Category: Island Travel (Page 1 of 5)

Visiting San Miguel in Channel Islands National Park

Off the mountainous coast of southern California, 26 miles from the mainland, is a low-lying island who’s indigenous name was Tuqan, and which is now known as San Miguel of Channel Islands National Park. Windswept, shadeless, and a 5-6 hour boat ride from Ventura, California, San Miguel is the most difficult island of the National Park to access.

Without a dock, the only landings that can be made are via a small skiff, which can’t drop off or pick up passengers in bad weather. Camping is the only accommodation, and visitors must carry all of their own water and gear up more than 500 ft of canyon from the beach to the campsite. Tuqan isn’t a destination for every traveler, so this post will serve as both a guide to visiting San Miguel in Channel Island National Park and a digest about the island for anyone interested in learning more about it, regardless of their intent to visit.

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

(Please note that I will be using both the “Western” name for San Miguel as well as the traditional, Chumash name as per the information that I could find, Tuqan).

Why I Was Interested in Visiting San Miguel in Channel Islands National Park 

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

(c) ABR 2022

I first started going to the Channel Islands in California when I was a kid. I was visiting Oxnard with my family, and I saw Anacapa off the shore. It enchanted me. All I wanted was to go and see it. It was like the island was calling to me. And my parents obliged me. My dad and I called a company called Island Packers and in a couple days, we were on the boat to Anacapa.

We climbed up the crazy ladder from the sea to the top of the island… and I was surrounded by the ocean, in what felt like another world. I was hooked. Hooked on the Channel Islands and in love with islands.

Over the years, my dad and I went back again and again. We kayaked on Anacapa, camped on Santa Cruz, and hiked through the mountains of Santa Rosa. We kept visiting the islands together until there was just one left (besides Santa Barbara, which has no dock atm) – San Miguel.

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

(c) ABR 2022

So, visiting San Miguel in Channel Islands National Park was fulfilling a dream. It was another adventure with my dad (and maybe the biggest to this point).

I was scared, because sometimes people can’t get picked up from San Miguel, and when I went to San Nicolas with a bunch of Channel Island fanatics (like myself) they told me most people went by plane. It felt like this impossible thing, and a huge unknown.

But it turned out that, yes, it was hard to get to. But everything was ok.

Planning an Expedition

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

(c) ABR 2022

In order to get to San Miguel, there are a few different things that you need to get in order, and there can be stiff competition, depending on the weekend that you want to go.

First, you will need to get your reservations on an Island Packers boat to the island. I suggest doing this as soon as the tickets go on sale. I bought mine early in the 2022 for a trip in October. The year before, I was unable to get tickets because they were full.

After you get your boat tickets, then keep an eye on for when reservations for a campsite open up. Like the boat tickets, I would suggest trying to hop on and get reservations as soon as they open.

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

Beach drop of equipment on San Miguel (c) ABR 2022

HOWEVER, for both your boat reservations and camping reservations, PLEASE if you decide not to go, cancel ASAP. There are people who really want to go camping and hiking on San Miguel and they can’t if we all get reservations that we don’t keep. A lot of hard-to-get outdoor places get booked up and then a high proportion of people never even go.

There are also rare day trips that Island Packers does. So, if you want to visit, but you don’t want to camp, keep your eyes out for those!

For the hikers among us though, I would definitely encourage visiting San Miguel in Channel Islands National Park for at least two nights.

How to Get to San Miguel Island

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

Getting off the skiff onto the boat home (c) ABR 2022

As I mention above, the main way for us normal folks to get to San Miguel is to book a trip with Island Packers. It is about a 5 hour trip from Ventura, CA to Tuqan, and sometimes a bit longer. It kind of depends on how many stops Island Packers has on their itinerary for the day.

For us, they stopped at both Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa on the way over. On the way home they also stopped in the Rainbow Cave as well. So, I think it took about 6 hours.

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

The hike up from the beach to the campground (c) ABR 2022

If you get seasick, definitely arm yourself with Dramamine, eat before your trip and lightly while on the water, and avoid sitting somewhere on the boat without fresh air or a view of the horizon.

Previously, you could also charter flights to San Miguel, but I don’t think that is possible anymore. The company that used to do that, no longer does. And folks with their own boats can also moor off the island, but I have no idea what kinds of permissions you need from the National Parks to land. You are not allowed to do solo hiking on San Miguel, so I doubt you can land without permission/permits. Visiting San Miguel in Channel Islands National Park is no easy feat.

Hiking on San Miguel Island

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

(c) ABR 2022

It’s no surprise that one of the things I was most looking forward to when visiting San Miguel in Channel Islands National Park was the trails. And hiking on San Miguel is a bit different from your standard hiking experience. Mostly because you are not allow to hike by yourself except from the beach up to the campground, and over to the ranger station.

That’s because the Navy used to bomb San Miguel, and there may still be unexploded ordinance on the island. So, hikers need to travel with National Park rangers or volunteers. Luckily, when you are on the island, there will be someone else there with you to offer hikes and opportunities to explore.

When I was there, we were hosted by a volunteer who had worked for the National Parks before he retired. He took us on a hike everyday, and he was a wealth of knowledge about the natural and human history of Tuqan.

Point Bennett

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

Looking up at San Miguel Hill, the high point of the island (c) ABR 2022

The hike to Point Bennett is the premier trek of San Miguel and it is not a joke of a day hike. It is 14 miles round trip and involves hiking up and down the high point of the island twice, and traversing the rolling hills. A few different blogs that I had read before going said it was a flat hike, but I would beg to differ. It might not have massive elevation gain, but that doesn’t mean this is an easy hike.

