Channel Islands National Park is a series of islands off the coast of California that you can only reach via boat or plane. Santa Rosa is the third closest island to shore, and after visiting the other two close ones (Anacapa and Santa Cruz), I decided to make the trip out to Santa Rosa for the day. If you can, I would recommend a camping trip as the island is massive and you can’t see a lot in one day but if a day is all you got, here is how you can make the most of it.
- Must book the ticket online from Island Packers
- The cost was around $85 when I went.
- Takes 3 hours each way on the boat to get there.
To get to any of the Channel Islands, you must take a private plane or book a trip with Island Packers, the official boat service to the islands. The trips leave out of Oxnard and Ventura, but for Santa Rosa, it was only Ventura. Once you get to the harbor, there is a lot of parking, and you simply need to check-in and wait for boarding instructions.
The Boat Ride
The boat ride to Santa Rosa is not for the faint of heart. It takes about 2.5 to 3 hours to get over to the island, and the water can be really choppy.
I went on a bad day, and we had 7-10 foot waves. I saw at least 6 people throw up when I was there, so bring your Dramamine if you get seasick. You can see a clip of the waves in the above Instagram video.
The boat ride is fun though, as they stop for any wildlife, and we saw dolphins and whales. They also have a galley with food and drinks that you can partake in on the journey.
After you round Santa Cruz Island, you will see Santa Rosa in front of you.
The boat takes you right up to the pier, and from there, you will climb steps off the boat to get onto the pier itself.
Santa Rosa Island
If you are taking a day trip, you probably have about 4 hours to explore the island before getting back to the boat. If you have the time to camp, that is probably better as it gives you more time on the island, but here is what I did with the time I had.
Historic Ranch Buildings
The first stop for me was to walk to the end of the pier and see the Santa Rosa Island sign.
From here, you can explore the one-room schoolhouse and ranch from when the island was used for farming.
After that, you will walk along the fence to where the bathrooms are, and that is where you can start your journey.
Here is the map of the island if you want to see what hikes are available. I headed out on the Cherry Canyon Trail though.
Here is a small recap of the trail, and you can read my full post on this trail here.
This trail leaves from near the bathrooms and follows the NPS road till it breaks off on a small single-track trail.
The trail then goes through a canyon with many different types of plants all around you.
It then heads up till it eventually gives you a fantastic view of the shoreline and Santa Cruz Island in the distance.
This is one of the best views I have seen in Channel Islands National Park and I soaked it in.
The trail then descends past the campground towards the beach with stunning views the entire way.
It is about 1.5 miles from the trailhead to the split for the beach.
Water Canyon Beach
After finishing the Cherry Canyon Trail, I made my way down to the beach.
This was the highlight of the trip as it was a stunning beach with pristine sand and views, and there were less than ten people there with me.
I sat here for a while, ate my lunch, and put my feet in the water. I wish I would have camped so that I could spend more time at the beach.
With about an hour left before I needed to be back for the boat, I left the beach.
On the way back, I decided to take the coastal trail, which splits off the main road near the middle of the airstrip.
I highly recommend this trail as it goes along the bluffs and has amazing views every 15 feet or so. I took a lot of time soaking in all the views.
You can see some remnants of the ranching that took place on the island, like old fencing along the trail.
Eventually, the coastal trail takes you back to where the original trail connects with the pier.
If you have more time, you can go down to the beach below the pier and hang out in the water, or you can just sit at the end of the pier and wait for the boat to come in.
All in all, I loved my time on this island, and it definitely made me want to come back for more. Every time I visit the Channel Islands, I fall in love with this unique part of California. If you haven’t been, then make sure to add it to your list.