Channel Islands National Park – An Island Paradise

One of the closest National Parks to Los Angeles and San Diego is the one and only Channel Islands National Park. This slice of paradise, accessible by boat or plane from the mainland, is full of beautiful nature and amazing activities. The wildlife, views, and amazing opportunities for scuba diving and kayaking make this little gem an amazing ocean bound escape for adventurers of all kinds!

A view of Channel Islands National Park

How To Get There

The closest of the Channel Islands is a little over ten miles off the coast of California. With that in mind, there are only two ways to reach the island. The first is by boat, while the second is by air. Visitors have the option of either taking their own boat to Channel Islands, or taking Island Packers Cruises. The National Park Service provides information for visitors coming via personal boats. Although access by private boat is permitted, there are restricted areas on the various islands which visitors should be aware of. In addition, there are no areas to moor ships, so one member of each party should always remind aboard the boat at all times. Visitors should also be cognizant of the weather if they plan on visiting with private vessels.

An easier option is to take Island Packers Cruises to the island. This company has ferries which depart from both Ventura Harbor and Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard. Ferries go to Anacapa Island, Santa Cruz Island, Santa Rosa Island, Santa Barbara Island, and San Miguel Island. Fares very from about $40 to $150.

The final option is to take a flight offered by Channel Islands Aviation. The company flies to Santa Rosa Island and San Miguel Island. Flights are notably more expensive than the ferries, costing approximately $1,200 or more.

Camping and Lodging at Channel Islands

There are no lodges or other permanent facilities in Channel Islands National Park for people to stay at. However, there are campsites at each island. These campsites must be reserved in advance. They contain picnic tables and pit toilets. The campsites are relatively primitive compared to locations at other California National Parks.

What To Bring

There are several items worth bringing to Channel Islands, depending on what activities a visitor enjoys partaking in. All visitors should bring sunscreen during their trip – camelbaks are also recommended for anyone doing any sort of hiking. Other items which may be worth bringing include kayaks, scuba fins and snorkels, fishing gear, and surf boards. Light tents may be useful for those who want to go camping, although tents will need to be carried for some distance by visitors.

Activities at Channel Islands

There are a myriad of amazing activities available at Channel Islands National Park:

Kayaking

Sea kayaking is an exciting activity that allows visitors to see the great beauty of Channel Islands National Park. Santa Barbara Adventure Company provides kayaking services for visitors to Santa Cruz Island, in the Scorpion Anchorage area. These kayak trips take about 3 hours and cost approximately $150. Sea kayaking is a risky activity, and visitors should always kayak with other people (never alone) and be cognizant of weather and other potential risks.

Scuba Diving

For the scuba aficionados out there, the Channel Islands can be an amazing place to see beautiful seascapes of kelp forests. Prime locations for diving include Santa Barbara Island, Anacapa Island, and parts of Santa Cruz island. Make sure to bring scuba gear!

Channel Islands Kelp Forest

Fishing

Fishing is an option at the Channel Islands, provided the visitor has a California fishing license. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife provides ocean sport fishing regulations which must be followed by those fishing at Channel Islands. In addition, visitors must be aware of marine protected areas where fishing is prohibited. The Channel Islands contain many such protected areas.

Surfing

Surfing is an option for visitors to Channel Islands. The National Park Service recommends that visitors contact local surf shops for more information.

Wildlife Watching

There are various amazing ways visitors can witness the beauty of the wildlife at Channel Islands National Park. Tidepools are present in many areas of the islands. These tidepools contain a unique ecosystem of marine animals which are geared towards surviving in such unique environments. Their relatively shallow and accessible nature means they are a convenient and easy way to see small creatures. Seals and Sea Lions exist around all five islands.

Seals near Channel Islands

  There are sea lions and harbor seals on all the islands, while Santa Rosa island, San Miguel Island, and Santa Barbara Island have northern elephant seals. Whale watching is another fun activity for visitors. Island Packers provides whale watching trips for visitors. Finally, bird watching and wildflower viewing are other activities available on the islands.

Hiking

All five of the islands of the National Park have various hiking routes of different difficulty levels. Alltrails.com contains maps of various hikes which visitors can go on throughout the islands.

A trail on Channel Islands National Park

One thing to keep in mind is that parts of certain islands are off limits to hikers. The middle and west of Anacapa island are not open for hikers. On Santa Cruz Island, hikers are not allowed into the Nature Conservatory. Hiking on San Miguel island does take an extra amount of effort. Firstly, hiking is only permitted on this island when park personnel are present.  Secondly, a permit is needed to visit this island. 