I think most folks can do it, but go in with realistic expectations. You will be dealing with elevation gain, and 14 miles is quite a distance for one day.

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

Pinnapeds at Point Bennett (c) ABR 2022

But the pay-off for this hike is getting to experience the full landscapes of San Miguel. And you get to visit the beach with hundreds to thousands of seals and sea lions. I never knew how lively these fellas could be while on the beach until I saw so many of them. In particular, the babies were really active, running around in the sand, playing with one another.

Harris/Lester Point

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

(c) ABR 2022

On our third day on Tuqan, we lucked out, and our volunteer offered to take the group out to Lester Point. No one but us wanted to go because everyone else partied all night. So the three of us set out on the 6 mile hike.

Out in this direction, the plant assemblage is a little different than anything we had seen the day before. But this was the trail where we really saw evidence for the long history of people on this island. We crossed many middens, and walked through areas that people have been using for thousands of years.

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

Caliche formations on the way to Harris Pt. (c) ABR 2022

We also were able to see the graves of the Lester family, the last people to live on San Miguel as ranchers.

And at the end of the 3 mile trek out, we enjoyed breathtaking views of the sea. I realized while I was there that the point where we stood and looked out over the ocean, was likely a place where people had been enjoying the views for thousands of years. I haven’t connected like this with a place in the past. So it was eye opening to really feel how the concept “wilderness” has changed the landscape in novel ways… by removing people from it.

San Miguel is a People Place

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

(c) ABR 2022

Today, when you are visiting San Miguel in Channel Islands National Park, you are likely to be one of only 20 people or so on the island (maybe less). It feels like “wilderness,” somewhere meant to be empty of people. Sometimes the weather and wild character of the island even makes it feel inhospitable to people. But Tuqan has been home to people for more than 11,000 years. So, people have populated this wild and beautiful place for thousands of years before recorded history. In fact, I might go so far as to say that the island misses those who once called it home. The empty place that we see now isn’t San Miguel as it has been for thousands of years.

When Europeans first came to San Miguel, the Chumash people called Tuqan home. And there are thousands of years of evidence for their time there. To anyone who is visiting San Miguel Island in Channel Islands National Park now, there are hints of many many years of people everywhere. “Middens” with layers and layers of abalone shells from the people who fished them from the sea and enjoyed them on the rolling hills of San Miguel.

This all changed when Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo arrived in 1542, signaling the arrival of Europeans. With them came disease, and struggles for Chumash freedom. Unfortunately, the indigenous people of Tuqan were forceably removed to missions on the mainland in the 1820s.

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

(c) ABR 2022

After that, sheep ranching took place on San Miguel for about 100 years from the 1850s-1950s. This led to overgrazing, and intense erosion due to the lack of plant coverage across the island. The last ranchers on the island were the Lester family.

In 1948, the Navy reclaimed the island and removed the last ranchers. They used San Miguel for target practice during this time. It wasn’t until 1978 that the National Park started offering opportunities to visit the island again. Although, to this day the island is technically owned by the Navy.

Land Acknowledgement

San Miguel Island or Tuqan is the traditional territory of the Chumash people.

You can learn more about them at the Chumash Indian Museum.

As well as through the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians and the Tejon Indian Tribe of California websites. 

More on the Channel Islands

If you are interested in learning more about the Channel Islands, visit my guide for insight into the other islands of the chain, both in the National Park and outside of it.

If you’d like to save this for later, consider pinning it.

What to Do On Lanai for a Day for Nature Lovers

Lanai isn’t quite like the quintessential Hawaii that most visitors envision when they think about coming to the islands. It isn’t quite as tropical, and there really isn’t so much in terms of peopled places to explore (there’s one small town on the island). But if you are looking for time away in a unique place, it offers many adventures and beautiful vistas. Lanai is also a wonderful place to learn more about the history and variety of Hawaii.

When Is a Day Trip to Lanai Right for You?

lanai in a day

(c) ABR 2019

If you are open to and/or looking for a simpler Hawaiian experience, as least in regards to the size of the island and its town, Lanai is a great place to visit, especially if you like hiking, 4-wheeling, and relaxing on beaches with beautiful red cliffs. (I think hunting is big here too, but since I’ve never hunted myself, I can’t speak to it). And if your itinerary is a bit limited on time, Lanai for a day might be ideal for you. You won’t have time to see nearly everything that this island has to offer, but you won’t be disappointed in what you do manage to check out in a day.

How I Figured Out What to Do On Lanai for a Day

lanai in a day

(c) ABR 2019

Generally speaking, my goals when visiting somewhere is to do a bit (or a lot) of hiking, and to learn more about the local culture and history. I also like to try to see as much as I can of the places that I visit, even knowing that I won’t be able to see everything I am hoping to. (Sometimes this is due to a lack of time, or situations that just make it impossible for me to visit). So, these were the goals that I had in mind when planning what I would do on Lanai for a day.


The first thing on my list every time, is a good hike (or three). So of course, I started off my planning by search for some good trail options. I am definitely no expert, but as an outsider, it seemed to me that hiking options on Lanai aren’t super common. So, I picked the most official trail that I could find, the Munro trail. I enjoyed it (more below), but if you really want to see the wild side of Lanai from a trail, you might consider looking for a guided tour. The thing to remember about hiking in Hawaii is that there is a lot of private property along trails and crossed by trails. There are also sacred spaces that aren’t always appropriate for visitors. So, be careful about which trails you pick.

