Channel Islands National Park - Located off the coast of Ventura and an
hour's bumpy boat ride away via Island Packers is the the
spectacular treasure, Santa Cruz Island. One of eight visible
islands off the Southern California Coast and one of five that you
can actually comprise Channel Islands National Park, Santa Cruz is
the largest island. The water around the five islands in the park is
protected as part of the Channel Island National Marine Sanctuary.
The Channel Islands occupy such a unique niche in the ecology of the United States that they're sometimes referred to as America's Galapagos. As you'd expect with such a label, the
park's diversity of animal and plant life is amazing. More than 2,000
species crowd this small park, and of those 145 can be found nowhere else on
earth. The isolation of the eight islands in the chain has played a big role
in building that diversity, as has its location at the collision point
between the cold, nutrient-rich waters moving south from northern California
and warm water moving north from from Baja California.
Painted Cave on Santa Cruz Island is the largest and deepest sea cave in the world and is something you may not
want to miss if you are a kayak enthusiast. Painted Cave earns its name from the
colorful rocks and lichens that cover its surface. The cave reaches a
quarter of a mile into the side of the island. The entrance ceiling is an
immense 160 feet high. In the spring a waterfall curtains the mouth of the
cave. Kayak tours are available on the island. Arrangements are made through
Island Packers (805) 642-1393, for departing from Ventura and Channel
Islands Harbors to all of the islands. Truth Aquatics (805) 962-1127,
departing from Santa Barbara Harbor to all of the islands. Channel Islands
Aviation (805) 987-1301, for air travel to Santa Rosa Island. Folding boats
only or to meet up with others.
You can kayak with one of several outfitters that offer a variety of
different kayak trips to the Channel Islands. The trips are moderate to
strenuous in nature, but some do not require previous kayaking experience.
Most kayak excursions are offered from May through October. Some of the
outfitters also offer kayaks for rent. For a current listing of outfitters
and rental sources for kayaks perform an internet search, consult local
phone books or contact the Park Visitor Center.
Visitors with their own kayaks who
would like to explore Channel Islands National Park can contact the park
boat concessionaires, who will transport kayaks to the islands on their
public trips for an extra fee. Concessionaires such as Island Packers and
Truth Aquatics offer year-round transportation to the islands for day visits
and camping trips.
A visual spectacle of unparalleled beauty features amazing
critters in a transcendent environment, is part of the Channel Islands
excursion experience. It is natural, it's raw and is stripped of the many
artificial sights and sounds of the California mainland with its millions of
people. Unaccustomed to this natural environment, some visitors find the
experience a bit shocking. It doesn't take long, however, to embrace the
natural beauty and become a champion for the need for fragile ecosystems
reliant on human support to keep them flourishing. The Channel Islands are the most
important nesting grounds for seabirds on the West Coast. Though damaged by
decades of cattle and sheep ranching, the islands still sport an impressive
array of native plant life. Whales, orcas, and dolphins pass offshore. Tide
pools, a vanishing habitat on the mainland, are doing well on Channel
The national park occupies five of the eight islands in the chain, as well
as much of its offshore waters. The islands are Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa
Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara. Each island has its own character.
Anacapa is the entry point, tiny, popular, and closest to shore. Santa Cruz
is the largest and most biologically diverse; it is largely owned by the
nonprofit The Nature Conservancy. Santa Rosa is the most historically
interesting, and the most wide open of the larger islands for those who want
to do some independent exploring. San Miguel has (arguably) the best hiking
as well as terrific wildlife. Tiny Santa Barbara is the most isolated, a
place to go to be alone in a wild, windy ocean.
Anacapa, San Miguel, Santa Barbara,
Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands are accessible by booking seats on chartered
boats departing daily from Ventura and Santa Barbara or other coastal cities
which offer scuba, fishing and excursion charters. If you are short on
time, half-day non land excursions are also available in Ventura on the Whale
Watching trips. But the good news is that if the whales are migrating, the
captain of your day-trip charter will stop to watch and take photos. California's natural splendor
is what you'll discover on a trip to the islands where you may view cormorants, seals, sea lions
and endangered California brown pelicans near a giant kelp forests
shelter with more than 1,000 species of ocean life.
Pack it in, take it out! The
rule when you visit these islands is that you must bring your own
provisions, (fires are not permitted) and pack out everything you bring.
There's no one around to collect trash so your imprint will remain.
Visitors must stay on marked hiking
trails and are not allowed to disturb plants and animals. With no provisions on these rustic islands, you must bring your own water
and food. Overnight tent camping is permitted but reservations are
required. Check out the Island Packers for information on reserving a trip
to the Islands. islandpackers.com
The information we gathered about
the Channel Islands made us wonder if we could handle visiting a place
that sounded so rustic as to lack the luxuries of bathrooms and water.
