Channel Islands National Park

Guide to the Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park in California

Channel Islands National Park

Ready to see stunning ocean views, jutting rock cliffs, and wildlife that you can't find anywhere else in the world? Oxnard visitors can take a quick trip to Channel Islands National Park, located just eleven miles off the coast from Oxnard.

The park is made up of five picturesque islands that are often referred to as the American Galapagos. The untouched landscape is surrounded by the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, which has preserved a breathtaking underwater world full of sea creatures. You can spend the day diving, kayaking, or swimming.

If you'd rather spend your day above the ocean, you can hike, camp, walk along sandy beaches, snap pictures along walking trails, eat a picnic lunch, watch birds, or go whale watching. The options are endless.

To help you plan the perfect trip the Channel Islands National Park, here's what you need to know:

 

Here's a quick look at entrance information:

  • The park is open 24 hours a day.
  • There is no entrance fee.
  • To visit one of the five islands, you'll have to take a boat or plane.
  • There are no services on the islands. No hotels. No restaurants. The islands are untouched by urbanization.
  • You can camp on the islands, but sites are basic. No water is provided. There is a fee to camp.

About Channel Islands National Park

To reach the islands, you'll have to take a boat or a plane. Hop on board a boat with the Island Packers, a park concessionaire boat, to reach any of the five islands.

Times and frequency of trips vary to the islands, so you'll want to plan ahead. For instance, you can travel to Anacapa Island and Santa Cruz Island year round, but trips to the other three islands are less frequent and seasonal.

Boats leave from Ventura and Oxnard Harbors, and travel time to the islands varies between one to three hours. To learn more, check out the Channel Islands National Park website.

You can also travel to Channel Islands National Park by plane. If you decide to take to the sky, you'll want to contact Channel Islands Aviation. They offer flights year around on demand.

Anacapa Island

Formed by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago, the island offers wild rock cliffs and majestic ocean views. This treeless island sits just 11 miles off the coast of Oxnard and is the closest and most visited island. It has a small visitors center inside an old Coast Guard building, a relatively flat 2-mile hiking trail, picnic tables for a great lunch spot, a historic lighthouse, and great spots for watersports.

Travel Information:

Frequency of trips: Year round, 3-7 days a week
Landing conditions: Be prepared to climb up a steel-rung ladder to the dock, and then trek 157 stairs to the top of the island.

Santa Cruz Island

Offering the best weather and the most activities, Santa Cruz Island is a great place to visit for the day. Its steep cliffs, sea caves, and sandy beaches make it a destination like no other. The 22-mile island offers a visitors center, interpretive programs, hiking trails, and Scorpion Beach where watersports are a highlight.

Travel Information:

Frequency of trips: Year round, 5-7 days a week
Landing conditions: Be prepared to climb up a steel-rung ladder to a pier. If the pier is closed, a skiff will drop you off at the beach.

Santa Rosa Island

With rolling hills and a deep canyon, pictures won't do the island justice. Walk along the beach in Bechers Bay, check out a historic ranch house, or take a hike along the rugged mountainous path to Black Mountain. While it takes about three hours to reach the island by boat, it won't disappoint.

Travel Information:

Frequency of trips: April – November, 2-4 days a week
Landing conditions: Be prepared to climb up a steel-rung ladder to a pier. 

San Miguel Island

Although one of the smaller islands, San Miguel Island has one of the largest congregations of wildlife with 30,000 animals on the strip of land. Strap on your hiking boots and take a 16-mile guided hike around the island to see the unique creatures that call San Miguel Island home, or check out the vast bird population from Cuyler Harbor. It does take about three hours to reach the island by boat, but it's an unbeatable experience.

Travel Information:

Frequency of trips: April – November, 4-8 days a month
Landing conditions: Visitors are dropped off on the beach via a skiff. 

Santa Barbara Island

The rocky cliffs of Santa Barbara Island make for wall-worthy photos. Plus, the island is home to a large sea lion rookery. The island might be the smallest in the national park, but it offers hiking, watersports, and great spots to view wildlife.

Travel Information:

Frequency of trips: Spring through Fall, 2-4 days a month
Landing conditions: Be prepared to climb up a steel-rung ladder to a pier from a skiff, and walk up 131 stairs to reach the top of the island.

When to Visit the Channel Island National Park

Wondering when to visit the Channel Islands National Park? The park is open year round, but each season offers a unique trip experience. The islands have a Mediterranean climate with cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers. Here's what you should know about traveling in each season:

Spring at Channel Islands National Park

Spring

The islands are flourishing with flowers and animals. It is wet, but you can see western gulls, island pups, California sea lions, and peregrine falcons.

Summer at Channel Islands National Park

Summer

Summer is the most popular time to visit the Channel Islands. Tourists take to the water for watersports, hiking, and camping. Whale watching starts in the summer too.

Fall at Channel Islands National Park

Fall

With water temperatures hovering around 70 degrees and visibility up to 100 feet, the fall is a great time to dive, snorkel, or kayak around the islands.

Winter at Channel Islands National Park

Winter

Winter on the Channel Islands is unlike any other place. Forget snow, you'll have temperatures in the mid 50s and some of the best sunsets of the year. Wildflowers start blooming and some birds start nesting in winter.

Things to Do at Channel Islands National Park

Whale Watching at Channel Islands National Park

Whale Watching

Get up close and personal with majestic sea creatures by taking a whale watching tour. Available year round through Island Packers, the Santa Barbara Channel is home to beautiful marine life. Bring your camera to capture the whales, dolphins, and porpoises that you'll see.

Kayaking at Channel Islands National Park

Kayaking

To see the Channel Islands in a truly unique way, consider kayaking around it. You can take a guided tour with a park authorized outfitter, or have your own kayak brought in by boat.

Diving and Snorkeling

Want to experience the underwater world like never before? Dive off the coast of the Channel Islands. Typically done on Santa Barbara, Anacapa, and eastern Santa Cruz Islands, you'll get to see kelp forests, sea caves, and unique coves.

 Camping at Channel Islands National Park

Camping

Pack your supplies and camp in the serene wilderness. Each of the five islands has a campground available. It's rustic camping. No services are provided. You'll have access to a food storage box, a pit toilet, and in some cases, a picnic table. You'll have to bring everything else, including water.

If you're looking for a something a little more adventurous and more remote, there are several backcountry camping sites available too.

There is a $15-per-night free to camp on the islands.

For more information, including transportation information, specific campground details, and a list of suggested items to bring, visit the camping page on the Channel Islands National Park website.

Birding at Channel Islands National Park

Birding

Bring your binoculars and get ready for a real treat as you scan the skies for unique birds. Island Packers offers boat trips to see birds in action. Check the Birding Excursions website for specific dates and times.

Interpretive Program for Kids at Channel Islands National Park

Interpretive Program for Kids

There are several interpretive programs available at Channel Island National Park for kids. From "Tidepool Talks," a short program that talks about the creatures that live in the tidepools on the island, to the Junior Range program, kids can learn more about the unique coastal environment in a fun way.

The park's website has a list of interpretive programs available.

Channel Islands National Park Logo

The Channel Islands National Park is a must-see, and an excellent addition to every trip itinerary. After touring the seaside in Oxnard, travel off the coast to see nature at its purest.

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