Finding a secluded area in Southern California to step away from civilization and commune with nature is hard, but luckily for us, the Channel Islands are a short boat ride away with beautiful nature and great adventures.
The eight islands making up the Channel Islands are only a few miles away from the coast of Southern California, but they might as well be worlds away. Those islands have never been connected to the mainland, so they have their own species of animals and plants.
The sea level was much lower during the ice age, so the channel between the Channel Islands and the mainland was much shallower. The Chumash natives used canoes to travel the short distance and live off the land and the sea.
Now, the islands are mostly uninhabited, except for Santa Catalina Island. (Read more here).
Interesting facts: The Channel Islands are often called the North America’s Galapagos for its unique wildlife that can only be found on the island.
Five of those islands are now protected as part of the National Park. No private ownership is allowed, and no development of any kind. Visitation to this national park is limited, so you have a good chance to find the solitude you seek.
This archipelago offers many opportunities for nature lovers to hike, snorkel, or canoe through some interesting caves.
Interesting facts: About 10% of the global blue whale population passes through the Channel Islands National Park each summer, making it home to the largest aggregation of blue whales in the world.
If you don’t own your own boat, then there are only two ways to get to this national park. The most common way is to hitch a boat ride with the “Island Packers” concessionaire from Ventura Harbor or Oxnard. The boat ride is between 1.5 to 2 hours – sometimes more. The Island Packers captains like to stop for wildlife along the way.
If you are so inclined, you can fly to the islands. “Channel Islands Aviation” will take you on ½ day, full day, or overnight trips to Santa Rosa Island. This flight will cost you a minimum of $1200.
If you have your own boat, you can explore independently. The Channel Islands National Park website has special instructions for boaters. Read carefully before you go.
Santa Cruz Island
Santa Cruz is the largest island in the archipelago off the coast of California. It is about twenty-two miles long with a coastline that has steep cliffs, gigantic sea caves, coves, and sandy beaches. It is a haven for nature lovers with many hiking trails, camping, kayaking, and snorkeling.
This island is home to animal species that can’t be found anywhere else in the world, like the Santa Cruz Island Horse, the Island Scrub-Jay, and the Santa Cruz Island Fox. The fox is very cute and prevalent everywhere you go on the island.
Interesting Facts: The weather at the islands is usually very mild with temperatures hovering in the 60 and 70, but they do get cold and hot spills, so check the weather ahead of your visit
There are two ways to get to the island: by sea. Island Packers boats can moor at Scorpion Anchorage or at Prisoners Harbor. Each has a distinctive character and unique chances for adventure.
Tip: After you disembark from the boat and after a short walk look for large metal lockers. It is important to leave all food and drinks in those lockers to prevent tampering by wildlife. Also, it is convenient to keep your heavy stuff so you won’t have to lug it around during your activities.
At Scorpion Anchorage, you can see the remnants of the ranching era, stay at Scorpion Ranch Campground, check out the exhibits at the visitor center, go on hikes to Potato Harbor or Cavern Point Loop, or just relax at the beach.
Interesting Facts: Santa Cruz Island has one of the largest known sea caves in the world: Painted Cave.
At Prisoners Harbor, you can stay at Del Norte Camp – after a grueling 7-mile hike or hike to Pelican Bay.
At each point, you can go on a ranger-guided hike for an introduction to the island and its flora and fauna.
During our visit in September, we disembarked at Scorpion Anchorage and went on a guided hike with a volunteer ranger.
Before the hike, we had to listen to some instructions about the island. We were reminded that it is a conservation effort, so we cannot take anything out. It is also important to remember to take our trash out with us.
Tip: There are no concessionaires on the island. Don’t expect to buy food or water. Make sure to bring enough for your stay. The one source of water at Scorpion campground is not reliable. It is often infested with Yellow Jackets.
After the mandatory lecture, we took off on the Cavern Point Loop hiking trail. The trail goes through the visitor center and campground and up a steep incline to reach the cliffs overlooking some spectacular views.
This is considered a short and easy hike – around two miles – with a few steep inclines.
On the day of our hike, the weather was too hot. We needed lots of water and a few stops before we reached the top. In the end, it was worth the effort.
From the top, you can see Ventura and Santa Barbara in the distance. Looking down, you can see some sea caves and kelp forests.
Interesting Facts: Although the island is closest to the city of Ventura (20 miles), it is actually part of Santa Barbara County.
Heading back, we decided to continue the loop on our own. Most people in the group doubled back for an easier exit. The trail we took hugged the cliffs, affording us much better views. The drawback was the steep steps we had to take down back to the visitor center.
Since we were heading back the same day, we didn’t have time to do another hike. We just ate lunch at a picnic table in the shade and lazed around on the beach until departure.
Tip: The beach next to Scorpion Anchorage is very rocky. If you plan to wade into the surf, you should wear water shoes or sandals.
During our next trip, we will camp out and venture deeper into the island. We will also join a kayaking guided tour through the caves.
The concessioner, Island Packers, has a booth close to the campground where you can rent snorkels or kayaks or arrange a tour – but if you didn’t book in advance, you might be out of luck. For information and reservations, you can go to Island Packers.
Other Islands in the National Park
There are four more islands to explore in this Galapagos of the North. Each has its own distinct character and opportunity for adventure. Soon, I will be visiting Santa Barbara, Anacapa, San Miguel, and Santa Rosa Islands and writing about them. If you have been to those places, please send me your experiences and photos.