The steep rock cliffs of California's Anza-Borrego Desert State Park photographed at dusk
People gather on an overlook above the Borrego Badlands in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

How to Get Free Entry to California State Parks With Your Library Card

How to Get Free Entry to California State Parks With Your Library Card

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This week is National Library Week — and if you have a library card, you can now check out a free pass to over 200 state parks around California.

Through the California State Library Parks Pass program, which launches this week, each of the state's 1,184 public libraries is offering cardholders a limited number of passes to most state parks. Each pass gives a library cardholder free day entry to state parks for one passenger vehicle (with up to nine people) — or one highway-licensed motorcycle. And depending on how your local library is handling the program, you'll be able to keep and use that pass for a certain amount of time before having to return it.

California's state park system is the largest in the nation, with a large number of parks accessible within the Bay Area itself.

Getting into nature has documented health benefits — and the state says this program is about helping more Californians explore the outdoors, and reducing financial barriers to entry.

Keep reading to find out how to get your pass, and what you need to know about securing free entry to California's state parks this spring and summer.

Soaring California redwoods photographed from below
Old-growth redwood trees in Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve in Guerneville. (George Rose/Getty Images)

Which state parks will accept the California State Library Parks Pass?

The pass is valid for use any day of the week, including holidays (but only if space in the park is available). Still, it's important to note that not every state park in California will accept the California State Library Parks Pass.

The California Department of Parks and Recreation say the pass won't be accepted "at units operated by federal and local government, private agencies or concessionaires." In the Bay Area, for example, Angel Island, Pacifica State Beach and San Bruno Mountain State Park won't accept a California State Library Parks Pass for free entry.

Still, there are a lot of state parks in the Bay Area where you can use the pass. These include Mount Tamalpais State Park, Half Moon Bay State Beach, Mount Diablo State Park, Castle Rock State Park and Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park. Big Basin Redwoods State Park — the oldest state park in California, founded in 1902 — also is included, but is only partially open right now due to wildfire.

Take a look at:

How can I check out a California State Library Parks Pass from my local library?

Each library may have different preferences for how you check out a pass, but your best bet is almost certainly by visiting in person.

Different public libraries have received different numbers of passes, with the minimum being three passes per library — but San Francisco and Oakland say their public libraries are expecting to increase the amount of passes they can offer in late April.

This may mean that if you're not able to snag a pass easily now at the start of the program, don't worry: You may have more luck in a few weeks as the program progresses.

If you have a library card with a public library system that has multiple locations — like in San Francisco or Oakland, for example — the California State Library Parks Passes most likely will be spread out between these locations. Contact your local branch ahead of time to confirm the location of the pass.

Your library gets to decide how many days you can keep a pass, so make sure you know that return date when you check out a pass.

Your library may also allow you to place a hold on a pass, just like you would a book — this is, for example, what the San Francisco Public Library allows for cardholders. You may be able to place a hold on a pass in person at your local library, or online by logging into your library card account. Placing a hold on a pass could be a good way to plan in advance for an upcoming trip where you want to use the free pass.

Find your nearest local library.

How much money will I be saving by using a California State Library Parks Pass?

Entry fees usually vary between state parks, and often go up around peak visit weekends or holidays.

The California Explorer Annual Day Use Pass typically costs $195, but doesn't cover all state parks in California.

A view up a sandy shoreline alongside steep, shaded, rocky cliffs, with the sun shining on receding waves.
Gaviota State Park in Gaviota, one of the state parks that will accept the California State Library Parks Pass. (George Rose/Getty Images)

How long can I keep the pass?

That'll really depend on your local library — because each library gets to decide how long a pass can be checked out. Both the Oakland and San Francisco public library systems, for example, will be offering their passes as one-week physical items.

Contact your local library to find out how long they're loaning their passes for, and to make sure you return your pass in a timely manner so the next person can enjoy it.

Can I use the pass to enter multiple state parks that accept it?