Traveling from the greater Los Angeles area with its 12 million or so people,
to Ventura where we'd depart for this imagined paradise, we questioned
our ability to cope. What we didn't consider, surprised us to discover
and what we worried about worked out just fine.
Our first surprise came as the boat
left Ventura Harbor with the Island Packers crew, and hit the open sea.
Our group is not inclined toward motion sickness so it was a surprise that
we did experience some queasy moments on the boat ride to the island. Our
neighbors on the boat who took Dramamine before departure were doing just
We got over the uneasiness as we
arrived at this beautiful spot seen above. Our second awakening came as
we watched people depart the boat. The boat is docked closely to a set
of stairs but the dock requires handing your personal items up to someone
above and climbing a metal stair railing. We couldn't recommend this trip
to anyone who is wheelchair bound or is not in good health. We didn't know
this beforehand but we do now.
As for it being rustic, we were
tipped off to the adventure trail as maps were issued to beginners. We
began to hike around the first bend beyond the dock and discovered an outhouse
(bathroom). Wow! We thought this was completely natural but we actually
discovered two facilities (with toilet paper, too. There was a beautifully,
maintained house on the island for someone who apparently owned the island
at one time, camping facilities for the rangers and some feral pigs that
had gotten loose from the island owner's farm, long ago, and now ran wild,
causing havoc with the native flora and fauna, we were told. The campsites
were not far from the boat dock and looked fairly routine, unlike our imagined
wild adventure style "camp in the tall grass" images.
A few guests were bummed out that
they couldn't have a fire and cook the steaks they brought. There are no
phones, food, vending machines, water faucets or anything of the sort.
The rule here is, "Bring only what you can carry and if you see it and
it doesn't belong, pick it up and take it off the island as you depart."
So with all that in mind, our surprises
were 1) that lots of people go to these islands to camp, scuba dive, spear
fish, kayak and hike, and you are never far away from help or companionship.
In fact, if you've not arranged camping like you are required to do, you'll
probably be tracked down and removed. 2) The scenic beauty of these islands
exists in the subtleties of nature. It's not like touring a botanical garden
with well placed plants that create settings. There are rocks, dust, tall
grasses and places where the path is not so worn. More real and more occupied
than we previously envisioned, we found the experience enjoyable and easy
for our day trip, ending perfectly with the boat stopping to watch orca
whales feed on krill.
are eight islands off the California coast which make up the Channel Islands
but only five of them in the Channel Islands National Park. The water around
these five islands is protected as part of the Channel Island National
Marine Sanctuary. Pictured left is Anacapa which lies 11 miles south
of Ventura. Composed of three small islets which are accessible to
each other by boat, the island's length is five miles with one square mile
of land area.
Of interest is a 1.5 mile self guided
nature trail, a beach and snorkeling area at West Anacapa's Frenchy Cove,
tidepools and skin and scuba diving around the cove. There are many shipwrecks,
including the Winfield Scott steamer which grounded and sank off Middle
Anacapa in 1853. You can take photographs but it is against the law
to touch anything. Also interesting but not for getting close and
personal is the East Anacapa lighthouse. Severe hearing damage may result
if you visit the lighthouse so visitors are warned to stay away from it.
Camping is allowed free at the East Anacapa campground only if you obtain
a permit. Fishing is permitted with a license.
For information, write: Superintendent, Channel
Islands National Park, 1901 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura, CA 93001-4354
or call, 805-658-5730. Request the brochure: Channel Islands National Park
California, produced by National Park Service, U.S. Department of Interior
Rangers conduct walks on
San Miguel, Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands. Call (805) 658-5711 for tour information
or (805) 964-7839 for Santa Cruz island.
Visitor Center in Channel Island
Harbor, 1901 Spinnaker Drive, contains the park headquarters, featuring
exhibits, hands on displays and slide and film shows about the islands.
Mon.- Fri. 8:30 am - 4:30 pm, Sat.&Sun. 8 am - 5 pm (805) 658-5730
Ventura - Ventura Harbor 1691
Spinnaker Dr. Ventura, CA 93001 Phone: (805) 642-1393. Web:
Oxnard - Channel Islands Harbor, 3600 S. Harbor, Oxnard Phone:
(805) 642-1393. Web: www.islandpackers.com
Santa Barbara - Truth Aquatics Channel Island Trips Phone
301 W. Cabrillo Blvd., Santa Barbara, CA 93101 Web:
above are images from the largest island, Santa Cruz, including Prisoners Harbor
Beach, one of California's finest kayaking locations with the spectacular
painted cave on Santa Cruz Island (see kayak information below)