Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.Andre Gide
About the Park
The Channel Islands are a group of five islands and their surrounding one mile of ocean. Come to see stunning ocean views, go on the best hikes, observe rock cliffs, and watch unusual wildlife you won’t find elsewhere in the world. These are very secluded and beautiful islands, yet only 11 miles from the coast of California.
Check out the view of Smuggler’s Cove at the park!
Live it up!
Best Things to do in the Park
- Go whale watching and dolphin spotting on the boat ride to and from the islands
- Go kayaking along the shore of the islands for a different view
- Hike one of the many scenic trails for some spectacular scenery
- Go birdwatching for 10 of the islands 40 landbird species that ONLY exist on these islands
Our visit to Channel Islands National Park started in Santa Barbara, California. Besides John getting a bit seasick on the boat ride, it was a great day. The highlight was seeing a group of around 300 dolphins leaping into the air and entertaining us in the boat. We felt like they were a swarm of bees; they were everywhere. It was mesmerizing! We also got to see our first humpback whales on this journey. Hopefully, they won’t be our last!
Size of Park
390 square miles
The islands are often referred to as the ”Galapagos of North America”. It is home to 2000 plant and animal species of which 150 are found nowhere else in the world.
Channel Islands National Park is located on the Southern California coast and has five picturesque islands. These islands are often called the Galapagos of North America and contain many natural resources. There are eight islands that make up the Channel Islands, but only five are part of the National Park System.
People come here to hike, swim, kayak, and explore the underwater world of sea creatures and enjoy the wildlife the islands protect. Santa Cruz Island is the most popular island, with some of the most breathtaking sceneries and hiking trails. It contains sea caves, including the vast Painted Cave. This island is also perfect for snorkeling and diving. On Santa Rosa, you will find the rare Torrey Pines, while Anacapa Island has a century-old lighthouse. The remote island of Santa Barbara offers a rugged getaway. Finally, San Miguel Island is the gathering point for thousands of seals. Tourists must take a boat to visit any of the five islands, with flights to .
Best Hikes in Channel Islands
If you are looking to go to the Channel Islands or hiking, there are three islands you should add to your itinerary; Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and Anacapa Islands. The most popular of these three is Santa Cruz, as it is the largest and has the best hikes.
Scorpion Canyon Loop
This 4.5-mile long trail begins from Scorpion beach and can be categorized anywhere between a moderate and a strenuous hike. The trail can prove challenging but compensates the hikers by showcasing some wonderful views. Because it is located in a hilly area, the trail is a great place to hike in the early morning or late afternoon. If you want to avoid a steep climb, you can begin your hike from the oil well and move toward the campground. We think this is one of the best hikes in the Channel Islands.
Historic Ranch Trail
The Historic Ranch Trail is easy and short hike. It is the perfect trail for those who cannot hike more challenging trails, as it is only 0.5 miles long. Walking on this trail, you can still appreciate the beauty of the Channel Islands.
The trail is flat and allows you to easily explore the Scorpion Ranch, which dates back to the 1800s. Historic Ranch Trail is a loop trail, so you can glimpse Scorpion Beach and enjoy the exhibitions at the visitor’s center.
Smuggler’s Cove Trail
Smuggler’s Cove Trail is one of the more popular trails on the Channel Islands and is meant for the experienced hiker. The trail is almost 8 miles long and perfect for a day-long hike. On your trek, you could see the Pacific and even some wildlife. Some hikers have even reported seeing the rare island foxes on this trail.
A steep incline at the beginning of the trail gradually reduces as you move forward. The trail is also quite rewarding as it ends at a picnic area along a rocky beach where you can soak up the sun for a few hours.
Cavern Point Loop
If you love overlooks and wildlife, you cannot miss this trail! Cavern Point Loop is another one of those moderate hikes and is only 2 miles long. You can even do whale watching on your way if you have binoculars with you.
The trail has a steep descent. Fill up your water reserves at Scorpion Beach campsite before you head out. The hikes on the Channel Islands are beautiful, but can be strenuous.
Montana Ridge Loop
This loop is 10 miles long and should not be chosen for a hike if you are not a serious hiker. In addition, the trail is a bit wild, so you should carry a map to navigate safely. The trailhead can be accessed through the North Bluff Trail near Potato Harbor or Smuggler’s Road.
Camping in the Park
Channel Islands National Park offers some of the best camping experiences in California. The park has five campgrounds on each island: Santa Cruz Scorpion Campground, Anacapa Island Campground, San Miguel Island Campground, Santa Barbara Island Campground, and Santa Rosa Island Campground.
The most popular islands for camping are Santa Cruz Island, Anacapa Island, and San Miguel Island. All campgrounds on the Channel Islands need an advanced reservation. Campers are recommended to secure transportation for an overnight trip first, as concession boats tend to fill up much faster than the campgrounds.
The camping conditions in Channel Islands National Park are very basic, but they do have picnic tables and pit toilets. Moreover, Santa Cruz Scorpion Campground also offers easy access to swimming areas. Except for the Scorpion Canyon campground and Water Canyon Campground, there is no access to drinking water, and you must bring your reserve. Only enclosed gas camp stoves are allowed, while campfires are prohibited in Santa Rosa Island Campground, San Miguel Island Campground, and Anacapa Island Campground.
The Channel Islands National Park comprises five remarkable islands and includes the waters surrounding them. There is plenty to do here as each island has its specialty. From hiking to sightseeing to relaxing on the beach, here are some viewpoints you might like.
The Channel Islands contain one-third of southern California’s kelp forests. These lush kelp forests surround the island and form dense patches on rocky reefs. Here, you will find over 1,000 species of plants and animals, including the California moray eel, black rockfish, garibaldi fish, sunflower star, and the California spiny lobster.
The sea caves of Santa Cruz are famous for kayaking. Overall, the Channel islands have the highest density of sea caves worldwide. Among these caves, Painted Cave on Santa Cruz attracts the most tourists as it is one of the world’s deepest and largest sea caves. It is 1,300 feet deep and 160 feet tall. There are multiple chambers in the cave; the deeper you go, the darker and narrower they get.
Point Bennett is the highlight of San Miguel Island and is located on the island’s western tip. Visitors must come to this location with a ranger. The hike to Point Bennett can be exhausting, but it is worth it. As you reach the rise at Point Bennett, you will see thousands of elephant seals flipping on the beach. Every year, 5,000 northern fur seals, 50,000 northern elephant seals, 70,000 California sea lions, and 1,000 harbor seals gather on the beach.
Click on the button to explore the state and travel guides for the area.
Getting to the Park
The nearest major airport is Los Angeles International Airport. The mainland visitor centers for the Channel Islands National Park are located in the towns of Santa Barbara and Ventura on the California coast north of Los Angeles. The park is only accessible by park concessionaire boats (Island Packers).
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