View from San Miguel Island hike. Three-Day Kayak and Hiking Tour of the Channel Islands (San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz)
photo by Mike Baird

Channel Islands National Park

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Channel Islands National Park is a United States National Park comprised of a series of islands that are located off the coast of Ventura County and Santa Barbara County in Southern California. Only five of the eight Channel Islands are part of the national park: Anacapa, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Miguel, and Santa Rosa


This isolated chain of islands just off the Southern California coast boasts pristine natural splendor. Half of the Channel Island National Park's 49,354 acres are underwater and the area is home to 2,000 species of plants and animals. Visitors to the Park can explore waters surrounding the islands for some of California's best sea-kayaking and diving, or trek through the interior of the park's more remote islands.


For over ten thousand years, the northern Channel Islands have hosted a diverse range of peoples and cultures. The large number and undisturbed condition of archeological sites on the islands are shedding light on coastal migration patterns of the earliest Americans and their subsistence in the marine environment. Human remains discovered in 1959 at Arlington Springs on Santa Rosa Island have been dated to more than 13,000 years of age, among the oldest dated human remains in North America.

New information about the Island Chumash, the native population that inhabited these islands for thousands of years, continues to fascinate historians and visitors alike. These native people relied on the sea for much of their sustenance and manufactured tools and trade items from shells and stones. The Chumash were able to travel between the islands and the mainland in plank canoes, called tomols, which were constructed out of redwood trees drifting down the coast.

In 1542, explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo reached San Miguel Island while voyaging along the American coast seeking new lands for conquest and development. For two hundred years, explorers and traders visited the islands where they hunted otters, seals, and sea lions for their pelts and oil, greatly increasing the exploitation of the marine resources and introducing diseases that decimated the native populations.

Claimed for Spain by the early explorers, the islands fell under Mexican rule in 1821. Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa were awarded as Mexican land grants with the intent of raising livestock. Initial ventures into sheep and cattle ranching began on these islands in the 1830s. With California statehood in 1850, the islands became part of the United States. Each of the five northern Channel Islands was developed for livestock ranching during some period of the 19th and 20th centuries. Taking advantage of the expansive fields and altering much of the natural environment, ranchers and vaqueros, or cowboys, built successful sheep and cattle ranches. Many historic ranch buildings remain on Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands today.

The U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard all established posts on the northern Channel Islands during the 20th century. Light towers were constructed on Anacapa and Santa Barbara Islands in the 1910s, and a full light station was built on East Anacapa Island in 1932, run by the Coast Guard into the 1960s. Coastal defense build-up led to the establishment of an Army base in 1943 and an Air Force Base in 1950, both on Santa Rosa Island. The Navy managed San Miguel Island from 1948 until it transferred management to the National Park Service in 1967. The Navy also continues to maintain a small post on Santa Cruz Island.

Today National Park Service personnel and park visitors form the primary population of the five northern islands. Established as a National Monument in 1938, Anacapa and Santa Barbara islands were the first two islands under NPS management. In 1980 legislation creating Channel Islands National Park added the three remaining Northern Channel Islands.


Although the park is in sunny southern California there are distinct seasons, each with its own character and unique mood.

In addition, visitors also should be aware that ocean and weather conditions vary considerably from day-to-day and island-to-island. Although this makes planning your visit a little difficult, we must remember that this unpredictable and, at times, unforgiving weather is one of the main reasons that the islands have been afforded so much isolation and protection from the rapid changes seen on the mainland. It is, in part, what makes the Channel Islands such a unique and wonderful place.

In general, the islands have a Mediterranean climate year-round. Temperatures are relatively stable, with highs averaging in the mid-60s (°F) and lows in the low-50s.

However, visitors to the islands must be prepared for high winds, fog, rough seas, and sea spray at any time. Winds are often calm in the early morning and increase during the afternoon. High winds may occur regardless of the forecast, especially on the outer islands, Santa Rosa and San Miguel (30-knot winds are not unusual). Anacapa, eastern Santa Cruz, and Santa Barbara Islands have more moderate winds. Dense fog is common during the late spring and early summer months, but may occur at any time. Ocean water temperatures range from the lower 50s (°F) in the winter to the upper 60s in the fall.

Flora and fauna

A variety of organisms can be found on and around the Channel Islands, from top predators like bald eagles and sharks, to intertidal residents such as seastars and barnacles, to the tiniest parasites living on other animals and plants. Because of their isolation and remote nature, the Channel Islands support fewer native animal species than similar habitats on the mainland. Species that reached the islands were aerial, such as birds and bats, or rafted across the water on debris and other material. Over time some vertebrate species evolved into distinct subspecies on the islands. A total of 23 endemic terrestrial animals have been identified in the park, including 11 land birds, that are Channel Island subspecies or races.

