Channel Islands National Park gives a tantalizing glimpse of Old California—before motorways and fast food restaurants—and is rugged, secluded, and refreshingly uncrowded.
The park includes the five rugged islands of Anacapa, Santa Cruz, and Barbara, as well as the untamed, windswept outer islands at San Miguel & Santa Rosa, as well as the mile of the Pacific Ocean that laps their rocky beaches.
A short boat ride from the Southern California coast, this is the ideal getaway if you’re craving pure sea air, seclusion, and untainted nature.
There are many things to do in the Channel Islands like coastal southern California, experiencing coastal southern California, enjoying the natural and cultural resources, visiting Santa rosa island, San Miguel island, California mainland, and enjoying so many spectacular hiking opportunities.
The biodiversity of Channel Islands National Park is one of its distinctive features, much like that of the Galapagos Islands.
1. Information to Consider Before Visiting the Channel Islands National Park
- Only Anacapa & Santa Cruz are accessible via day trips to the Channel Islands. The ferry voyage takes one to one and a half hours. Getting to the other islands may take up to two to three hours.
- It’s possible for an Anacapa Island ferry landing to occur on a cliff rather than a beach during the winter and whale-watching season. The bird season on Anacapa Island should also be taken into account.
- The wildlife here that stands out the most is certainly seabirds. Because there are so few predators on the island, Anacapa is home to thousands of birds that use it as a nesting spot. By the end of April, western gulls start building their flimsy nests, which they occasionally build mere inches from island paths.
- In May and June, fluffy chicks hatch, and in July they take their first flight. Yeah, during this peak bird season, it may be quite noisy outside.
- On the Channel Islands, only the specified campgrounds are available for camping. Before your visit, campsite reservations are required. Camping is not first-come, first-served.
- The islands don’t have any services. Please bring anything you need. Bring water, sunscreen, food, and snacks with you. By taking away all rubbish, the park will save money and the wildlife will be protected.
- The environment of the Channel Islands is closed. Be sure you don’t bring any pests with you, like plant seeds. Throw any biological waste away.
Are you unsure of how to reach the Channel Islands? Although they appear distant, the islands are not difficult to reach, and you’ll discover that the voyage itself is just as wonderful as the final destination.
With opportunities for animal viewing along the way, Island Packers whisks you away on sightseeing day cruises from both Harbor Village & Oxnard harbors.
2. Camping at the Channel Islands National Park
What you want to do, which island you want to visit, and what you can book reservations for all truly depend on these factors.
There are camping areas on each of the five islands if you have the time and want to do so. Each island presents a unique set of difficulties.
We advise staying at Scorpion Ranch in Santa Cruz Island if this is your first time camping in the Channel Islands. Scorpion Ranch offers fresh water, a secure campground, and daily ferry service so you can stay for whatever length you choose.
If you want to explore any of the other islands, you must allow at least 3-5 days because there is little to no ferry service.
Only Anacapa & Santa Cruz Islands, out of the five, are highly recommended for day visits. Day visits to Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara, & San Miguel are possible, although the amount of time available for exploration is constrained by the longer travel distances to these islands.
3. Activities to Do in the Channel Islands National Park
Here are some of the fun activities that you can try doing at Channel Islands National Park.
3.1. Dolphin Spotting and Whale Watching
Wildlife enthusiasts marvel at cruising the waters near the Channel Islands. The park is home to about one-third of the world’s cetacean species, and on the whale watching and wildlife excursions, you may get a close-up glimpse of them.
Some of the species that are frequently seen are humpback, blue, grey, minke, and pilot whales and you might also encounter orcas, several different types of dolphins, harbor seals, and sea lions.
Island Packers offers year-round animal spotting cruises, and whale watching trips in the summer and winter out of Oxnard’s Channel Islands Harbor as well as Ventura Harbor Village, among the city’s most popular tourist destinations.
Also, if you’re planning a day trip toward the Channel Islands, the Island Packers staff will keep an eye out for animals and make stops along the way to look for sightings.
A whale-watching tour in the Channel Islands can be planned from Santa Barbara; it’s one of the most popular activities in the area, especially for families.
3.2. Kayaking in the Channel Islands National Park
One might get a new perspective of these craggy islands by paddling on the clear waters. The coastline is framed by towering sea cliffs, deserted beaches, pebbly coves, & sea caves.
Look below to observe kelp forests covered in jungle growth as fish dart about in the crystal-clear water.
