Adventures Abound at Channel Island National Park

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While I love hiking and camping at my favorite national parks, Channel Islands ups the adventure to a whole new level. Sure, there’s hiking and camping but add on snorkeling, diving, and kayaking through caves; and you’ve got a whole new level of fun. Come explore above and below the ocean at this unique park

The Channel Islands

These series of islands are just off the Southern California coast and include the popular Catalina in the south. This blog focuses on the northern islands that make up the park, most specifically Santa Cruz, the largest of the islands. The northern islands can be seen on a clear day from the Santa Barbara/Ventura area, which can be an odd day.

The clear blue waters off the sharp cliffs knows no equal.

Sea Cave Kayaking

Let’s get to the best part first! This adventure is truly one-in-a-million. If you’re smart, you’ll sign up for the full-day option. The day starts at 7 am at the Island Packers Ferry, which will carry you across the channel to Santa Cruz Island. They have both afternoon and morning paddles. If you can time it, try to do your kayaking at low tide. On my first trip, we able to get into a small cavern in complete blackness that couldn’t be accessed in high tide.

During the off-hours of your kayaking adventure, you’ll have a few hours to explore the island. The first time I went on a hike to an overlook of the cliffs. On the second, I went snorkeling through the amazing kelp forests around the Scorpion Point Pier.

Reach out to Santa Barbara Adventure Company for a guided tour.

It’s was a rough sea the day we went but still worth it.

Wildlife in the Park

I got ridiculously lucky my first trip out on the ferry. On the way out, we spotted a huge pod of dolphins jumping the ferry’s wake. Before this trip, I had no dream to see dolphins but I teared up at the sight of them—absolutely stunning. We also saw a few seals resting in the caves.

Then, just when I thought I could relax on the way back, two blue whales (my first ever whales) crossed our path. We were only able to spot their backs and spray out their blowholes but it was majestic.

On the island lives the Channel Island fox, a species found only on these islands. They were almost instinct until a breeding program brought them back. On my first trip, we were excited to spot a single one. On my second a year later, we had to guard our food closely as they stalked us at lunch. No need to be afraid, however, as they’re the size of a large house cat.

Hundreds of dolphins jumped the ferry’s wake.

The Channel Island fox is only found on the islands. They are just larger than an average house cat.

History on the Island

The islands were the ancient home of the Chumash people, who were believed to inhabit the island for thousands of years. Later, vast sheep ranches utilized the natural barrier the island offered. The ranch houses on Santa Cruz still remain. One has been turned into a small visitor center teaching about the island and all its inhabitants. (There is a large visitor center at the harbor but it closes before the main ferries return.)

Imagine the sheep herds the island supported.


While I haven’t yet camped there yet, I intend to one of these days. Keep in mind, all camping is backpacking and you have to haul your gear in from the ferry. Santa Cruz has the largest established campsite and is only a quarter mile from the pier. Check each island for water availability and book your permits early. All garbage must be carried out.

Getting There

Definitely one of the more remote parks to access between the drive and the ferry ride, but the ferry is part of the experience. I like to fly into Burbank airport; it’s so much easier to out of than LAX. If you do, stop at Granville restaurant for their mac and cheese. I can’t go to Burbank without a quick pop in there.

During peak times the ferry can sell out so make sure to buy your tickets ahead of time from Island Packers.

At the end of a full day, I always stop at Andrea’s for seafood. It’s affordable and delicious.

For an outdoor adventure without ever having to get outside, check out the Lost Gorge Mystery series!

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2 thoughts on “Adventures Abound at Channel Island National Park

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  1. This looks like so much fun! I would absolutely love to meet a Channel Island fox (what a total cutie!) and kayaking into sea caves sounds amaaazing. Was it tough with the choppy waters!?

    It’s cool to see where the Chumash people used to live. We did a hike up Mugu Peak, which was named after one of their villages. It is pretty sad when you learn about how their massive population was decimated by the arrival of Europeans. 😦


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