The Santa Barbara Channel to the north serves as a major marine mammal migration corridor, particularly whales. Keep your eyes open in late winter and early spring.

Getting there

  • Island Packers, 1691 Spinnaker Dr. Suite 105 B, Ventura, Tel: (805) 642-1393, E-mail: information@islandpackers, . provides boat travel between Ventura and Channel Islands Harbors and all of the islands. Half-day to multi-day packages.

  • From Santa Barbara Harbor, Truth Aquatics, 301 West Cabrillo Blvd., Santa Barbara, Tel: (805) 962-1127, . Boat transportation to all of the islands. One-day or multi-day trips available.

  • Air travel is offered by Channel Islands Aviation, 305 Durley Avenue, Camarillo, Tel: (805) 987-1301, , from Camarillo Airport to Santa Rosa Island. One-day or multi-day round-trip excursions are available.

Traveling around

The islands are only accessible by park concessionaire boats and planes or private boat. Advanced planning is highly recommended. There is no transportation available on the islands. All areas must be accessed on foot or by private boat or kayak.

Public boat transportation is available year-round to all five islands by the park concessionaires, Island Packers and Truth Aquatics . In addition, Island Packers offers whale watching trips while Truth Aquatics also offers scuba diving trips.



Camping reservations for National Park Service campgrounds on San Miguel, Santa Rosa, East Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara Islands are available through Biospherics Inc. at (800) 365-2267. Campsites are generally located close to one another and if the campground is filled to capacity conditions may be crowded. No trash service is provided and all campers must pack out their own trash. Be prepared to carry your camping gear from the landing areas to the campgrounds.

  • Anacapa Island. The campground is on East Anacapa Island, 1/2 mile from the dock landing, up 154 stairs. There are 7 campsites with a campground capacity of 30 people.

  • Santa Barbara Island. The campground is 1/2 mile uphill from the dock landing. There are 8 campsites with a campground capacity of 30 people.

  • San Miguel Island. The campground is a 1 mile hike uphill from the beach landing and has windbreaks. There are 9 campsites with a total campground capacity of 30 people. Fewer than 200 people per year ever get the experience of camping on San Miguel Island.

  • Santa Rosa Island. The campground in Water Canyon is 1 1/2 mile miles across the flats from the pier landing, or 1/4 mile from the airstrip. There are 15 campsites with a 50 person campground capacity. The campground has windbreaks, running water (most people bring drinking water) and an invigorating shower.

  • Santa Cruz Island. The campground is in Scorpion Valley and has 40 sites and allows 4-6 people per site. The campsites are spread out along the valley floor 1/2 to 1 mile up the flats from the beach landing.


Camping on the beaches on Santa Rosa Island is available for experienced kayakers and boaters on a seasonal basis; a permit is necessary by calling (805) 658-5730.


Due to the weather variation which can occur in the Park, visitors to the islands should dress in layers, with short and long pants, fleece jacket or sweatshirt, windbreaker, hat, sunscreen, and waterproof outer clothing. In addition, visitors should wear sturdy hiking shoes with non-slip soles.

There are no supplies on the islands. Take water, food, and other necessities. Watch your step—ladders, railings, and stairs may be wet. Stay back from cliff edges; they may be crumbly or undercut—a fall could be fatal. Do not approach marine mammals, such as whales, seals, and seal lions. Check for ticks and watch out for poison oak and cactus. Deer mice on the islands may carry diseases, including deadly hantavirus. Avoid all contact with mice and other wild animals. Keep food in rodent-proof containers. In an emergency on the islands, contact a ranger or concession employee, or use a cell phone to dial 911. On the water, use a marine radio VHF channel 16.


There are no entrance fees to visit the park. However, a fee is charged for camping on the islands. The fee includes both the National Park Service fee that supports the operation of the campgrounds and a reservation fee by the company that manages the reservation system for the National Parks.

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The photos displayed on this page are the property of one of the following authors:

Mike Baird, LASZLO ILYES, Ken Lund, TinaSea

Some photos courtesy of: . The photos provided by Flickr are under the copyright of their owners.

This travel guide also includes text from Wikitravel articles, all available at WikitravelView full credits

Burmesedays, San Francisco Girl, M. Hogue, Nick Roux, David, Ryan Holliday, Stavro Prodromou and Evan Prodromou, Inas, Cacahuate and Akubra

This travel guide also includes text from Wikipedia articles, all available at WikipediaView full credits

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