Culture and More

lanai in a day

(c) ABR 2019

For the cultural and historic elements of what I planned on doing, planning for Lanai is pretty easy. There is basically just one town on the island – Lanai City. Once I knew that I would be spending some hours in the city, I looked up the best restaurants to try and I looked for cultural institutions like museums, for example, the Lanai Culture and Heritage Center.

Finally, I supplemented my day itinerary, with various unique locations across the island and accessible by 4WD vehicles. Some cursory research revealed there was a wrecked ship I wanted to see, as well as a historic church. I was able to find out more about accessing both from the amazing car rental company that I got a Jeep from for the day.

Please note that I visited Lanai in 2019, so some things will have changed since then, particularly since COVID-19 happened between then and now.

How to Get to Lanai


lanai in a day

(c) ABR 2019

For my Lanai in a day trip, I took a ferry from Maui in the morning and then returned in the evening. Specifically, I used Expeditions Lanai Passenger Ferry. If you would like to learn more about this to plan your own trip with the most up-to-date ferry schedules, visit their website here.

You can also fly to Lanai from both Honolulu and the Kahului Airport in Maui. But if you don’t mind boat travel, I think the ferry is a wonderful way to enjoy the ocean and limit a little bit of your carbon emissions. It’s also fairly affordable to take the ferry, and it’s very low stress in terms of boarding.

Getting Around on Lanai 

lanai in a day

(c) ABR 2019

If you are doing Lanai in a day, I would suggest springing for a rental car if you can, and in particular a Jeep or 4WD vehicle. This will allow you to see more of the island in the most efficient amount of time. And there are also many sights that you can’t get to without a 4WD vehicle.

That all being said, prices have changed A LOT since I visited Lanai in 2019. When I visited, I was able to rent a Jeep for the day for $99 USD. Now, I am seeing prices from $200-$295 per day. And I am not sure that the company that I went with is even still out there. This is too bad because they were really supportive while I was there alone. They helped me find a good trail, and they walked me through some 4WD stuff that I didn’t know a lot about. Even so, most of the rental car companies on the island are local, so I think they will likely be a great resource for visitors.

Visiting Lanai City 

lanai in a day

(c) ABR 2019

Even if you are all about nature when you visit Lanai for a day, checking out Lanai City (at least for some food) is a must. When I visited, I spent some time enjoying the main square, which is a large, grassy park. This is not only a beautiful spot for some photography, but it hints at the history of the town and agriculture on the island.

After relaxing in the shade, I found some good eats at one of the surrounding restaurants. There are several great options which include Hawaiian BBQ, fusions, and high-quality Japanese. This also means that there are some really great options for all budgets in town. There are also some nice spots to grab some coffee/tea. I walked over to Coffee Works for a drink and hung out on their beautiful porch for a while. It was a great place to enjoy the atmosphere and quietly observe the goings-ons.

In terms of cultural offerings, the Lana’i Culture and Heritage Center will be your go-to for learning more about the culture and history of the island. I visited their little museum after I had gotten some food and relaxed in the park. The temperature was getting a little higher at that point, and it was a great opportunity to rest and explore all at once. That being said, as of April 2022, the museum is closed – they do have a digital guide that you can download, however, to learn more about Lanai while they are closed.

Hiking in the Woods

lanai in a day

(c) ABR 2019

The first thing that I wanted to do was find a trail; this was easier said than done. Hiking on Hawaii is a bit complicated, because you need to be careful with the suggestions that you find online. Trails might be on private land or even lead to sacred spaces that aren’t meant for visitors. Due to this, it is best to try to find established trails – don’t just find a AllTrails map or blog post on where to go.

The best way to make sure the trail is established is to do a bit of extra research and see who owns the trail and what the rules around parking and useage are. You might also check official sources of information like the state tourism bureau or land management agencies. For instance, the trail that I ended up finding on Lanai was the Munro trail, which is featured on the Hawaiian tourism website.

The great thing about the Munro trail is that it is sufficiently long for anyone looking for a challenge while you are seeing Lanai in a day and it has elevation gain. I ended up hiking 8 miles round trip, but I believe that you could make the trip 12 miles if you so choose. This trail will also lead you to the high-point of the island.

More on the Munro Trail

lanai in a day

(c) ABR 2019

The Munro trail also has beautiful views of the unique forest of Lanai and the island itself. Unlike many of the other Hawaiian islands, Lanai is somewhat low-lying and its forests aren’t quite as tropical. You will still get the benefit of verdant, shady trails, but you will also see the Cook Island/Norfolk pines that the island is known for. There are also several spots where the forest will break and you can get some amazing views of the rolling hills of the island, the ocean beyond with Molokai in the distance.

That all being said, this isn’t a peaceful trail that you can expect to share with only hikers, bikers, and horse-back riders, because Munro trail is also an OHV trail/dirt road. That means that you will be sharing the track with OHV vehicles and trucks. I didn’t find this too bad, as everyone on the trail with me was polite. But it did feel a little unsafe at times, particularly because not everyone driving the road seemed to expect hikers. They drove a little fast and some seemed surprised to see me. So, it is really important to hike to the side of the trail, and keep your senses attuned for any vehicles approaching.

Hiking on the Beach 

lanai in a day

(c) ABR 2019

I also did a bit of hiking on the beaches while doing Lanai in a day.