Finally, visitors should be aware of potential dangers while hiking.  As the National Park Service stresses, visitors should be wary of cliff edges, poison oak, cacti, ticks, scorpion, and hanta virus carrying deer mice. 

Weather

The Channel Islands have a Mediterranean climate, similar to nearby coastal cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego, and Santa Barbara. However, because the islands are several miles off of the coast, temperatures tend to be slightly milder than cities on the mainland. Also, as the National Park Service highlights, fog, sea spray, and winds are common. With this in mind, it is a good idea to bring along outer wear (such as sweaters or jackets). Weather.com contains up to date information on weather conditions at the Channel Islands.

Food and Restuarants

The Channel Islands do not have any food options available. However, Oxnard and Ventura, the two towns from which boats depart to reach the Channel Islands, have plenty of food options.

Channel Islands Animal Life

The Channel Islands have a unique ecosystem which typifies the island environment. Regarding land animals, there are a small number of species, due to the isolated island environment. Mammals include the island fox, spotted skunk, island deer mouse, and harvest mouse.

Island Fox

There are a few small reptiles on the island as well. There are a much greater variety of marine animals, to include dolphins, grey whales, sea lions, seals (including elephant seals), otters, and various fish species. Visitors who snorkle or scuba dive in the channel islands are bound to see at least some of these various animals. The seals and sea lions are also known to congregate at times on the beaches of the islands.

Channel Islands Plant Life

There are various plant species which currently occupy the Channel Islands, as cataloged by the National Park Service. These include various lichen species, grasslands, woodlands, and invasive species as well. More notable plants include the Island Chaparral, which is a larger version of the mainland Chaparral seen in California, as well as the various coastal sage shrub species, which provide habitat to sparrows, foxes, salamanders, and island deer mice. The island ecosystem is fragile so it is important that visitors not mistreat, damage, or trample on the plantlife on the islands.

Flowers

Operating Hours and Visitors Centers

The National Park Service Provides Information on operating hours for the National Park. The National Park is open 24/7, 365 days a year. There are two visitor’s centers on the mainland, far from the actual property of the National Park. These are both closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The visitor center in Santa Barbara is open from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM. The visitor center in Ventura is open from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM.

Cellphone Access

Most of the Channel Islands do not have cellphone access for most carriers, according to whistleout.com. Santa Barbara Island does not have cellphone access for most major carriers. AT&T has 4G coverage over the very eastern end of Santa Cruz Island as well as most of Anacapa Island. Sprint has 3G coverage over parts of northern Santa Cruz Island and most of Anacapa Island. T Mobile has 4G coverage over parts of northern Santa Rosa Island, northern Santa Cruz Island, eastern Santa Cruz Island, and Anacapa Island. Verizon has the most coverage out of all, with 4G coverage over northern San Miguel Island, northern Santa Rosa Island, most of Santa Cruz island, and Anacapa Island.

Points of Interest

The Channel Islands are known for their overarching beauty, abundance of wildlife, variety of available outdoor activities, etc.  With that in mind, there are not many particularly noteworthy landmarks per se.  However, there are two slightly interesting points of interest which visitors may want to see.  One is the Anacapa Island Lighthouse, which is located on Anacapa Island.  This lighthouse was originally used by the Coast Guard, although it is currently used by the National Park Service. 

Lighthouse

In addition, Santa Cruz Island has Painted Cave, an amazing ocean cave which can be kayaked through.  Visitors are recommended to take guided tours here for safety reasons.

What is Nearby

There are a few interesting sites that visitors can stop by on their way to Ventura and Oxnard, where the ferries to Channel Islands take off from.  Visitors from San Francisco will drive by the city of San Miguel, 130 miles northwest of Ventura.  San Miguel has the Mission San Miguel Arcangel, an 18th century Spanish mission in what was then New Spain. 

A stone’s throw away from Ventura and Oxnard is Santa Barbara, which is approximately 40 away.  This world famous city is worth a trip all of its own, with amazing food options, Stearns Wharf, surfing, and more. 

Visitors who stop by Santa Barbara can also visit the nearby Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park, which contains Native American rock art from the Chumash people. 

External Links

Alerts and Conditions for Channel Islands National Park

Want to learn more about Channel Islands National Park?  Visit the National Park Service website here!

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