On East Santa Cruz Island, the area surrounding Scorpion Cove is one of the best spots for kayaking.
There are campgrounds close by, sea cliffs, and caves that scallop the coastline, and you can readily access the waters from the beach.
Although it is possible to kayak independently, it is much safer to register for a guided kayaking excursion due to the erratic nature of the sea.
During an Island Packers cruise, you can pay an additional charge to bring your kayak.
3.3. Hiking in the Channel Islands National Park
The best way to take in the breathtaking environment and see some of the land creatures is to walk along the picturesque trails of Channel Islands National Park.
The routes range from the two-mile-long, mostly level, figure-eight-shaped pathways on East Anacapa Island to the secluded, difficult canyon treks on Santa Rosa.
There are wildlife sightings all year round, views across bright blue bays from sea cliffs, and springtime wildflowers dotting the meadows.
On Santa Cruz Island, the Pelican Bay Trail is among the most well-liked walks. You begin this three-hour, up-and-down walk from Prisoner’s Harbor.
You’ll pass through gnarled oak forests & beautiful fields on your journey, and you just might see the cute tiny Channel Island fox. Please take note that this route is only accessible to Island Packer passengers traveling with knowledgeable guides.
Five kilometers of paths on Santa Barbara Island lead to interesting locations like an elephant seal cove as well as a sea lion rookery. San Miguel is also a great place for trekking excursions, but you must apply for a permit in advance.
3.4. Camping in the Channel Islands National Park
Would you like to stay longer on these uninhabited islands? The best option is to camp in Channel Islands National Park. There are basic campsites available on each of the five islands.
Staying overnight just on the islands will give you a better chance of viewing the wildlife and experiencing all the varied things to do. Dark skies make for excellent stargazing.
Scorpion Canyon in Santa Cruz Island & Water Canyon in Santa Rosa Island is popular locations to set up camp. These two campsites are also the only ones with water. There are picnic tables & pit toilets in every campground.
Strong winds that impact these outer islands can be tempered by windbreaks at the Santa Rosa & San Miguel campgrounds. There is also some backcountry camping.
The most crucial thing to keep in mind is that you must reserve your transportation before you can reserve a spot.
You can fly over to Santa Rosa & San Miguel islands through Channel Islands Aviation, or Island Packers transports campers to all the islands with opportunities to see whales and other animals along the route. In a private boat, you can also sail or cruise.
Also, you must reserve your campground in advance and make sure your transit information is close at hand. Keep in mind that you must walk from the landing site to the campgrounds on each island, so campers are responsible for removing their waste.
3.4.1. Wilderness Camping
On Santa Cruz Island, backcountry camping is accessible all year long at the Del Norte campground close to Prisoners Harbor. In Santa Rosa Island, backcountry beach camping is also permitted at specific periods of the year.
To preserve the unique wilderness values of these islands, the National Park Service opened them to restricted backcountry camping.
You accept the obligation to assist us to safeguard and maintain these fragile resources for generations to come when you kayak through or hike through these wild places.
On Santa Cruz Island, Del Norte is the sole backcountry campsite at the moment, and at 700 feet above sea level, it is tucked away in lush oak wood and offers picturesque views of the island’s unspoiled shoreline.
Users are required to camp in the campground’s four approved primitive campsites, which can accommodate up to four people each.
There is a picnic table, an animal-proof container, and a pit toilet available (campers must carry their toilet paper). There is no access to water.
3.5. Watching Wildlife in the Channel Islands National Park
Animals can be found in abundance in Channel Islands National Park. Four native species can be found in the Channel Islands National Park, including the spotted skunk, harvest mouse, island deer mouse, and lovely little island fox.
On the islands of Santa Rosa & Santa Cruz, bats are plentiful, and one of them is a maternity colony of the uncommon Townsend’s big-eared bat.
Birds have a wider variety. Ten of the islands’ 40 land bird species are unique to the islands, making them vital seabird nesting grounds. Moreover, keep an eye out for bald eagles, which were just recently returned to the islands.
There are only a few species of reptiles and amphibians, although they do include lizards, salamanders, a type of frog, and two non-venomous snakes.
Paleontologists might also find the following two Channel Islands National Park facts fascinating: These coastlines were formerly inhabited by enormous deer mice and pygmy mammoths!