The first time, I was trying to make it to the ship wreck that you can see from shore, and I wasn’t comfortable enough with 4WD to drive down the sandy road. (Whether you are comfortable driving in sand or not, remember to stay on roads.It is important to stay off of the beach with any 4WD vehicle on Lanai. This is detrimental for the beach ecosystem, and many people do get stuck in the sand.) So, I took a nice stroll through the white sand and coastal shrubs towards the wreck. I didn’t end up making it, but I did get a nice work out in the soft, sand.

lanai in a day

(c) ABR 2019

The second time that I hiked on a Lanai beach was along the red cliffs near the ferry port. This wasn’t a planned locale for me, but it ended up being one of the most beautiful spots that I was able to visit on the island. Here, you can relax on the sandy beach, or you can follow a trail up onto the cliffs for some amazing views of the ocean.

More Remote Places to Explore

lanai in a day

(c) ABR 2019

4WD is pretty essential to any Lanai in a day trip, because so many parts of the island are only accessible by dirt roads which are sometimes rough or too sandy for regular cars. This includes the famous shipwreck (which I missed), and yes, you can actually drive up Munro trail rather than hike it.

There is also a historic church and Japanese graveyard to be visited on the back side of the island. All of these places, tucked along the dirt roads, are historic treasures for respectful visitors to enjoy.

Be careful and polite on the road, and Lanai’s back country roads will reward you.

Learn More About Hawaii

We are just visitors to Hawaii, but we have other posts about our adventures on Molokai and I have a couple posts full of suggestions for people looking for a hike or an itinerary for nature and history on the island.

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5-Day Molokai Itinerary for Hikers

When I set off for Molokai, I wasn’t 100% sure what the experience was going to be like. This isn’t as popular an island as most of the more accessible parts of Hawaii. I also didn’t really find any itineraries that fit my preferences – e.g. an itinerary for a hiker. So, after visiting and having a wonderful time, I wanted to put together a 5-day Molokai itinerary for hikers. This will take you to several different, unique ecosystems that characterize the island, and give you space to enjoy some of the culture and history of Molokai as well.

Who Might Like This Itinerary

molokai itinerary

(c) ABR 2019

This definitely isn’t the 5-day Molokai itinerary for everyone, mostly because I think it is pretty high energy. And not everyone is looking for that on vacation. Furthermore, two of the day’s trails are pretty hard to get to and require both a 4WD vehicle and some careful drivers. You need to know when to turn back if things just aren’t safe on the road, on the trail, or due to weather.

Now that I’ve told you why you might NOT like this itinerary, why don’t I tell you why it’s awesome.

(1) This schedule features some of the most unique environmental and cultural experiences on Molokai.

(2) You will get a workout everyday. Believe me, even shorter trails in Hawaii will really take it out of you. (Unless you are a Hawaiian hiker, then I am sure it is old hat). Whether you are trekking across a beach, or navigating rainforest trails, there is no shortage of physical activity here.

(3) Every day is completely different than the last. You will never feel like you saw the same thing twice. And when you leave, you will definitely be feeling like you made the best use of your limited time on this amazing island.

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Kamakou Preserve: Tropical Mountain Hiking in Molokai, HI

I recently found out that my Polish ancestors were mountain folk, and so perhaps my love for the mountains has been passed down to me. Whatever it is, the mountains always call to me and Mololai’s heights were no different. However, unlike the readily accessible mountains of Phoenix, Molokai’s mountains are steep, can be treacherous, and/or aren’t always to be scaled (private land or sacred land). So, for me, the Nature Conservancy’s Kamakou Preserve was the perfect place for mountain hiking in Molokai. I got to see some very different ecosystems, a more temperate forest and then a tropical bog. Also, the views were out of this world.

While mountain hiking in Molokai isn’t easy, for those travelers who are willing to do it responsibly and respectfully, it is an amazing and unique experience. The challenge that it presents offers you an opportunity to explore your own limits. And the mountains offer a view into the wild heart of the Hawaiian islands. If this hike isn’t for you, I’ve got you covered with some cool photos of the forest and the bog. And no matter your location or travel style, I will include information in this blog about the conservation of Kamakou Preserve and how to support this important work.

Mountain Hiking in Molokai is a True Adventure

Mountain hiking in Molokai and Hawaii in general is like basically nowhere else in the United States. I hike hundreds of miles a year, in difficult desert terrain where people die every year. Despite that, even I found hiking in the mountains of Molokai to be extra difficult. Furthermore, there is lots of private land and sacred places in the mountains. And visitors need to be respectful of these spots.

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Mo’omomi Preserve: Beach Hiking in Molokai

When most people think about the beach, they usually envision themselves relaxing in the sand. Or at most, they see themselves walking along, picking up shells and enjoying the surf. Some of us, however, are just hikers through and through, and we can’t help but want to trek out further… even if that involves hiking through loads of… sand.

Point being, beach hiking isn’t for everyone. But beach hiking in Molokai, Hawaii, USA, is something that the hikers among you should consider. That’s because Molokai is home to Mo’omomi Preserve, where the Nature Conservancy is protecting this unique coastal environment.


Beach Hiking in Molokai, HI

Mo'omomi Preserve

(c) ABR 2019

Hawaii is known around the world for its beautiful, tropical beaches. Molokai is no exception; the island has many exceptional beaches where you can enjoy soft sand, the crystal, blue ocean, and be surrounded by the nature of Hawaii. Not all of them are tropical – including the beaches of Mo’omomi Preserve, but they are all representations of the ecosystems that make these islands unique. While beach hiking isn’t easy, I think this really special place is worth your time when you are on Molokai. Places like this have all but disappeared.

Experiencing the beach as a hiker is a different experience. It can still be relaxing, if you don’t have a mileage goal. But it can also be quite the physical challenge to trek across miles of sand. If you have ever hiked or ran in sand, you know and if you know, you know. But for those who haven’t tried it or been exposed to it by hiking in general, sand hiking is 2x as hard due to the sinkage. You will definitely be slower than you are used to being. Furthermore, most beaches lack shade, so if you aren’t used to hiking exposed, there is that added challenge.

