Posted Mar 22, 2023 | By Rebecca Baker

Camping in California's Channel Islands National Park

Your Next Incredible Adventure

Are you looking for your next National Park excursion? Look no further than California’s Channel Islands!

The Channel Islands National Park includes five preserved islands and their unique ocean ecosystems. The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary helps protect the 1,470 square miles of ocean water surrounding the island. Over 10,000 years ago, indigenous tribes inhabited the island as European colonies cultivated it for over 150 years. Now the Channel Islands have been added to our National Park registry so that everyone can experience the incredible biodiversity the islands have to offer. Because the channel islands remained isolated from the mainland for thousands of years, there are dozens of species of whales, dolphins, sea lions, seals and hundreds of land and seabirds to see during your visit. Depending on the migration pattern of the various aquatic and avian species, you’ll be sure to see something amazing on your visit year-round. From kayaking, hiking, snorkeling, scuba-diving, whale and birdwatching, there’s something for the most advanced adventurer to the most easy going outdoorsman. No matter your camping expertise, there is a remarkable camping getaway waiting for you at Channel Islands National Park.

Channel Islands island fox
Channel Islands Island Fox; Photo by Doug Mangum

Camping in Channel Islands

Here in Oxnard, we want you to explore the plentiful camping opportunities at the Scorpion Canyon Campground and Del Norte Backcountry on Santa Cruz Island and Anacapa Island. Remember, whichever adventure you choose, be sure to make proper reservations, wear the appropriate gear and always arrive at your harbor of departure an hour before your departure time. Island Packers is the official boat concessionaire to the Channel Islands National Park and the only operator allowed to land their boats. It is imperative that you arrive early so your gear can be loaded onto the boat. Also, each island may have different restrictions on potable water or campfires.

Santa Cruz Island is home to the Scorpion Canyon Campground, which is an easy walk from the pier and is shielded from harsh ocean winds. Scorpion Canyon is on the eastern part of the island, has potable water and its family sites feature a picnic table and a large food storage box. Larger camping groups can arrange for more tables and storage boxes. Once you’ve set-up your campsite, explore an island that features over 140 land birds, 600 plant species and keep your eyes peeled for the island fox and island scrub-jay. Those two species are found nowhere else in the world! Easy hikes, fantastic ocean views and relaxing beach time are in store for you at Scorpion.

If you’re an advanced camper looking for a remote getaway, check out Santa Cruz Island’s Del Norte Backcountry campsite. While exploring this island, be sure you can handle the difficult terrain, weather and off-trail hiking. Also, while taking in the pristine wilderness around you, please remain respectful of the delicate natural environment so generations to come can enjoy the backcountry, too. A moderate to strenuous 3.5-mile hike is necessary to reach the campsite, but you’ll travel through Prisoners Harbor, through island oak woodlands and abundant coastal scrub.

For campers who want to bring kayaks with them, you can rent them from Channel Islands Kayak Center. Or, find kayaks for rent on Santa Cruz Island from the exclusive national park outfitter Channel Islands Adventure Co. You can even have them help curate a unique, guided kayaking tour customizable for you and your group! For more information, see our kayaking blog.

CHANNEL ISLANDS Camping Checklist

It’s always a good idea to come prepared when hiking or camping– whether that’s at one of Channel Islands’ campground sites or another one of your favorite camping spots. Here’s a quick checklist with a few items to get you started:

- Hiking backpack
- Weather-appropriate clothing (think moisture-wicking and layers)
- Hiking boots or shoes
- Plenty of food
- Plenty of water and electrolyte supplements
- Navigation tools such as a map and compass
- First-aid kit
- Knife or multi-tool

Now depending on your excursion, you’ll want to curate your checklist to be appropriate for the weather, conditions and length of your trip so that you are as prepared as possible. You can find all of these items and more at camping stores such as REI located in The Collection at RiverPark.

Channel Islands Light Station
Channel Islands Light Station; Photo by Trekandphoto

Anacapa Island

Anacapa Island is the closest Channel Island to the mainland and encompasses three islets, which are easily remembered as East, Middle and West Anacapa Islands. You can explore sea caves, cliffs and natural bridges as this volcanic island has been carved by ocean waves over millennia. East Anacapa’s easy two-mile trail will give you access to the native vegetation and nesting seabirds and land birds. You can also explore the 1932 light station at the East Anacapa Visitor Center. The light station has served as a beacon for ships for nearly a century, and its original lead-crystal Fresnel lens is still available to view at the station.

West Anacapa’s coastline features gorgeous steep cliffs that are home to the largest breeding colony of California brown pelicans, and its shores feature breeding grounds for sea lions and harbor seals. If you’re interested in the marine ecosystem, you can dive right in or stay dry. Rent a kayak or snorkel to explore Anacapa’s dense and thriving kelp forests and tide pools. Anacapa doesn’t have potable water, and has very little shade, so be sure to bring hats and sunscreen for your visit. There’s also an impressive climb to reach the island through the East End Landing Cove. Be prepared to climb a ladder as well as 157 stairs to summit the dock and island’s plateau.

Channel Islands Anacapa Island
Channel Islands Anacapa Islands; Photo by Benjamin

The Channel Islands National Park is rich in history and biodiversity, a truly remarkable and unique destination that promises adventure and guarantees memories of a lifetime. Check out our “Plan Your Visit” page to make Oxnard your basecamp for adventure.

About the Author:

Rebecca Baker (Digital Storyteller)

Rebecca Briggs Baker is a digital storyteller who loves living on California's beautiful central coast. She builds community and promotes artistic and strategic collaboration with her company, Chicken Riddle Media. When not crafting strategy, she's hiking, volunteering, or reading a great mystery.

send email visit website

Follow us on Instagram at @VisitOxnardCA
Book your stay at one of these Oxnard hotels