California State Parks
Seal of California State Parks
Agency overview
Formed1864 (First State Park)
1927 (Bureaucratic Forming) [1]
Headquarters715 P St, Sacramento, California
Employees1,451 permanent staff, 1,416 seasonal (2016-17)[2]
Annual budget$589 million ($117.5 million General Fund) 2016
Parent agencyCalifornia Resources Agency
Child agencies
  • Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division
  • State Office of Historic Preservation
  • Boating and waterways
WebsiteOfficial website

The California Department of Parks and Recreation, more commonly known as California State Parks, manages the California state parks system. The system administers 279 separate park units on 1.4 million acres (570,000 ha), with over 280 miles (450 km) of coastline; 625 miles (1,006 km) of lake and river frontage; nearly 15,000 campsites; and 3,000 miles (4,800 km) of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. Headquartered in Sacramento, park administration is divided into 21 districts. The California State Parks system is the largest state park system in the United States.[3]


California's first state park was the Yosemite Grant, which today constitutes part of Yosemite National Park. In 1864, the federal government set aside Yosemite Valley for preservation and ceded the land to the state, which managed the famous glacial valley until 1906.

California's oldest state park, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, was founded in 1902. Until 1921, each park was managed by an independent commission or agency.

In 1927, the California Legislature, with the support of Governor C. C. Young, established the State Park Commission,[4] and its original membership included:[5] Major Frederick R. Burnham, W. F. Chandler, William E. Colby (Secretary), Henry W. O'Melveny, and Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur. The following year, a newly established State Park Commission began gathering support for the first state park bond issue. Its efforts were rewarded in 1928 when Californians voted nearly three-to-one in favor of a $6 million park bond act. In addition, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. completed a statewide survey of potential park lands that defined basic long-range goals and provided guidance for the acquisition and development of state parks. With Newton B. Drury (later to be named director of the National Park Service) serving as acquisition officer, the new system of state parks rapidly began to grow.[6] William Penn Mott Jr. served as director of the agency under Governor Ronald Reagan.

In May 2008 The National Trust for Historic Preservation listed the park system as a whole on their list of America's Most Endangered Places.[7]

A record wet winter in 2023 caused more than $210 million in storm damage to California's State Parks.[8]

Proposed closures

This section needs to be updated. Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page. Please help update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (February 2016)

On January 10, 2008, Governor Schwarzenegger's office announced that the California State Park System will consider indefinite closures of all or part of 48 specific individual parks (one in five) to help meet the challenges of the looming (projected) $14.5 billion deficit facing California for its 2008-2009 budget year. At least $1 million of more than $14 million in total proposed cuts resulting from park closures would take place during the current budget year. The deficit reducing measure would also reduce or eliminate over 100 staff positions in addition to seasonal lifeguards at many state beaches.[9]

On September 25, 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger's office announced that all state parks would remain open during the 2009-2010 fiscal year using one-time budget reduction methods in maintenance, equipment, and services. Examples of service reductions included some parks only being open on weekends and holidays, or closing accessibility to portions of an otherwise open park.[10]

On May 11, 2011, state park officials announced that seventy parks would be closed due to department budget cuts in response to California's continuing budget crises.[11]

Vacation buy-out

On July 15, 2012, the Sacramento Bee newspaper reported that the deputy director of Administration at California State Parks had orchestrated $271,000 in vacation buy-outs for himself and 55 other administrative employees. A vacation buy out allows one to be paid today for vacation time that would otherwise be used in the future or cashed-out at retirement. While vacation buy-outs are allowed, these buy-outs were reported to have been done secretly.[12]

Hidden funds

In 2012, the department revealed that two accounts were discovered totaling $54 million that had been hidden for 12 years. One fund was for the Off Highway Vehicle division and one for the state park division. This resulted in the immediate resignation of the director and firing of the acting chief deputy director.[12]

Parks Forward assessment and recommendations

The Parks Forward commission was formed after the California Legislature called for the formation of a multidisciplinary advisory council to conduct an independent assessment and make recommendations.[13] The commission issued a report in 2015 that noted the lack of maintenance for many parks along with visitors who do not reflect the diversity of California's population. The report also said the agency is using outdated technology for managing the parks and providing reservations while being overwhelmed by the responsibility for managing the park system.[14]


Responsible for almost one-third of California's scenic coastline (280 miles), California State Parks manages the state's finest coastal wetlands, estuaries, beaches, and dune systems. California State Parks contains the largest and most diverse natural and cultural heritage holdings of any state agency in the nation. State park units include underwater preserves, reserves, and parks; redwood, rhododendron, and wildlife reserves; state beaches, recreation areas, wilderness areas, and reservoirs; state historic parks, historic homes, Spanish era adobe buildings, including museums, visitor centers, cultural reserves, and preserves; as well as lighthouses, caverns, ghost towns, water slides, conference centers, and off-highway vehicle parks. These parks protect and preserve an unparalleled collection of culturally and environmentally sensitive structures and habitats, threatened plant and animal species, ancient Native American sites, historic structures and artifacts. The Department employs State Park Peace Officers Law Enforcement to protect and preserve the State Parks and the millions of people who visit them each year. Parks are patrolled by sworn State Park Peace Officers, of which there are two classifications, State Park Ranger and State Park Lifeguards.


