The Channel Islands National Park is a group of islands off the coast of California. It’s a nature lover’s dream, with plant and animal species found nowhere else on the earth. The surrounding waters aptly dubbed the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary, are home to hundreds of species of marine life, including California’s state fish (the Garibaldi), dozens of endangered species, and lush underwater kelp forests, attracting eco-tourists from all over the world. There are plenty more shipwrecks to spot in the nearby seas if that isn’t enough to entice you to take a PADI refresher course. Let’s get started.
Where is Channel Islands National Park?
The Channel Islands are 26 nautical miles from Santa Barbara and 36 miles from Ventura and are located off the coast of Southern California. Joshua Tree National Park is 200 miles east of Ventura, and Pinnacles National Park is 230 miles northwest.
How to get there?
Despite the fact that the visitor centre is conveniently located in Ventura Harbor and is easily accessible by automobile, the Channel Islands National Park may only be visited by boat or plane. The Santa Barbara Channel is a literal playground for schools of marine life, including California sea lions, harbour seals, common and bottlenose dolphins, and various species of whales such as humpbacks, blue and grey whales, depending on the season. Ferry service is available from Ventura Harbor and takes you on an enjoyable 1-2 hour ride through the channel.
Best Time to Visit
The Channel Islands are open all year and offer something new with each passing season. The greatest time to see Gray Whales and seals pupping on the beaches is during the winter months. Another wonderful time to see seals relaxing or baby island foxes bouncing around is in the spring. In the spring, when the bright yellow wildflowers emerge, the hues are unbeatable. Summer offers the Humpback and Blue Whale Seasons, as well as perfect sailing weather. Finally, with visibility reaching 100 feet, fall is the finest season for diving and snorkelling. Fall also provides the greatest weather and warmest waters, making for ideal kayaking conditions throughout the islands.
The Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center, run by Robert J. Lagomarsino, is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Outdoors Santa Barbara Visitor Center is open Monday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. COVID-19 has limited operations at Channel Islands National Park. Check out the current circumstances for the most up-to-date information.
Park Entrance Fee
Although there are no entrance fees, getting there is costly, ranging from $56 to $1200 per person, with the highest price being for a flight.
Channel Islands National Park Hiking Trails
Potato Harbor Trail; Santa Cruz Island
Scorpion Bay to Cavern Point Loop; Santa Cruz Island
East Anacapa Island Trail
Smugglers Cove Trail; Santa Cruz Island
Pelican Bay Trail; Santa Cruz Island
Pier to Ford Point
El Montañon Trail; Santa Cruz Island
Montañon Ridge Loop
Islands to Visit in Channel Islands National Park
Santa Cruz Island
San Miguel Island
Santa Rosa Island
Santa Barbara Island
Where to stay?
Each of the islands has a single walk-in campground, with the exception of Santa Cruz, which has two. To get there, expect to hike anything from a quarter-mile to a mile with your gear (and up a difficult set of stairs on Anacapa). Reservations are necessary and can be made up to six months ahead of time for $15 at Recreation.gov. From mid-August to December, you may also rent a spot on one of Santa Rosa’s secluded beaches for $10. Book your boat ticket first, regardless of where you plan to sleep, because they sell out quickly.
While there are no hotels on the islands, there are a couple of chain hotels at the Ventura harbour, only a mile from the ferry, and more spread around the coast. The Four Points by Sheraton (from $170) has tranquil planted grounds and a hot-tub terrarium (believe me, that’s a good thing). The practically oceanfront Waypoint Ventura (campsites from $59; trailers from $175) is closer to downtown and its popular pier, with over a dozen unique vintage trailers for rent, as well as even more space to park your own (BYOT, if you will). Spend a night in one of the two century-old Craftsman-style cottages at the Pierpont Inn (from $127), a property established in 1910 that has long welcomed Hollywood celebrities and others who love vintage architecture (and ocean views).