very welcome improvement, and I hope it lasts!
That IS a bit of good news. Hopefully it’ll last and even get better.
I understand why you would think this way, but I am not surprised. As prior to ReserveCalifornia most “regular campers” seemed able get a campsite through the online reservation system; those popular sites did sell out quickly – within minutes or at worst seconds! But never in an instant as they do today with bots taking up all available spots on our website and then trying their best to rebook it again just moments later before someone else does so first which is cheating if anything should happen during your vacation because now there’s no where left for us guests without paying exorbitant fees just like these cheaters charge us higher prices than what we’re used too seeing from other reservations systems such Rec-gov etc
It’s not a big task to program the system to only receive one reservation per IP address.
That being said, with the level of talented hackers out there it would only be a madder of time before they create a new door to beat the system. Ever since Covid hit look at how the camping equipment RV’s etc. have gone way up do to demand. Another added problem to all of us trying to get camp spots is this added group of people that will pay whatever it takes to get a spot. Maybe Reserveamerica.com just doesn’t want to spend the money to fix the system just to have it hacked again, these cheat sites are filling the campgrounds and it’s all about the $$$’s. And remember when ever has the Gov. improved any business, Post Office, DMV, look what happened when they got their hands on your Social Security. Thanks to LBJ
Thank you for sharing us a nice information
I have read many of the emails which span over the last 3 years and concur with all of the complaints above. I moved from California 2 years ago, but still long to tie in a visit to some of my favorite state parks. I have been trying for the past 2 months and I have not EVER been able to even get to a “List View” to see what would be coming up in the next few days. I don’t think I’m a moron, I used to get into Crystal Cove once or twice a year, with lots of daily trys. At least I used to be able to find an occasional cancellation, now, not even a glimpse of the reservation calendar. Makes me wonder if the designers of this web site got together and thought “how can we make this site even harder to use? and laughed at the immense frustration it causes. Maybe THEY have the secret of how to keep the reservation for themselves or the people willing to pay the highest price 🙁
As of August 2021, the BOT problem on ReserveCalifornia was supposedly solved. (https://outdoors.usedirect.com/california-bots-project/)
Can anyone report of better success with booking a California campground recently?
I learnt a lot from this post, really looking forward to going to California for traveling if the pandemic is over
Hope you get the chance to visit some of California’s State and National Parks.
I’m taking my kids on a camping trip this January, so I need to find an RV park to book before the day of the trip. I appreciate your tip when you told us to try for mid-week, non-holidays, or off-season if we want better deals and chances for our booking. I’ll be sure to consider what you said while I look for nearby RV parks we might consider.