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montserrat itinerary

A Montserrat Itinerary – My Favorite Things to Do In Montserrat

If you haven’t read the first part of My Favorite Things to Do in Montserrat, you may wish to check that out, because this second part will not discuss the Soufrière Hills volcano and Plymouth except for an inclusion in the Montserrat itinerary at the end of this post. This little Caribbean country is now known for this active volcano and the swath of destruction that it has left behind on the larger south section of this tropical paradise. However, before anyone knew that the Soufrière Hills hid a living volcano capable of turning life on the island upside down for more than a decade, Montserrat was a treasure trove of natural wonders. It was and remains home to sweeping mountains, crystal clear springs of water, and wondrous black-sand beaches. It’s the perfect place for any intrepid explorer, especially nature lovers.

[Until the COVID-19 outbreak settles down and international travel is safe again, please consider this an inspirational post. This is not encouragement to travel at this time, especially not to a small country like Montserrat.]

(4) Go for a Hike

montserrat itinerary

Cassava Ghaut trail (c) ABR 2020

A lot of people don’t seem to realize how amazing the Caribbean is for hiking. And hiking in Montserrat is no exception. Hands down, the trails on this island are one of my favorite things to do in Montserrat. That being said, I MUST remind you that hiking is dangerous. Never go out alone unless you are very experienced. In any case, always let a third party know where you are going and when you plan on getting back. Bring good shoes, water, and food with you, and always start early in the day so that you don’t get caught at night. You always hike at your own risk, but if you get in trouble you get put other people at risk as well. So BE CAREFUL!

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My Favorite Things to Do In Montserrat

There are things to do in Montserrat for hikers, beach-goers, and history buffs. The island of Montserrat in the Caribbean is a territory of the UK, and not particularly well known outside of the region. Currently, what makes it particularly unique is that it is home to an active stratovolcano, which has made more than half of the island unliveable and dangerous with its rapidly moving pyroclastic flows. This activity began in 1995 and has continued sporadically to this day (although the last explosion as of 2020 was in 2010).

While this is, in fact, very interesting, Montserrat is also home to beautiful volcanic beaches, great hiking paths, and a very friendly community. Much like the other islands that I have visited throughout the Caribbean, this is a very special place, which should be more than a stop on a cruise ship itinerary. No matter your travel style, the island has something for you, and you should plan on spending at least 2-3 days here in order to get a good taste of the country. It might just steal your heart in that time!

2020 COVID-19 Disclaimer: Please do not consider this post encouragement to travel before it is safe.

Like the rest of the world, Montserrat is protecting it’s people by limiting travel and quarantining people that fly in. It shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s no time to travel overseas at the moment. But I do hope this will serve as inspiration to visit the island when it is safe to do so for yourself and when it is safe for everyone living in Montserrat as well. I visited Montserrat in February before the outbreak stopped the world.

(1) Tour the Island and Plymouth with Montserrat Island Tours

things to do in Montserrat

Sunny teaching us about the history of Plymouth (c) ABR 2020

Plymouth is the former capital of Montserrat, and the only place that visitors can get a sense for the impact that the Soufriere Hills Volcano has had on this little island nation. If you are silly like me, and think that you can just wander your way on over there by yourself in a rental vehicle, think again.

Zone V, where Plymouth and the volcano both live, are the heart of Montserrat’s exclusion zone, and due to the years and years of pyroclastic flows and floods of ash, it is off-limits. That being said, a visit to Plymouth is definitely #1 among the things to do in Montserrat, because it is a totally unique experience. And you can go… with a local guide who has permission from the government and follows very specific safety rules. While there are many good guides on Montserrat, I went with Montserrat Island Tours, and I absolutely loved them.

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Trip Log: Moloka’i and Lana’i


Nightborn Travel’s Trip Log series is meant to give our readers a more personal view of our travels. The little things that we learn and go through as explorers doesn’t often come through in a guide, so these short diary entries can give a different perspective about what getting to a place and being there was like. The style of these entries is more loose and personal, and we generally won’t be adding links and extra research to these posts. Trip Logs are about the experience and the adventure involved in visiting new places. Hopefully it will give you a taste for what visiting a location was really like, and then you can reference our guides for detailed information about how to create your own adventure.

Three Days in Solo Moloka’i

I’ve wanted to visit Molokai since I first saw it on the horizon while visiting Maui on family trips as a child. (This is a common occurrence for me, as I am a lover of islands large and small.) It was even more appealing to me due to its role in serving as a backdrop to the original Jurassic Park movie; I was expecting a jungle paradise when I finally had the opportunity to explore this lesser-known Hawaiian island, but it wasn’t what I was expecting at all (and that’s ok).

First off, I was expecting that I would be able to take a ferry from Maui to Molokai, since the two are right next-door, but it turns out that the ferry ceased service a while ago, so the only option was a flight. I scheduled mine to leave a few hours after I arrived on Maui, so I had some time to be confused when I arrived. Mokulele Airlines wasn’t listed on any of the Arrival/Departures screens in the main part of the Kahului Airport, so I wandered out past baggage claim, hoping that I might be able to ask someone for directions. Luckily for shy little me, I caught sight of a sign pointing to the Commuter Terminal. So I walked down past the rental car pick up area and up to the small, open-air building of the itty-bitty terminal that’s home to Mokulele and the other airlines that transfer among the islands.

