The California Channel Islands consist of eight islands in a range of sizes, that lie off of the southern coast of California, between Los Angeles and Ventura. Five of them are a part of the Channel Islands National Park, two are owned by the Navy, and one has a general population on it. While there are many characteristics that tie these islands together, including their dry, coastal California ecosystems, each one is unique in many ways. They are the perfect spot for hikers, kayakers, divers, and birders, and as we hope to prove to you all, they also have something for our historian and culture lovers.
Anacapa is a small stony spit in the Pacific Ocean; it’s imposing cliffs make a climb up a steel ladder the only way onto the one small part of the island that you can visit as part of the Channel Islands National Park. This place is a home for the birds, a bird lover’s paradise, and a place for views of the sunset that you cannot imagine until you see it. There isn’t much hiking here, there’s no room, but if you can kayak, you can freely (carefully) roam across the massive kelp forests that gather along the side of the island. Sea lions, dolphins, flashy orange fish and purple urchins; Anacapa is the perfect gateway to an underwater world that’s linked to ours by a kingdom of the avian kind.
San Miguel is the most northern of the Channel Islands, and one of the hardest islands to access from within the Channel Islands National Park. It is about a 5-6 hour boat ride from Ventura to San Miguel, and landings are only possible via skiff. Hiking is also only possible with a ranger or guide, because there may still be unexploded ordinance on this island. With fewer visitors, San Miguel, or Tuqan as it was traditionally known by the Chumash people, is a magical place to visit. With more than 10,000 years of human occupation here, there is so much history in this place. It is also home to breeding seals and sea lions, making it one of the best places to see pinnipeds.
This little island is one of the outlying California Channel Islands, and it is currently owned by the Navy. When Europeans arrived in North America, San Nicolas was home to the Nicoleño people, who were violently removed from their home when the island became a popular spot for fur hunters due to the otters that used to live there. It was during this time that the famous woman of the Island of the Blue Dolphins survived alone on the island for nearly two decades. Like many of the Channel Islands, San Nicolas was eventually used by ranchers who overgrazed the island and irrevocably changed the environment there. The Navy and the Channel Islands Restoration non-profit are hard at work trying to bring the island back now. I had the amazing opportunity to visit San Nicolas when I worked for CIR as an environmental restoration contractor.
The largest island in the chain, Santa Cruz is a place that you could visit a hundred times and there would still be more to discover. It has rolling, grass-covered hills, and mountains that reach for the sky. It has sea caves with all the colors of the rainbow, and beautiful ranch homes preserved by the National Park Service. Compared to the windy slopes of the islands surrounding it, Santa Cruz is an often peaceful place, where you can rest under the massive trees planted by ranchers before, and see the tiny island foxes that were saved from the brink of extinction at the hands of meddling humans who were unaware of the damage they were doing. Before them, Santa Cruz was home to the Chumash people, who still visit the island to this day to remember their past there and the deep connection they still have with this special place.
Santa Rosa is the second largest of the California Channel Islands, and it’s part of the Channel Islands National Park. Unlike San Miguel, the weather doesn’t make this island super difficult to visit, so if you are looking for some beach camping, and/or some mindblowing hiking, Santa Rosa is your place. This is one of the only places in the entire world with a Torrey Pine grove, ancient trees from the Ice Age. It’s home to the sculpted Lobo Canyon, which ends at some of the most beautiful views of the sea that you can imagine. It’s windy shores are crowned by Black Mountain, where wandering feet may summit if time and strength allow. Like Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa was once home to the Chumash people, whose signs of life still remain in the places they used to live.
Where We’ve Been
Tips for Visiting
The National Park Service website will have everything you need to know about camping and hiking in the national park.
The Island Packers are your go-to transportation for the California Channel Islands.
See the Channel Islands Restoration page if you’d like to learn more about a great organization to donate or volunteer for if you love these islands. <3
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