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Tips to Reserve a Campsite at a California State Park or National Park

As all you campers know, trying to reserve a campsite at a popular California State Park or National Park has become uber-competitive. With the demand for campsites far exceeding the supply (during the high season), most campgrounds are sold out within a few minutes of when they become available to reserve. Those that are successful at reserving a campsite generally have a plan, are quick on the click and a little lucky. And if you’re in need of a camper for your trip, you can always Rent an RV in California.
This article outlines the ground rules and tips to improve your chances of reserving a campsite next camping season. Carpinteria-State-Beach_Campsite-449

The Ground Rules

The California Department of Parks & Recreation recently changed their reservation system for booking campsites at California State Parks. The big change is that now you make your camping or lodging reservation six months in advance from the current date. For example, if you wanted to reserve a campsite starting on July 1, you’d make your reservation 6 months to the day prior, or on January 1. If you wanted 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:

  • Online (24 hours a day, 7 days a week): www.reservecalifornia.com
  • Phone (8 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST, 7 days a week): 800 444-7275


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 10 a.m. EST.


Notable exceptions include (but are not limited to) Yosemite National Park.

Here’s the reservation schedule for Yosemite:

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:

The Tips

As pointed out earlier, trying to get a campsite reservation is very competitive … but fear not! The staff at CampsitePhotos.com have spent years practicing and fine-tuning their skills and we’d like to pass along our campsite reservation tips!

  1. Have a plan. Without stating the obvious, nail down what days you want to camp (arrival date and the # of nights), and of course research what state park or national park campground you’d like to visit. Trying for mid-week, non-holiday or off-season improves your chances.
  2. Research the best campsites. The easiest and best way to do this is to visit the campground page on www.campsitephotos.com to look at all of the photos of each campsite. Our campsite photos are high-quality, accurate and large (no thumbnails please). And (BTW) CampsitePhotos.com has photos of each campsite at every California State Park and many National Parks.
  3. Get organized and assemble your “reservation team” (the more people trying for your reservation the better).
    1. About 20 minutes prior to when the reservation window opens (8 a.m. PST for California State Parks and 10 a.m. EST for National Parks), have everyone on your reservation team go to www.reservecalifornia.com (for CA Parks) or www.recreation.gov (for National Parks). Then find your campground, enter your arrival date and # of nights.
    2. If you can view multiple windows on your monitor – open up the reservation site (all cued up for your campground/dates) and minimize each window so just the “RESERVE” button for the campground is showing. Also open up a separate (new) window and search for “current time” (by the second). Keep this window open so you can watch the clock tick!
  4. At 1 second before the reservation window opens click the “RESERVE” 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 RESERVE button. You can try for the same campsite or have different campsites chosen for each window.
  5. 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 – keep checking for several minutes because people that managed to get multiple campsites may start canceling some of their site reservations.


Hope this is of some help in your adventures of trying to reserve a campsite. Please leave a comment, question or other suggestions. And let us know if you were able to get a campsite!

Regards, Park Ranger

reserve a campsite

105 Replies to “Tips to Reserve a Campsite at a California State Park or National Park”

  1. Pankaj says:

    Amazing pictures. I already travel in this park many times. good one place..

  2. Michele says:

    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!

    1. Camp Ranger says:

      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!

  3. Jackie says:

    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…

    1. Camp Ranger says:

      Hi Jackie,
      It seems most of the campers are experiencing the same issues. Hopefully Reserve California will re-evaluate their system and make some changes!

    2. Annette says:

      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!

      1. Nicole says:

        Hi Annette,
        Do you think you can provide me with that website that provides their service?

      2. Camp Ranger says:

        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.

      3. Annette says:

        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.

      4. Camp Ranger says:

        Hi Annette,
        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.

      5. dep says:

        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 , info@parks.ca.gov

    3. norma jean says:

      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.
      extremely discouraging..

  4. Patrick says:

    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.

    1. Camp Ranger says:

      Hi Patrick,
      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.

      1. Patrick says:

        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.

      2. Camp Ranger says:

        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.

      3. Tasmin says:

        I would also encourage everyone to go here and leave comments: https://www.reservecalifornia.com/CaliforniaWebHome/ContactUs.aspx

  5. Roger Taillon says:

    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.

    1. Camp Ranger says:

      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.