Getting There

I still had about three hours until my flight left, so the lovely people at Mokulele put me on a flight leaving right away. I basically walked right up and left within 20 minutes on one of those little planes that has to weigh you and your luggage before deciding where you’ll sit. Not knowing any better, I sat on the right side, missing all of the good views of the island when we flew past all of the mountains and canyons. This is one of my major regrets for this trip, as this turned out to be my only chance to take good pictures of the wild side of the island.

I thought that all of Molokai was like that, but I quickly discovered that most of the navigable parts of the island are flat and pretty dry. Even so, when I landed I sprung for a rental Jeep, because my Airbnb host had explained to me that most of the roads to the main hiking spots on Molokai are inaccessible to regular cars. I am SO glad that I listened to her, because it would have been very disappointing to miss out on the Nature Conservancy Preserves that became the basis of my trip. Particularly because I was hoping to spend a day hiking down to Kalaupapa National Historical Park but it turns out that this was impossible at the time I went because a landslide had taken out the trail.

After picking up my Jeep (I named her Gwen after the Spiderman character), I trundled down a highway that would become very familiar to me, and I paid careful heed to a large sign along the side of the road, hand-painted to say: SLOW DOWN This is Molokai. My Airbnb in Kepui Beach Resort was the perfect Hawaiian getaway, with a beach near by and a small studio with beautiful sliding doors that you could leave open to enjoy the perfect air.

Driving Around and Struggling Through the Sand

First thing I did when I had rested up for the night was drive over to the Nature Conservancy headquarters to ask about hiking in their parks. The friendly people manning the office gave me some maps, told me that 9am was way too late to head up into the mountains. They also checked to make sure I hadn’t already hiked on the Big Island, because there are some plant diseases/fungi from Hawaii that could threaten the forests of Molokai. Luckily, I had never been to the Big Island before, and my boots were clean anyway, so there was little worry about being a bio-contaminant.

Not knowing what else to do, I decided to try to drive down to the eastern end of the island, where I knew that the bigger mountains were. The paved road goes all the way out to a town called Halawa and it looked like a nice drive. It mostly was, and there were some great views of the beach and Lanai on the way, but I turned around when I got to a single lane, two-way road that weaved its way along the cliffs. I just didn’t have the energy for any high stakes driving.

I turned around, returned to the biggest city of Kaunakakai (where the only gas station is), and stopped in to Molokai Burger for lunch. Surprisingly, the only drive-thru on Molokai had one of the best burgers I have ever had. The meat was super juicy and the bun was impossibly soft. I’m missing it as I write about it.

At this point, I decided that I would run to the grocery store and then hike in the TNC’s Mo’omomi Nature Preserve. The Friendly Market Place turned out to be more of an adventure that I ever would have guessed. It was very small, and very busy and it turned out to be a big mistake that I grabbed a cart on the way in. It was almost impossible to move down the aisles with a cart because there were so many people and the register lines were also snaking up through some of them, making it even harder to move around and shop. It took patience to make it work, but I did my best to take cues from everyone else about how to maneuver and where to leave my cart such that it didn’t get in anyone else’s way.

After all that, I dropped off my food and then followed the TNC’s directions to the dirt road that would take me to Mo’omomi. I wasn’t expecting this to be a scary experience, but Molokai had “things” to teach me about dirt roads. In particular, this red, soft road tended to wear more on one side than the other, creating a situation in which you often found yourself and your vehicle tipping precariously to the side. After getting really worried that I would tip over, I learned to position myself so that my wheels were as level as possible. (I also kept trying to tell myself that this is what Jeeps are meant to do…)

In any case, I made it to the pavilion where they told me to park, and I struck out for the reserve, which was about a mile or so away. It turned into quite the slog, since this part of the island gets pretty hot, and I was hiking with boots through the deep, squishy sand of the beach, which made for a slow, strenuous trek. By the time I made it to the TNC gate, I was hot and tired, so even though the trail got much easier to walk, I had lost some of my drive to keep going. So, when I lost the trail in a thicket of trees and spiny bushes, I called it a day.

Facing My Fears On Kamakou

Talking with the TNC personnel and driving the very uneven (to me) road to Mo’omomi made me worried about attempting to get up to the Kamakou Forest Preserve, but I steeled myself, because that was honestly the place I wanted to visit most on Molokai. Luckily for me, despite my misgivings and all of the online reviews saying that the road was horrible, it actually wasn’t that bad, and besides being narrow, I had no problem with it. I had to reverse a few times to let people pass and vice versa, but it was in good condition and the weather was sunny as well.

I did decide to park at the outlook and hike the two miles up the road from there to the Pepe’opae Bog Trail, my goal. That turned out to be a great idea, because the road above the outlook was way more technical than I would have known how to handle. In fact, it was so slippery that I had trouble walking on it at times.

I did enjoy the Pepe’opae Trail, but it turned out that “bog” was a great name for it, as I had to walk on boards of wood, and at one point I fell off and my leg sunk up to the knee into the mud. It didn’t make me particularly happy to be covered in muck. I also ended up getting soaking wet because all of the plants had dew all over them. I honestly think that my anxiety about the whole experience just summed itself into a general annoyance with the trail, but it certainly wasn’t an easy or particularly safe trek.

I did get a great view of the interior of the island, however, which honestly made it worth all of the struggle. It was probably one of the most beautiful things that I have seen and having had to fight to see it made it sweeter. Type Two fun is real!

