Channel Islands National Park

Our National Parks: 9 California Wonders Every Local Must See

Variously ranched or used as Navy bombing ranges, five spits of land that never were part of mainland California are windows to its distant past. The vestiges of civilization have been dismantled during the past few decades, and native plants and animals have rebounded. More than 140 species can be found only here.

Hiking some trails of “The American Galapagos” can only be done when accompanied by a ranger due to ongoing restoration efforts. The Nature Conservancy’s portion of Santa Cruz Island is only accessible a few times a year through the boat concessionaire Island Packers.

The vistas are grand. The wind is constant. And the sound of crashing waves is practically inescapable.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Anacapa and Santa Barbara islands a national monument in 1938. In 1978, the Nature Conservancy bought—and still oversees—three-quarters of the largest island, Santa Cruz.

212,000 in 2013; July and August are the busiest months, and December is least-crowded.

390 square miles, about half of which is under the ocean; the five islands combined are about one-fourth the size of Orange County

Entry fee

Hot Tip
Eat during the boat ride, says one park official, so you’ll have more time to explore your destination.

True Fact
Humans and ranch dogs share the cemetery next to the restored 1891 Catholic church on Santa Cruz.

What to Pack
For a day trip, dress in layers and pack light—a few snacks and bottled water—for your hike. At day’s end, you don’t want to be weighted down while hustling to catch the boat. Shade is sparse, so bring a hat and sun protection.

The islands have no concessions. Only Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa have water, but some visitors don’t like its taste. Island Packer boats’ galleys serve sandwiches and snacks.

For indoor plumbing, book a room at Ventura Harbor the night before your trip. An elevated walkway links the Holiday Inn Express ($139 to $169) with Four Points by Sheraton ($150 to $300) and its Alexander’s Restaurant. Steaks and seafood at reasonable prices and solid service. Both hotels are a 1-mile drive to the boat dock.

$15 per night per site
One campground on each island, 72 sites in all; reservations required, 877-444-6777 or

Rustic Camping
The Del Norte Campground on Santa Cruz is in an oak grove about 3½ miles from the landing at Prisoners Harbor. Pit toilets—but bring your own TP.

Basic Hike
The docent-guided 3-mile Cherry Canyon loop on Santa Rosa takes you up to an oak grove and then to a quiet meadow with far-reaching views of Beechers Bay and Santa Cruz Island. It’s just you and the wind until you switchback your way down the steep hill to the coastal flats that lead back to the dock.

Don’t Miss
Kelp forest at Inspiration Point (Anacapa), Arch Point sea lion rookery (Santa Barbara), Seal Canyon Cave (Santa Cruz), caliche forest (San Miguel), Torrey pines (Santa Rosa).

Rare Animals
Brown pelicans (Anacapa), Scripps and Guadalupe murrelets (Santa Barbara), Island fox (Santa Cruz), spotted skunk (Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa), California sea otter.

Dangerous Animals

Sea level, to Santa Cruz Island’s 2,450-foot Mount Diablo.

Average Temperatures
From 41 to 69 degrees in December and January, to 56 to 83 degrees in August.

Average Precipitation
A trace in June through September, to 5 inches in January and February.

Historical Oddity
After winning its independence in 1821, Mexico emptied its prisons to broaden its influence in California. In 1830, dozens of convicts were sent to a horrified Santa Barbara, which immediately shipped them to Santa Cruz Island, where they encamped at Prisoners Harbor.

Boat Trip
Getting there really is half the fun. Skippers of the park’s authorized boat concessionaire, Island Packers, go out of their way to explore the entrance of a sea cave, skirt cliffs for a closer view of a bald eagle, or throttle down to glide through a pod of dolphins. The family-run enterprise has boats out of Ventura and Oxnard year-round to Santa Cruz and Anacapa islands and to the outer islands—Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel—from late spring through early fall. Day-trip tickets are $59 to $105; trips are one to four hours each way.

Alexander’s Restaurant, 1050 Schooner Drive, Ventura, 805-658-2000

Channel Islands National Park,

Four Points by Sheraton Ventura Harbor Resort, 1050 Schooner Drive, Ventura, 805-658-1212,

Holiday Inn Express, 1080 Navigator Drive, Ventura, 805-856-9533,

Island Packers, Ventura Harbor, 1691 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura, 93001, 805-642-1393,

Photographs by David H. Collier

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue. – See more at:

Photographs by Antonio Busiello

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue.

Facebook Comments