      1. Roger Taillon says:

        Thank you, I wish you the best of luck. Let me know if I can be of help.

  6. Dave says:

    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

    1. Camp Ranger says:

      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.

    2. Carolyn says:

      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.

  7. 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.

    1. Tasmin Brown says:

      THIS. Happened to me again today, same thing. Makes no sense.

    2. Tom Smith says:

      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.

  8. Oh, by the way I have been kicked off sites several times and landed in locations 500 miles away from my chosen destination.

  9. jill says:

    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

    1. Camp Ranger says:

      Hi Jill,
      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.

  10. Shanelle Hurtado says:

    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

    1. Laina Levy says:

      Dear Shanelle,
      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.

  11. Mike says:

    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.

    1. Camp Ranger says:

      Hi Mike,
      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.

      1. norma jean says:

        this reservation website is criminal and should be shut down.

  12. Larry Bailey says:

    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.

  13. Khanh Tran says:

    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.

  14. Morgan says:

    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.

    1. Tom Rodrigues says:

      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.

  15. Kristen says:

    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.

    1. Pamela says:

      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

      1. Camp Ranger says:

        Hi Pamela,
        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.

  16. Kevin Greutert says:

    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.

    1. Camp Ranger says:

      Hi Kevin,
      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.

  17. Morgan says:

    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? ? ?

  18. D Getz says:

    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.

    1. Camp Ranger says:

      Good point on the ‘modifying your reservation’ feature. This may be causing some of the problems as well.

    2. Annette says:

      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.

  19. Pamela says:

    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?

    1. Camp Ranger says:

      Hi Pamela,
      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.

  20. Anonymous says:

    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.

    1. Denise says:

      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?

    2. James allen says:

      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

    3. Laura Ioanou says:

      Thank you, I would love to join this class action suit

  21. Tom says:

    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.

    1. Camp Ranger says:

      Wow Tom – good find. Or should we say – bad ;-|
      Let’s us know if you find that sweet spot!

  22. Jessica says:

    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.

  23. Tracy H says:

    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

    1. norma jean says:


  24. Michael T says:

    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.

  25. 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. 🙂

    1. Eric E says:

      Another BOT type site that charges

      1. Camp Ranger says:

        You found another one?

      2. Annette says:

        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.

      3. 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).

      4. Annette says:

        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.

  26. Roger says:

    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.

  27. Susan McLean says:

    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.

  28. Mic Grey says:

    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.

    1. Camp Ranger says:

      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)

  29. Kevin Greutert says:

    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.

  30. Paige says:

    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!

    1. Camp Ranger says:

      Hi Paige,

      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.

      1. Joe Quinn says:

        Thank you!

    2. Diana Stiller says:

      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.

      1. Camp Ranger says:

        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.

  31. Betty says:

    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.

    1. Dee says:

      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.

  32. Camp Ranger says:

    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!

  33. Annette says:

    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!

    1. Camp Ranger says:

      Way to go Annette! Finally a success story. It must have been because of your daughter’s birthday! 🙂

  34. 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.

  35. Ted says:

    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.

    1. Camp Ranger says:

      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.

  36. 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?

    1. Camp Ranger says:

      Hi Nigel,

      ReserveCalifornia, ReserveAmerica and Recreation.gov do charge a reservation fee.

  37. Shannon says:

    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.

  38. Emily says:

    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.

    1. Camp Ranger says:

      Hi Emily,
      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.

  39. CLee says:

    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!!

  40. John says:

    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?

    1. Michelle says:

      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

  41. John says:

    Thanks, when I use Microsoft Edge I get error 404 quite often. ???

  42. Rivera says:

    Still sucks worst thing ever

  43. Nancy says:

    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!

  44. John says:

    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.

  45. Freddie D. Merz says:

    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!

  46. Cathy Francis says:

    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!

    1. Hans Telm says:

      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.

  47. Hans Telm says:

    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.

  48. Debbi says:

    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!

    1. Camp Ranger says:

      Hi Debbi,
      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.

  49. TSparky says:

    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.

    1. rr says:

      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.

  50. Cindy Miller says:

    I really love the beautiful pictures. Thanks for your contribution to camping tips, it provides me with useful information

    1. Camp Ranger says:

      Thank you Cindy! Really appreciate the kind words and support.

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