After that though, I was ready to get down and get some distance from the worry that had crowded the trip. I felt so good when I got down from the mountain, in fact, that I felt a rush of energy and ended up driving over to Pala’au State Park where I had a little picnic, saw the phallic rock (which was way more phallic than I was expecting for some reason), and got a glimpse of Kalaupapa Peninsula. It was a sobering moment, honestly, looking down from the insanely tall and steep cliffs at the small town where people with leprosy were once abandoned and sequestered from the rest of the world. I still wish I had had the opportunity to visit and learn more about their experiences. But at least these days no one is forced to live there and we have treatments for the disease; now it’s a place to contemplate and learn from, which it turns out you can even do from quite far away.

Four Wheeling and Wandering the Forest on Lana’i

A day after I returned to Maui from Moloka’i, I was planning on hopping on a ferry to Lanai. I was extremely tired after all the flying and hiking, and I seriously considered not going, but reminding myself that I have only ever regretted just not going somewhere I had been planning to visit (not for safety reasons), I forced myself to get up and make it to the boat. Thank goodness I did, because I had a lovely day on the smaller island.

The ride over was very smooth and there were whales swimming near-by. We didn’t stop to look at them, but I appreciated that- it was nice to enjoy them while minding our own business. Once I got off at the ferry terminal I picked up my Jeep (which I rented from an extremely helpful and friendly Lanai resident and named Peter B. Parker), and drove straight to the Munro Trailhead.

Trailhead turned out to be a bit of a generous name, as it’s more of a four-wheel road, and that’s less than ideal in places where the roads are used as commonly as this one. I had to be constantly on the lookout for cars. Tourists and locals alike drove relatively fast through the forest, and the last thing I wanted was to get hit. While this wasn’t preferable, the Munro Trail is long enough for a hiker to get a good sample of the terrain of Lanai and it has access to the island’s highpoint, so I pressed on anyway with the hope that I might make it up into the mountains.

I ended up turning around at about 4 miles in when my body started telling me that it was just tired of the uphill trek, and I lacked real motivation to keep going, since I really had no way to tell when I had gotten to the island highpoint. It’s good that I did, because even though I was on the last ferry out that night, there was more to see than it turned out that I had time for.

After I trekked back to my Jeep, I spent some time in Lanai City enjoying the food, chai tea, and scenery. I really fell in love with the architecture and character of this village; everyone just seemed quiet and friendly. I felt very welcomed and at-home there, which is saying a lot for me since I tend to prefer more wild places and keeping to my solo travel style.

I may have been a little too relaxed in my time spent there, however, because by the time I left, I only had a few more hours on the island. I still wanted to visit Shipwreck Beach and the Garden of the Gods, but the sandy conditions of the road to Shipwreck caused me to waste some more time fretting over what to do, and eventually I tested out my sand-driving skills on a longer road out to an old church tucked away in the coastal scrub. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it was (I was very preoccupied with the idea of getting stuck), but by the time I came back and considered Shipwreck, I felt like it would be a better use of my time to see the Garden of the Gods.

Unfortunately, I ended up getting lost and didn’t go to either. Which was disappointing, but I was too worried about being to the ferry on time, so I spent my last hour on Hulopo’e Beach, which was just as beautiful as I was told it would be. There were some otherworldy red-rock cliffs and formations that I absolutely loved, and there was a nice little hike to be done up the coast as well. I could also spy the infamous Four Seasons ($1,000 a night) from here, and it was odd to think about the kinds of people that might be staying there. I couldn’t say, in that moment, that I envied them. Lanai has so much to offer anyone who makes it there, rich or otherwise.

Anacapa Island: Gateway to the Channel Islands

Anacapa Island as a Gateway to the National Park

Anacapa Island

From wikimedia commons.

Anacapa Island is the first Channel Island that I ever visited, and it captured my heart and made me fall in love with the entire island chain. I first glimpsed Anacapa from Ventura, CA while I was on a trip with my family. At first, I wasn’t sure that the mountainous shadows on the horizon were real, a figment of my imagination, or some play of light off of the ocean. After a bit of investigation, I discovered that what I was seeing was very real. There were islands out there; the mystery was too much for me. I had to see them. So I booked a day trip with the Island Packers to Anacapa, the smallest of the islands.

As a young girl, I was enchanted by the treacherous looking steel ladder and stairs that led up the island’s cliffs from the bobbing boat. I loved that I could stand in the middle of the island and see the ocean in all directions. I loved hearing the birds arguing with one another as they nested and lived their busy lives. And there was nothing more picturesque than the lighthouse perched on the eastern end of the rocky crag in the sea. Since that day, I have always been called back to the Channel Islands. I have camped on Anacapa Island twice, camped on Santa Cruz twice and done a day trip to the Nature Conservancy side, spent a weekend on Santa Rosa, and volunteered with Channel Island Restoration on San Nicolas in order to give back to the islands I love.

Birding and Sunsets

Anacapa Island

From Wikimedia Commons.

Anacapa Island, much like Santa Cruz, is managed by both the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy. Of the three smaller islands that make it up, only one is readily accessible to visitors. There you can spend the day enjoying views from out of this world, or camp among the birds.

For those who camp, they will be delighted by Anacapa’s Inspiration point, which is situated on the western end of the NPS island. Perched on a little bench, you can watch the sun set over the other two islands, and on a clear day, see Santa Cruz just beyond. Once you’ve been there and seen it yourself, I can tell you, it is something that you will never forget and no picture will ever do it justice. Nonetheless, there are many paintings and photos of this beautiful viewpoint to be found in shops all over Ventura.

Anacapa Island

Inspiration Point during the day from Wikimedia Commons.

