Channel Islands National Park, California, encompasses five of the Channel Islands off the coast of California near Santa Barbara and the waters surrounding them. Some of these islands were overrun by non-native species and are being restored to their natural state while others stand as the last vestige of California as it used to be. The Park, established March 5th, 1980, protects both the islands and waters and more than 140 plant and wildlife species found only here.
Visitor Rating (write your own review below)
Great way to get away from the crowds
ILNP Park Review
In a Word “Golden”
“Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands and all who live in them.” -Isaiah 42:10
Our Visit I took a one-day foray out to the islands in July while visiting the Santa Barbara area. I only had time for a day trip to one island, so I chose Santa Cruz, the largest of the Channel Islands. I was finally able to visit the Visitors Center in Ventura Harbor a few years later in November.
Our Weather In July, it was foggy and 60s in the morning, sunny and 80 degrees in the afternoon. I needed a sweatshirt for the boat ride and shorts and lots of sunscreen when the fog cleared. In November it was an unseasonably warm 80 degrees.
Overall Impression The Channel Islands are very isolated, and relatively few travelers take the opportunity to visit. While this Park is not as flashy or scenically spectacular as most, its beauty lies in the pristine solitude of California scenery only a few miles away from some of the most densely populated areas in the U.S. A day at this Park is rewarding if only for the peace its trails and myriad ocean overlooks provide.
Favorite Spot standing atop Cavern Point on Santa Cruz Island
Minimum Time Required A half day. The only way into the Park is by boat or plane, so options are limited. Cruise options are available from Ventura and Santa Barbara. Most of them leave in the morning and return in the evening, but half-day cruises are offered to Anacapa, the closest of the islands. These out-and-back cruises allow you sufficient time to hike some of the trails or kayak around a portion of the islands and return in the same day. Different cruises are offered on different days, so check the vendor’s schedule to see what’s available first.
You can also check times at the Channel Islands Visitors Center in Ventura Harbor, but beware, the cruise hours are typically earlier and later than the visitor center hours, so you’ll need to hit the visitors center a day or more in advance of your trip to the islands. If you don’t have the time to visit an island, you can learn more about them and see some nice displays including island models, a mock-up of a mammoth dig, and a large aquarium at the visitors center.
A Longer Visit Plan on spending at least a full day in the Park. There are daily cruises to two of the islands, Anacapa (the closest) and Santa Cruz (the largest). Cruises to the other islands are only offered a few times a year and fill up quickly. I chose to spend a day on Santa Cruz because it offered more hiking than Anacapa. I left from Ventura harbor at 9 AM and returned at 5 PM. The cruise cost me just under $50. The boat ride took about 75 minutes and included some marine wildlife spotting–the dolphins were exceptionally playful as we neared the docking point at Scorpion Anchorage. It was nearly 11 AM when we were allowed to leave on our own after offloading gear and listening to the rules and advice offered by the Park Ranger. Reporting time for the return trip was 3:30 PM.
Santa Cruz probably has over 100 miles of hiking trails. Some of them are on the restricted west side of the island run by the nature conservancy. Guided tours to this area are available on certain days only. The east side of the island boasts a high cliff shoreline on the outside and the golden, rolling hills so typical of California on the inside. There are many hiking options for the day hiker ranging from the 1/2 mile hike to Cavern Point for some ocean scenery to the 7-mile round-trip hike to Smuggler’s Cove on the southeast side of the island. I chose to hike most of the day and was able to make the 4-mile round-trip hike to Potato Harbor on the coast, the 4-mile loop to Scorpion Canyon on the interior and the 1-mile round trip to Cavern Point in the 4 1/2 hours. I was tired, but it was rewarding. The island was abundant with wildflowers and beautiful coastal views. If you don’t want to hike too far, I would recommend the coastal hikes over the inland hikes. Unlike its larger cousins, Anacapa Island‘s trails can be explored completely in one day, so if you want to more thoroughly explore a rocky island, this may be a better option for you.
Camping is allowed on all the islands for those wishing to spend more than a day. The campgrounds I saw on Santa Cruz were close to the anchorage (less than 1/2 a mile) and had picnic tables and pit toilets.
Suggestions If you can, make reservations for the cruise at least a week in advance because you’ll have a lot more options. If you call the day before, they will probably have openings, but they may not be the times or options you want.
The boat offers only minimal snacks and beverage service, so visitors must pack everything they need for their trip. A minimal list includes water (at least 3 liters), a meal, extra snacks, sunscreen, a sweatshirt, a light rain jacket, a camera and a comfortable backpack to hold it all.
The weather on the islands may be completely different from the weather on the mainland. When I tried to check the weather online using “Channel Islands, CA” as the reference point, the website gave me the weather for nearby Oxnard, CA–the weather on the islands was nothing like the weather in Oxnard! Your best bet is to call the Visitor’s Center or one of the cruise operators for their best forecast. Prepare for foggy and damp weather, especially in the morning during Spring and early Summer. Prepare for sun as well–the sun broke out about 1 PM when I visited, and my sunscreen didn’t last the entire day’s hike (I paid for it later with a nice sunburn).
If you’re relying on a boat ride back to shore, be on time! The cruise operators warn you they will leave you if you’re not on board at the appointed hour. During my visit, a family of four wasn’t back at 4 PM when the boat was scheduled to leave. The cruise operators looked for them on board, but after 10 minutes of waiting, they took off for Ventura.
Nearby Towns Ventura, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles (California)
Other Nearby Attractions Santa Monica Mountains NRA, beaches in Ventura and Santa Barbara, all that Los Angeles has to offer
Official NPS Website Channel Islands NP
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