Yes, you can use it to enter as many eligible state parks as you like during the loan period. This is another reason placing a hold on a pass may be a helpful way to plan ahead for a few days of travel (or a road trip) to enable you to visit multiple state parks.

What's the catch?

Remember that not all state parks are participating in this program, and the passes don’t cover camping fees. The Department of Parks and Recreation also says that the pass won't cover "per-person entry or tour fees (such as museums), boat use, camping, group use or sites, special events, additional/extra vehicle fees, sanitation disposal use or ... supplemental fees."

Also, libraries can decide on the number of days a pass can be checked out, and each library will get a minimum of just three passes to give out. So if your local library doesn't have many passes on offer, and they allow cardholders to keep a pass for several days, you may have to wait for your turn.

In addition, it may take your local public library some time to ramp up with the program. So if the passes aren't immediately available, you might have to be patient about that, too.

Mount Diablo State Park in Alamo, with the tallest mountain in the San Francisco Bay Area, July 2016. (Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

What if I don't have a library card?

Getting a library card is fairly simple, and will allow you to access not only a California State Library Parks Pass, but also the full range of your local library's books, media, records and library services like laptop and internet access.

To apply for a library card, you must:

  • Be a California resident.
  • Provide a government-issued photo ID such as your valid driver’s license, state ID, passport, consulate ID card or active military ID.

Find your local library near you. You may be able to apply for a library card in person or online — but be sure to check whether the pandemic has changed your local library's opening times if you go in person.


Which California state parks offer free entry with a Library Parks Pass?

Take a look at the California Department of Parks and Recreation's map to find the state parks nearest you, or find the state park you're looking for in this full list.

You can also see the list of state parks where you can't use a California State Library Parks Pass.

Here are the state parks around the Bay Area that are currently offering free entry with a California State Library Parks Pass:

In addition, here are the state parks across the rest of the state currently offering free entry with a California State Library Parks Pass, in alphabetical order:

