10 Awesome Ways to Save At California State Parks

– California State Parks –

California State Parks: You probably should be convinced now that the state Legislature isn’t willing to cut the park fees right now. But there are other ways you can reduce what you pay to visit.

10 Awesome Ways to Save At California State Parks.

California has a reputation for great camping at its state parks. But some parks rise above others, at least in the collective opinion of those who visit.

Ways to Pay Less At California State Park

1. Join the California State Parks Foundation

This organization is offering a special $25 membership rate right now that includes seven parking passes you can use at any state park or beach.

That’s worth $105, if you spend $15 each time to park at a state beach here in Orange County. (Note that this pass won’t work at beaches run by cities such as Huntington Beach, only at state parks.)

2. Buy a Regular Annual Pass

A regular annual day-use pass costs $125 per year if you want to park at state parks, including beaches in Orange County. A cheaper $90 pass is good at fewer parks and no OC beaches.

If you pay $15 to park each time, this pass would pay for itself on your eighth visit. (Note that here’s a list of parks that do NOT accept annual passes, including Corona del Mar.)

3. Get a $5 Annual Golden Bear Pass If You Have Very Low Income

If you are 62 or older and on a low fixed income, receiving Aid to the Aged, Blind, or Disabled or CalWorks, you may be eligible for an annual Golden Bear state pass for $5 per year.  The application is here: http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/737/files/dpr578.pdf

4. Save $1 If You’re a Senior

If you are age 62 or older, you get $1 off your parking fee at state parks and beaches.

5. Get a Senior Golden Bear Pass For $10 a Year

If you’re 62 or older, you can pay $10 a year to get a “limited-use” annual Golden Bear pass that will gain you entry and parking at any park off-season all year long — except during the peak summer period of Memorial Day through Labor Day (and winter in Anza-Borrego).

6. Ride Your Bike

If you hike or ride a bike into a California state park, your admission is generally free (except for tours where they require admission tickets).

And an additional benefit is that the state is now offering  “Hike or Bike” campsites at 58 parks on a first-come, first-served basis that are considerably cheaper than regular ones.

The campsites at El Capitan State Beach last summer were $10 for “Hike or Bike” sites — a fraction of what we paid for our regular site.

7. Look for Where The Locals Park And Walk In

As you approach a popular state park, you may notice cars parked along the road. Well, these might just be owned by people who know to park just outside the park’s boundaries and then walk in without paying a fee.

Last summer, I paid $10 to drive into Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. While we were eating at the lodge there, I couldn’t help noticing people parking across the road on Highway 1, then walking across the highway into the park without having to pay.

I was a little miffed I hadn’t thought of this. If you’re cheap and don’t mind walking, keep this in mind.

8. Apply For a Disabled Lifetime Pass

People with a permanent disability can get a lifetime state park pass for only $3.50. You have to prove that you’re disabled. My friend was able to get this pass for her son, who is autistic.

This will get you half price parking at state parks and beaches, and half price camping as well at every park except Hearst Castle. You only have to buy this pass once in your lifetime.

9. Get a Free Distinguished Veteran Lifetime Pass

If you are an honorably discharged military war veteran who lives in California and received a 50% or more service-connected disability, were held as a prisoner of war, or received the Congressional Medal of Honor, then you are eligible to receive the Distinguished Veteran Pass.

This pass, which costs you nothing to obtain, gives you free admission and free family camping and day use to all facilities operated by the state parks system.  The pass is not valid at units operated by local government, private agencies or concessionaires.

10. Go primitive

You can save half on camping fees in state parks by choosing a “primitive” site, which will mean its facilities are more basic–for example, chemical toilets instead of flush, and you have to bring your own water.

Primitive campsite fees currently range from $9 to $25, compared to developed campground fees that can go as high as $60.

It goes without saying that there are no electrical or other hookups for RVs, which is one advantage for tent campers who hate sleeping in the shade of a big honking Winnebago, listening to its generator roar.

Some of these campgrounds are very beautiful, less crowded, and easier to reserve than their more developed cousins.

Just go buy a 5-gallon water jug or two at any store that sells camping supplies to bring along.  And let me tell you, today’s chemical toilets are much less disgusting than the outhouses of old. Really.


Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the fees for annual and special use passes?   

California State Parks offers several annual and special pass options. Fees passes, and where they are accepted can be found here.

2. Do all state parks accept annual passes?

There are some parks that do not accept the “Vehicle Day Use Annual Pass,” primarily those operated for California State Parks by local governments, non-profits, and private concessionaires who do not receive revenue from pass sales.

3. Do you accept America the Beautiful pass?

California State Parks does not accept the America the Beautiful pass, nor do any other states or local parks. This pass provides entry to federal government lands only including National Parks, U.S. Forest and Bureau of Land Management areas.

California State Parks invites the public to enjoy state parks year round. With 280 park units, over 340 miles of coastline, 970 miles of lake and river frontage, 15,000 campsites and 4,500 miles of trails, the state park system provides wonderful recreational, educational, and inspirational opportunities for more than 67 million visitors annually.

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