3.6. Fishing in the Channel Islands National Park
Rich fishing opportunities are available for serious anglers in the pristine waters, kelp forests, among rocky reefs. Lingcod, rockfish, white seabass, & halibut are popular fish to catch in this area.
The best fishing is typically found in the waters around the outer islands because there is less fishing pressure there. When squid spawns, which usually occurs in the spring, Santa Cruz is noted for its successful white seabass fishing.
You can plan a fishing charter or cast from a kayak. In addition to multi-day fishing trips, Channel Islands Sportfishing also offers half-day, three-quarter-day, and full-day excursions.
Before you go fishing, make sure to buy a California fishing license. It’s crucial to know the whereabouts of the 13 no-take marine conservation areas around the islands.
3.7. Scuba Diving and Snorkeling in the Channel Islands National Park
You might get the sensation of gliding over a verdant rainforest while surrounded by enormous kelp forests.
The rocks are covered in colorful sponges, sea fans, and sea stars, and playful seals & sea lions dart between the kelp’s tendrils.
Much of the surrounding waters are protected by the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary and because of the chilly, nutrient-rich waters, marine life is abundant all year round.
Many various species of whales & dolphins also swim in these waters, along with moray eels, California spiny lobsters, abalone, and octopus, plus large fish like sea bass, and bright-orange garibaldi.
Local diving shops provide excursions that range from day trips to islands to multi-day live-aboard journeys. Snorkeling can be as satisfying.
3.8. Visitor Centers for Channel Islands National Park
Before you travel, make a point of stopping at one of the two Channel Island Tourist Centers on the mainland. Also, Anacapa Island has one. Every day, a free movie named “A Treasure in the Sea” is shown for 25 minutes.
The subjects covered have ranged from knowledge about safeguarding sea otter populations to an awareness of the ecology and health of kelp forests.
The second Visitors Center is located in Santa Barbara Harbor, 30 miles north of Ventura.
Together with information regarding Spanish explorers, missionaries, and American ranchers, this location also has interpretive displays well about the Chumash Native tribe, who was the first group to live on the islands.
The Channel Islands and Marine Sanctuary are depicted on the center’s mosaic floor tiles, coupled with the rainbow bridge mythology and local flowers.
The park service provides live webcams so you can watch and learn before you travel if you want to do extra research from the comfort of your couch. In Anacapa, a webcam has been installed that offers views of arch rock, seabird nesting grounds, and the old lighthouse.
Additional cameras offer views of kelp forests, peregrine falcons, and bald eagles. The Nature Conservancy has installed a camera on Mount Diablo, the tallest peak in the park which is situated on the north part of Santa Cruz island.
4. Things to Bring
- Bring binoculars if you intend to visit so you can get the best view of the wonderful wildlife that is allowed to roam free.
- If birdwatching is your thing, a birding guidebook and other gear may also be useful.
- You can obtain breathtaking views of the land and the water if you decide to walk on the islands.
- Make sure to dress appropriately for hikes, wearing numerous layers, as the midday heat may be very harsh and the coastal winds can turn rather frigid.
- For hikes, remember to pack sunscreen, a hat with a strap (so it won’t fly off in a breeze), and lots of drinks.
- Another well-liked sport to have fun & get up close to marine life is kayaking. On Santa Cruz Island, you can rent them by calling and making a reservation at least a day in advance.
- If you rent a kayak, you should pack lots of sunscreens (be sure to pack chemical-free, reef-safe sunscreen in case you get wet), a sun hat, as well as a dry bag to keep your valuables, such as vital papers and devices, dry.
5. Photography Spots in the Channel Islands National Park
Travel pictures might be some of the nicest memories you have! There are several incredible photo opportunities within the Channel Islands National Park, whether you’re a professional photographer or just like to take pictures with your phone.
The Anacapa Arch off Anacapa & Elephant Arch on Santa Barbara Island are a couple of must-see sights. On Santa Cruz Island, Potato Harbor is renowned for its breathtaking sunset views. Whether it’s the scenery, an animal, or a flower, you’ll undoubtedly return home with a tonne of framed pictures!
We hope you like our this guide on Channel Islands National Park. In addition to observing animals, there are many additional activities available in Channel Islands National Park.
Popular activities include hiking, kayaking, diving, snorkeling, swimming, and fishing. If you just want to unwind, though, you may laze on a beautiful beach, paint or sketch the breathtaking scenery, or have a picnic in a remote harbor.