  • Admiral William Standley State Recreation Area
  • Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park
  • Anderson Marsh State Historic Park
  • Andrew Molera State Park
  • Año Nuevo State Park
  • Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Natural Reserve
  • Anza-Borrego Desert State Park ®
  • Asilomar State Beach
  • Auburn State Recreation Area
  • Austin Creek State Recreation Area
  • Azalea State Natural Reserve
  • Benbow State Recreation Area
  • Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park
  • Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park
  • Bolsa Chica State Beach
  • Border Field State Park
  • Burton Creek State Park
  • Butte City Project Park Property
  • Calaveras Big Trees State Park
  • California Citrus State Historic Park
  • California Indian Heritage Center Park Property
  • California State Capitol
  • Cardiff State Beach
  • Carlsbad State Beach
  • Carmel River State Beach
  • Carpinteria State Beach
  • Caspar Headlands State Beach
  • Caspar Headlands State Natural Reserve
  • Castle Crags State Park
  • Caswell Memorial State Park
  • Chino Hills State Park
  • Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park
  • Clear Lake State Park
  • Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park
  • Columbia State Historic Park
  • Colusa-Sacramento River State Recreation Area
  • Crystal Cove State Park
  • Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • D. L. Bliss State Park
  • Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
  • Doheny State Beach
  • Donner Memorial State Park
  • Ed Z'berg Sugar Pine Point State Park
  • El Capitán State Beach
  • Emerald Bay State Park
  • Emma Wood State Beach
  • Estero Bluffs State Park
  • Folsom Lake State Recreation Area
  • Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park
  • The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park
  • Fort Humboldt State Historic Park
  • Fort Ord Dunes State Park
  • Fort Ross State Historic Park
  • Fremont Peak State Park
  • Garrapata State Park
  • Gaviota State Park
  • George J. Hatfield State Recreation Area
  • Great Valley Grasslands State Park
  • Greenwood State Beach
  • Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park
  • Grover Hot Springs State Park
  • Harmony Headlands State Park
  • Harry A. Merlo State Recreation Area
  • Hatton Canyon Park Property
  • Hearst San Simeon State Park
  • Hendy Woods State Park
  • Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
  • Henry W. Coe State Park
  • Humboldt Lagoons State Park
  • Humboldt Redwoods State Park
  • Huntington State Beach
  • Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park
  • Indio Hills Palms Park Property
  • Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
  • John B. Dewitt Redwoods State Natural Reserve
  • John Little State Natural Reserve
  • Jug Handle State Natural Reserve
  • Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
  • Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area
  • Kings Beach State Recreation Area
  • Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve
  • La Purísima Mission State Historic Park
  • Lake Oroville State Recreation Area
  • Lake Perris State Recreation Area
  • Leo Carrillo State Park
  • Lighthouse Field State Beach
  • Little River State Beach
  • Los Angeles State Historic Park
  • Los Osos Oaks State Natural Reserve
  • MacKerricher State Park
  • Mailliard Redwoods State Natural Reserve
  • Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park
  • Malibu Creek State Park
  • Malibu Lagoon State Beach
  • Manchester State Park
  • Mandalay State Beach
  • Manresa State Beach
  • Marina State Beach
  • Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park
  • McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park
  • McConnell State Recreation Area
  • McGrath State Beach
  • Mendocino Headlands State Park
  • Mendocino Woodlands State Park
  • Millerton Lake State Recreation Area
  • Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve
  • Montaña de Oro State Park
  • Monterey State Beach
  • Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve
  • Morro Bay State Park
  • Morro Strand State Beach
  • Moss Landing State Beach
  • Mount San Jacinto State Park
  • Natural Bridges State Beach
  • Navarro River Redwoods State Park
  • New Brighton State Beach
  • Old Sacramento State Historic Park
  • Old Town San Diego State Historic Park
  • Pacheco State Park
  • Palomar Mountain State Park
  • Patrick's Point State Park
  • Pelican State Beach
  • Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
  • Picacho State Recreation Area
  • Pismo State Beach
  • Plumas-Eureka State Park
  • Point Lobos Ranch Park Property
  • Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
  • Point Mugu State Park
  • Point Sal State Beach
  • Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
  • Providence Mountains State Recreation Area
  • Rancho San Andrés Castro Adobe Park Property
  • Red Rock Canyon State Park
  • Refugio State Beach
  • Reynolds Wayside Campground
  • Richardson Grove State Park
  • Rio de Los Angeles State Park State Recreation Area
  • Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach
  • Robert Louis Stevenson State Park
  • Russian Gulch State Park
  • Saddleback Butte State Park
  • Salinas River State Beach
  • Salt Point State Park
  • Salton Sea State Recreation Area
  • San Buenaventura State Beach
  • San Clemente State Beach
  • San Elijo State Beach
  • San Juan Bautista State Historic Park
  • San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area
  • San Onofre State Beach
  • San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park
  • San Timoteo Canyon Park Property
  • Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park
  • Schooner Gulch State Beach
  • Seacliff State Beach
  • Silver Strand State Beach
  • Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area
  • Sinkyone Wilderness State Park
  • Smithe Redwoods State Natural Reserve
  • Sonoma Coast State Park
  • South Carlsbad State Beach
  • South Yuba River State Park
  • Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area
  • Stone Lake Park Property
  • Sunset State Beach
  • Tahoe State Recreation Area
  • Tijuana Estuary NP Point of Interest
  • Tolowa Dunes State Park
  • Topanga State Park
  • Torrey Pines State Beach
  • Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
  • Trinidad State Beach
  • Tule Elk State Natural Reserve
  • Turlock Lake State Recreation Area
  • Van Damme State Park
  • Verdugo Mountains Park Property
  • Ward Creek Park Property
  • Washoe Meadows State Park
  • Westport-Union Landing State Beach
  • Wilder Ranch State Park
  • Wildwood Canyon Park Property
  • William B. Ide Adobe State Historic Park
  • Woodson Bridge State Recreation Area
  • Zmudowski State Beach