Bird lovers will also find Anacapa Island to be a dream-come-true. Not only do rare sea birds nest on the island, but if you come during the right season, you can camp (very carefully) in the midst of breeding sea gulls. I can’t think of a cuter memory than waking up to gull chicks playing under the flap of my tent before returning to the nest for food. That being said, this island really belongs to the birds, and one memorable downside to Anacapa is the quite pungent smell that decades of bird-living has created.

Kayaking and the Underwater World

Anacapa Island

Garibaldi fish from Wikimedia Commons

While Anacapa island itself is quite small, particularly the part of it where you can camp and hike, there is a whole watery world to explore in relation to this beautiful place. If you are a snorkeler (I imagine that diving is difficult due the whole metal ladder situation, but feel free to correct me if I am wrong), you will be delighted by the otherworldly kelp forests that are easily accessible from the eastern island. There are tons of flashy, orange garibaldi and brilliant purple urchins under the waves.

Kayakers can also spend the day out on the water, exploring the sea caves (very carefully!) and checking out the small pebbly coves that you can find along the island here and there. Be sure to keep your eyes open for sea lions and birds out there. We found a couple gulls tangled in fishing wire once and helped the rangers set them free. We were also chased down the beach and back into our boat by a sea lion once. We landed on an empty cove, ate our lunch, and then this guy just decided we were on his turf. He came right up out of the ocean and barked us away from his little beach paradise. It was scary at the time, but pretty funny in retrospect.

Tips and Safety for Anacapa

Anacapa Island

Shared by Connar L’Ecuyer

Climbing up the ladder up the cliffs from the boat landing to the island is actually quite dangerous. In 2013, a very experienced NPS volunteer tragically fell to his death while boarding a boat. So, please be careful while coming and going.

Cliffs are dangerous and no picture is worth your life. Keep your distance.

There are almost no ways out of the water and onto the island outside of the boat landing. So, always be prepared with food, water, and safety equipment while snorkeling and kayaking.

Remember that you are only a visitor to Anacapa Island. Respect the animals that call this place home and keep your distance from them. If you run into some of the situations we did here’s what I would suggest. (1) A baby seagull comes close to your tent door; stay quiet and still and let the little guy leave in his own time. If you scare him, he might get lost and other sea gulls might not be so welcoming to the little beb. (2) A sea lion or seal gets out on the beach and approaches you. As long as you can do so safely, retreat and give them the space that they need.

Anacapa Island

From Wikimedia Commons

Overall, remember that your safety is always your responsibility. Be sure to check in with the rangers when you arrive. They will help you assess any other safety needs you may need to consider.

For transportation to the island see the Island Packers.

For permits and national park info, reference the NPS website.

To read more about all the wonderful adventures that you can have on the Channel Islands, check out our guide.

Santa Cruz Island Camping and Hiking Adventure

King of the Channel Islands National Park

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2016

Santa Cruz is the largest of the Channel Islands, and it is one of the most accessible islands, with both day-trips and overnight trip options. There are miles and miles of trails open to visitors, making this bit of California the perfect destination for hikers looking for some quiet places to explore. The island is also home to some of the world’s most beautiful sea caves, which can be viewed by kayakers, and some lucky people will also get to check out the Painted Cave from an Island Packers boat (they sometimes stop there on the way back from Santa Rosa or San Miguel). In any case, Santa Cruz Island camping is the best way to enjoy the many things that the island has to offer.

Scorpion Anchorage

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2011

Scorpion Anchorage is going to be your primary landing for Santa Cruz Island camping, kayaking, and hiking. This has the best access to the parts of the island that is open to National Park users, and thus it is the perfect spot for explorers that are looking to freely wander the trails of Santa Cruz.

When you land here, you will come upon a pebbly beach, and campers will need to lug their gear up the trail from the landing, past the beautiful, green roofed ranch homes that the NPS currently uses for its personnel. The campground is past here, tucked away in a calm canyon that is still lined by the massive eucalyptus trees that were brought to the island by ranchers. Unlike Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz is a much less windy place to camp, making this verdant camping place a serene location to relax and pitch your tent.

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2011

From here, if you rent a kayak or bring your own, you can walk back out to the beach and explore the coast of the island. There are beautiful sea caves on Santa Cruz and some of them are accessible to sea kayakers. You should check with local rangers for details about this, and follow all safety precautions. Remember, your safety is your responsibility.

Santa Cruz Island camping will also allow visitors to spend more time on the trails and explore deeper into the interior of the island. Since Santa Cruz is so large, there are some varied landscapes that you are sure to find if you hike for long enough, but expect rolling hills and rounded mountains covered in grasslands similar to those found on the mainland nearby.

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2011

Prisoner’s Harbor

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2016

Prisoner’s Harbor is a small landing where you can access part of the Nature Conservancy’s claim to Santa Cruz when accompanied by a guide. This is one of the most special places for Santa Cruz Island hiking, and worth the trip for any fan of the Channel Islands.

There is a small wetland here that is close to the landing, and which is a great place for island fox and bird watching. From here, the trail into TNC’s land curls up a steep hill to the west and then starts a tiring but enchanting hiking in and out of several washes that run out from the island to the sea. Larger trees fill the areas where water funnels to the ocean, and the more dry-adapted giant coreopsis crown many of the hills. So, while you are huffing and puffing, you get a great sample of the island’s flora.

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2011

The end of the trail leads out to a beautiful beach, where you can relax for a while, and gather your strength back for the trek back to Prisoner’s Harbor.

Tips for Visiting

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2011

You will need to book a boat ride with Island Packers.

To learn about camping permits, be sure to read through the National Park Service’s info page.

And if you are curious about the other Channel Islands, look through our guide!

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