Best activities in Channel Islands N.P.

What to do on sea and land in the park

Peter Fish

ANACAPA ISLAND

Hiking. The island is made up of three smaller islands, of which only East Anacapa is open to hiking. Here, ranger-led hikes begin 30 minutes after Island Packers boats arrive on the island. Or you can explore on your own. A 2-mile trail system takes you up the rugged cliffs to the broad flat top of the island; one must-see destination is Inspiration Point, whose views (of Anacapa, other Channel Islands and the mainland) are as dramatic as the name promises.

Camping. Primitive campsites (no water) ½ mile from the boat landing. Reservations are required. 

Beaches. There are no accessible beaches on East Anacapa. But you can get into the water via the dock at the Landing Cove; swimming, snorkeling and kayaking are excellent. From November to April, Island Packers has daytrips that go to Frenchy’s Cove, on the south shore of Mid-Anacapa Island; the tidepools here are some of the best in California.

SANTA CRUZ ISLAND

Hiking. Get a good introduction to the island by taking one of the ranger-led hikes at Scorpion Anchorage and Prisoners Harbor; these usually begin about 30 minutes after the Island Packers boats arrive on the island.  Other good trails include:

Cavern Point Loop. Starting from Scorpion Beach, this 2-mile loop will show you incredible coastal views and often passing whales.

Scorpion Canyon Loop. A 4.5-mile loop that leads into the island’s interior.

Beaches. Scorpion Beach is one of the best beaches in California, with fine swimming, snorkeling and kayaking.

Camping. An easy half mile walk from the boat landing, Scorpion Ranch Campground is probably the most user-friendly campground (with water, pit toilet) on the islands. Reservations are required. 

SANTA ROSA ISLAND

Hiking. Santa Rosa offers some of the park’s best hiking, with trails and fire roads that extend across much of the island. From the landing pier, you can walk two miles along the gorgeous white sand of Water Canyon Beach. The 5-mile moderate Torrey Pines trail leads to a grove of one of the world’s rarest trees; more ambitious hikers can take a 7.5 mile loop trail that gives you even more spectacular views of the island.

Camping. There’s primitive camping (water, pit toilet) available at Water Canyon campground. Reservations are required. 

Beaches. Water Canyon Beach is stunningly beautiful, but tends to be windy.

SANTA BARBARA ISLAND

Hiking. This small (one-square mile) island nonetheless has five miles of spectacular trails. Good destinations include Arch Point (one mile from the visitor center); Webster Point (3 miles) and the highest point on the island, Signal Peak (2.5 miles.

Camping. The island has a small, primitive campground (no water). Reservations are required. 

ALL ISLANDS

Kayaking.  With its clear waters, its dramatic topography, and wealth of wildlife, Channel Islands offers some of the most rewarding sea kayaking anywhere in the world.  While some of the waters surrounding the islands are best suited for experienced kayakers, others are beginner friendly. A number of commercial outfitters run kayak tours to the islands:

Snorkeling. Some of the Channel Islands most spectacular features—its kelp forests and the fish that live in them—are best experienced underwater. Prime snorkeling spots include Anacapa’s Landing Cove and Santa Cruz’ Scorpion Beach. With water temperatures ranging between 55 and 70, you’ll almost certainly want to wear a wet suit—most outfitters include them along with snorkel gear. Outfitters who lead guided snorkeling tours (which include boat transportation to the islands) include:

Whale watching. The waters around Channel Islands are home to 27 species of cetaceans, including gray, blue, and humpback whales, and numerous species of dolphins. Dolphins can be spotted throughout the summer. Whale watching is best between June and September, when Humpback and Blue whales congregate, and during gray whale migration season between December and April. Whale watching trips leave from Channel Islands, Santa Barbara, and Ventura harbors. Commercial outfitters running trips include:

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