A series of islands on the coast of California make up the Channel Islands National Park. With plant and animal species found nowhere else on the planet, it’s a nature lover’s dream. Hundreds of species of marine life, including California’s state fish (the Garibaldi), dozens of endangered species, and lush underwater kelp forests, call the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary home, attracting eco-tourists from all over the world. If that isn’t enough to encourage you to take a PADI refresher course, there are plenty more shipwrecks to see in the local seas. Let’s get this party started.
Where is Channel Islands National Park?
The Channel Islands are on the coast of Southern California, 26 nautical miles from Santa Barbara and 36 nautical miles from Ventura. Pinnacles National Park is 230 miles northwest of Ventura and Joshua Tree National Park is 200 miles east.
How to get there?
The Channel Islands National Park is only reached by boat or plane, despite the fact that the visitor centre is conveniently located in Ventura Harbor and is easily accessible by car. Depending on the season, the Santa Barbara Channel is a playground for schools of marine life such as California sea lions, harbour seals, common and bottlenose dolphins, and numerous whale species such as humpbacks, blue, and grey whales. Ferry service departs from Ventura Harbor and takes you on a relaxing 1-2 hour journey across the channel.
Best Time to Visit
The Channel Islands are open all year and each season brings something different. The winter months are the best time to watch Gray Whales and seals pupping on the beaches. Spring is another great season to view seals lounging or baby island foxes bouncing around. The colors are incomparable in the spring when the bright yellow wildflowers bloom. The Humpback and Blue Whale Seasons, as well as ideal sailing conditions, are all available during the summer. Finally, October is the best season for diving and snorkeling, with visibility exceeding 100 feet. The best weather and warmest waters are found in the fall, making for outstanding kayaking conditions around the islands.
Robert J. Lagomarsino runs the Park Visitor Center, which is open every day from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Outdoors Santa Barbara Visitor Center is open from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. COVID-19 is only operating in this park to a limited extent. For the most up-to-date information, look into the present situation.
Park Entrance Fee
Although there are no admittance fees, getting there is expensive, costing anywhere from $56 to $1200 per person, with a flight being the most expensive.
Channel Islands National Park Hiking Trails
Potato Harbor Trail; Santa Cruz Island
Scorpion Bay to Cavern Point Loop
Smugglers Cove Trail
Pelican Bay Trail
East Anacapa Island Trail
Pier to Ford Point
El Montañon Trail
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, except 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).