Santa Rosa is the second largest of the Channel Islands, and it’s perched right between Santa Cruz and San Miguel. It’s pretty flat aside from a low-lying mountain range running down the island’s center, and has a resultantly dry climate. You can get vastly different levels of green, however, depending on what time of the year you visit. Don’t let that fool you though. This island is one of the most unique places in the world. Let me prove to you why you should go camping on Santa Rosa.
Why You Should Go
(1) This island is home to a small Torrey Pines forest, which is actually almost all that’s left of an ancient forest that spanned southern California during the last ice age. The only other place that you can see Torrey Pines in the whole world is in Torrey Pines State Park near San Diego. So, if you wanted to envision yourself in ice age California, Santa Rosa is the place to do it.
(2) You want to see the most adorable foxes in the world? Santa Rosa has got them! The Channel Islands fox can be found on all six of the larger islands in the chain, but here’s the thing, each island has its own subspecies. So, really, the foxes on Santa Rosa can’t be seen anywhere else on the planet. More importantly, they are extremely adorable. (Just don’t feed them).
(3) Santa Rosa has some stunning white sand beaches, and it’s the only place in the Channel Islands National Park where you can set up a tent on one. This makes camping on Santa Rosa pretty special (although there is a camp site as well).
(4) The views on this island are some of the best in the Channel Islands, and the landscape is extremely variable. From beaches, to oceanside cliffs, to verdant canyons carved through the sandstone, to rolling mountains, forests, and deserts. It’s all packed into a relatively small island. It’s the perfect place to explore.
What To Do (Day Hikes)
(1) Hike out to the west to see the Torrey Pines and the sand spit Skunk Point (check the NPS page for beach closures- linked below in the Logistics section).
(2) Hike to Lobo Canyon and follow the canyon out to the sea for some beautiful views of the ocean.
(3) Hike to the interior of the island and consider trying for the summit of the island’s tallest mountain, Black Mountain.
All of these hikes are 5+ miles roundtrip, so be sure to bring plenty of water and food. Wear good shoes and be prepared for emergencies. Remember, you are responsible for your own safety and you should consult with rangers about the exact length of your planned hike and trail conditions.
Tips for a Good Time
While camping on Santa Rosa is something that I would suggest for any outdoor-lover, there are a few things that you need to know about this place to keep safe and comfortable
(1) Santa Rosa is a very windy place. If you camp in the campground, you will see just how windy when you realize that the wooden lean-tos here are meant to give you enough protection so that you can actually pitch your tent and not risk it flying away. The wind will also be at you while you hike, so come prepared for this incessant element of the environment.
(2) There are ticks on Santa Rosa. As far as I know, there has not been a report of Lyme disease there yet, but it’s a possibility. So, dress to avoid ticks when you hike (skin covered, especially around your ankles and legs for the long grass) and consider bug spray as well. When you get back to camp after the day, check yourself over for any ticks that might have hitched a ride.
How to Protect Her
Like all of the Channel Islands, Santa Rosa is a very special place but its unique environment is also vulnerable. There are a few things you can do to help protect this amazing place if you visit or go camping on Santa Rosa.
(1) Follow the Leave No Trace philosophy. Make sure that you pack all of your trash off the island. Stay on trails. And take nothing from the island (this is also illegal since Santa Rosa is part of the National Park).
(2) Wash your hiking boots off before you leave home for your trip. Often times we carry little tiny seeds around with us on our boots, in the mud and dirt in the tread and when seeds get stuck in the mesh of your shoes. We don’t want to introduce any new plant species to Santa Rosa that might compete for resources with the native plants that live there.
(3) If you plan on swimming, consider buying an ocean-safe sunscreen that doesn’t have chemicals that are bad for ocean creatures.
To get to Santa Rosa, the Island Packers is your go-to for most of the Channel Islands. You can buy tickets online, and I would definitely suggest reading up on the season for the island here. Get your transportation tickets ahead of time! Here is the schedule for Santa Rosa: http://islandpackers.com/santa-rosa-island-2/
You will need to have a camping reservation and/or permit for your camping on Santa Rosa adventure. This National Park page will give you all of the details.
For more information on the Channel Islands, click here to read about all the great activities on this beautiful island chain.
We love to go camping. Hiking is always involved. This would be a great place to camp
Hiking and camping really go hand-in-hand, don’t they? 😀
I had no idea this place even existed! And you covered everything anyone would need to know to plan and enjoy their visit. I really enjoyed it and hope I get to see a place as beautiful!
Thank you so much! I’m glad that I’ve covered all the key basics!
Those views are beautiful! 🙂 It looks so empty, I love exploring places like that!
Luckily, there aren’t tons of people out there. I agree, that makes it so much better.
Eeeeekkk! I used to work at the Naval field on San Clemente Island doing loggerhead shrike conservation… so this hits close to my heart! Love it… and those foxes!
The Channel Islands are my favorite! It is so cool that you did work on San Clemente! I think that would be such an amazing experience.
Camping on Santa Rosa Island looks so fun! The beach looks gorgeous and I would love to see the little foxes and the Torrey Pines forest!
It is so full of amazing things to see! I hope that you get to visit someday!
California is such an incredible state; so many types of topography throughout the state. We love camping and this area looks like a magical place to do it
I agree! I have really only had the chance to explore the southern part of California, but I hope I get to go up to the north soon.
What a neat place! Was the water cold? We love exploring the outdoors, and this looks like a wonderful place to check out.
I think that the water is cold, but I am from AZ, so pretty much anything is cold to me. Hahaha. A wet suit goes a long way out there.
Looks like Santa Rosa is a cool place for the summer and teaching kids survival tactics. Thanks for your recommendation.
I don’t know about survival tactics. Santa Rosa is part of a National Park, so you can’t take any resources what so ever from it.