Channel Islands National Park Guide: Exploring California’s Rugged Islands

The first two Channel Islands, Anacapa and Santa Barbara were designated as a national monument in 1938. The national park, as you see it now, was created in 1980 when it expanded to include all five of the current islands. The islands are home to dozens of species of diverse wildlife, miles of trails, and a plethora of adventures for you to explore. This guide will help you make the most of your time on Channel Islands National Park. Let me know what I left off in the comments.

Channel Islands

There are five main islands in Channel Islands National Park, off the coast of Southern California near Ventura. The two easiest to get to are Anacapa and Santa Cruz, which are the only two I have been to so far. The other three are Santa BarbaraSan Miguel, and Santa Rosa Island.

Anacapa Island

Anacapa Island is a good day trip spot in the park. The island is pretty small, so I would not recommend camping on it, but is great for a half day of exploring.

Santa Rosa Island

Santa Rosa Island is the third island from the shore and a great spot to visit. It is a large island like Santa Cruz, so your best bet is to camp if you want to explore it but a day trip will at least allow you to see it.

Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island is a great spot for an overnight or even two. The island is the biggest Channel Island off the coast of California and it has dozens of miles of trails to explore and beaches to swim at.

How to Get There

I put together this short video to show you how to book your trip to the island and your campsite.

Visitors Center

If you can’t make it to the islands, you can stop by the visitors center while in Oxnard / Ventura. This building has information on the islands, wildlife and how to get there. Plus, there are rangers if you want to ask any questions.


The hikes below are all from Santa Cruz Island since Anacapa Island is easy to walk around and doesn’t have a lot of designated trails.

Smuggler’s Cove
Potato Harbor Overlook
Scorpion Canyon
Cherry Canyon

Historic Sites

The islands have a long history through both the Chumash Indians and the farmers that worked the land in the 1800s – 1900s. Here are some of the most unique structures.

Smuggler’s Ranch (Santa Cruz)
Lighthouse (Anacapa)
Oil Well (Santa Cruz)



On the boat over you can often see dolphins and whales.

Island Fox

There are hundreds of these small foxes on Santa Cruz Island, which are a fun addition to the island.

Kayaking the Sea Caves of Santa Cruz Island

One of the top attractions on Channels Island National Park is kayaking. The best way to do it is to book a trip with one of the local kayaking companies in the Ventura / Oxnard area and they will take the kayaks over for you and show you many of the different attractions on the water like sea caves. Here is my review of our time kayaking on Santa Cruz Island.

Where to Stay

The only way to stay on the islands is to book a campsite. Anacapa has a campground in the middle and Santa Cruz has two. Scorpion is the main one and Prisoners is a backcountry camping area on the other side of the island.

Scorpion Campground


Here are two videos I made on my time exploring the islands. Please excuse the Anacapa video as it was from a long time ago.


Where do I get a map?
There are maps for the islands in the Island Packers Office when you check in for the boat.

How much does it cost?
It costs about $60-$85 for a day trip boat ride (round trip) and $80 for a camping trip boat ride (round trip). The camping sites are around $15 but there is no cost to enter the park.

How can I avoid the crowds?
Channel Islands National Park is one of the least visited national parks in California so you won’t often be with crowds. Avoiding the weekends is best if you want fewer people though.

Where can I eat in the park?
There is no food to purchase on the islands so you must bring what you need. You can get snacks and drinks in the boat over but that is the last chance for you to get food without bringing it.

Where can I see the foxes?
The island foxes are on Santa Cruz Island and they are usually near the campground since they are always looking for food (don’t feed them). I have seen them on the trail as well but much less often.

Now it is your turn, what did I leave off this list that you love exploring in Channel Islands National Park? Be sure to leave them in the comments so that others can find them as well.

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