The sites managed and preserved by the department are categorized into different types. There are 87 State Parks, 63 State Beaches, 51 State Historic Parks, 32 State Recreation Areas, 16 State Natural Reserves, 14 State Park Properties, 8 Vehicular Recreation Areas, 2 State Marine Reserves, 1 State Historical Monument, 1 State Seashore, and 1 Wayside Park.

The Public Resources Code provides the classification of units of the state park system. All units that are or will become part of the system, except those units or parts of units designated by the state legislature as wilderness areas or are subject to any other provision of law are classified by the State Park and Recreation Commission into one of these classifications.[15]

State parks "consist of relatively spacious areas of outstanding scenic or natural character, oftentimes also containing significant [...] values. State recreation units "consist of areas selected, developed, and operated to provide outdoor recreational opportunities" and are classified as either State Recreation Areas, Underwater Recreation Areas, State Beaches, and Wayside Campgrounds.[15]

State Recreation Areas consist of "areas selected and developed to provide multiple recreational opportunities," and are selected for "having terrain capable of withstanding extensive human impact and for their proximity to large population centers, major routes of travel, or proven recreational resources." Underwater Recreation Areas consist of "areas in the nonmarine aquatic environment selected and developed to provide surface and subsurface water-oriented recreational opportunities..." State Beaches consist of "areas with frontage on the ocean or bays designed to provide beach-oriented recreational activities." Wayside Campgrounds consist of "relatively small areas suitable for overnight camping and offering convenient access to major highways." Historical units are "nonmarine areas established primarily to preserve objects of historical, archaeological, and scientific interest, and archaeological sites and places commemorating important persons or historic events." State seashores "consist of relatively spacious coastline areas with frontage on the ocean, or on bays open to the ocean [...] possessing outstanding scenic or natural character and significant recreational, historical, archaeological, or geological values."[15]

State reserves "consist of areas embracing outstanding natural or scenic characteristics or areas containing outstanding cultural resources of statewide significance," and are classified as either State Natural Reserves which consist of areas selected and managed to preserve their ecology, fauna, flora, geological features, and scenic qualities "in a condition of undisturbed integrity," or State Cultural Reserves which consist of areas selected and managed to preserve the integrity of historic structures and features as well as areas with spiritual significance to California indigenous people.[15]

State wildernesses are areas where the environment has not been affected by humans and are relatively undeveloped state-owned or leased lands which have retained their original characters and influence or have been restored to a near-natural appearance. State wildernesses can be established within other state parks system units. Natural preserves are nonmarine areas of outstanding natural or scientific significance established within the boundaries of other units to preserve features natural features such as rare or endangered species and their supporting ecosystems. Cultural preserves are those established also within other units to preserve cultural features such as sites, buildings or zones important to the human history of California.[15]

State marine reserves have a uniform classifications established by the Marine Managed Areas Improvement Act: State Marine Reserve, State Marine Park, State Marine Conservation Area, State Marine Cultural Preservation Area, and State Marine Recreational Management Area.[15]

See also



  1. ^ "State Parks Celebrating 150 Years. State of California". State Parks Celebrating 150 Years. State of California. Retrieved November 20, 2018.
  2. ^ "State Park System Statistical Report". State of California. Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  3. ^ "Contact Us." California Department of Parks and Recreation. Retrieved on May 18, 2013.
  4. ^ "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings: A History of the Sierra Club". Archived from the original on September 18, 2006. Retrieved July 7, 2006.
  5. ^ Colby, William E.; Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. (April 1933). "Borrego Desert Park". Sierra Club Bulletin. XVIII: 144. Archived from the original on April 3, 2016. Retrieved July 29, 2007.
  6. ^ "A State Park System is Born". State of California. Retrieved July 28, 2007.
  7. ^ Threats to history seen in budget cuts, bulldozers - Yahoo! News Archived June 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Castleman, Terry. "Record wet winter inflicted more than $210 million in damage to California parks". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 17, 2023.
  9. ^ San Francisco Chronicle, "Governor's Budget Proposal: Parks" URL retrieved January 23, 2008.
  10. ^ "Gov. Schwarzenegger Announces Plan to Keep State Parks Open". Archived from the original on May 1, 2010. Retrieved May 3, 2010.
  11. ^ California officials announce closure of 70 state parks Archived 2011-05-14 at the Wayback Machine Capitol Alert Sacramento Bee newspaper
  12. ^ a b Weiser, Matt; Yamamura, Kevin (July 21, 2012). "Hidden California state parks funds spark outrage". Sacramento Bee. p. 1A. Archived from the original on July 25, 2012. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
  13. ^ Parks Forward
  14. ^ Megerian, Chris (January 29, 2014) "Panel urges transformation of California state parks system" Los Angeles Times
  15. ^ a b c d e f "Classification of Units of the State Park System". Article 1.7., Division No. 5 Parks and Monuments, Chapter 1 State Parks and Monuments, Public Resources Code of 1939.