Checking out Channel Islands National Park

Yesterday we went out to Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park to do some hiking and exploring. You may remember from another post (come on, think back, there are only two posts so far) that we were hoping to see the Island Scrub Jay out there, which we did not, but we were not disappointed in the day in any other way. And I did see a lovely plaster replica of one at the visitor’s center…

There is a visitor’s center for the park in Ventura itself, and it is a good one which even has an intertidal pool with all kinds of live fish and sea critters in it. But if you want to actually go to the park, you have to take a boat. Island Packers Cruises is the park concessionaire, and they did a nice job. They slowed down and let us watch the pod of dolphins frolicking around the boat for a few minutes, and had there been any whales, they said they’d have stopped for those, too. What a treat it was to watch the dolphins. They looked to be having so much fun. I hope they really were!

It is $56/adult to go to Santa Cruz, the most visited of the islands, for the day, $75 if you’re camping. Children and seniors get a reduced rate. This pricing makes this park a bit less accessible than many other parks, but if you are planning to be in this area, I’d highly recommend at least a day trip out. It was a glorious day and worth the price.

The weather was spectacular for our visit, and I heard someone on the boat over saying that September is terrific out there, so there’s still time to plan a visit this year. Southern California is having a bit of a heat wave, but out on the island, with the nice ocean breeze, it was about the perfect temperature. If it weren’t so hot here, I’d imagine it could get pretty cold out there with the wind whipping off the ocean, so you should check on that and plan accordingly. I actually wore my winter coat on the boat, but of course I’m a wimp when it comes to cold. Jeff was fine in a long sleeved shirt. You can also sit inside on the boat ride, but for seasick types, that’s a bad idea.

Once on island, it’s about a ten minute walk to the campsites, and they even have big wheelbarrow type haulers you can use to haul your gear. There were some people with a bunch of gear, believe me. Jeff and his backpacking buddy looked a little out of place. It’s definitely not a hardcore backpacker’s camp, although there is another campground on the far side of the island (no water) that I’m sure is much more typical backcountry camping. Had I known it would be such an easy “backpack” I might even have stayed out there. Even I could make it ten minutes with a full pack – in a wheelbarrow!

The campsites all have bear boxes for food storage which are not for bears at all but for keeping the Santa Cruz Island foxes and the ravens out of the campers’ food. They said in our little introduction to the island speech on the island that ravens can undo zippers, and some campers said they’d seen it in action. Crazy talk! I didn’t think we’d see any of the foxes, as they nearly extinct not so long ago, but to our surprise we saw several. They’re small, like a large house cat size, but with huge, fluffy tails. Really cute, as long as they’re not trying to steal your food. I took some pics of these guys with my good camera, so I will have to post those later.

We spent most of the day hiking (Santa Cruz trail maps). We went up and up (nice trail and not too steep, just steady) from the campground through a dry and dusty landscape that looked a little like the mighty Palouse, actually.

Hills of Santa Cruz Island

Our goal was the Cavern Point overlook, and when we got to the top of the hill, it was, as our nieces say, amazing! The sea was a deep, deep blue until it got closer in to the rocks where it turned aquamarine, and because it’s so very clear out there we could see right to the bottom. There are greenish-brown giant kelp beds out there as well that are floating among the rocks. Standing up on that high bluff with the sun shining, the breeze blowing and the waves crashing, I felt like I was in a movie.

Jeff on the trail up to Cavern Point.

From there we walked pretty much along the bluff for a few miles toward Potato Harbor. Every which way we looked were gorgeous vistas. And when we looked closely, we saw pretty, tiny flowers and lots of birds, from big, brown pelicans to tiny LBJs (the famous little brown jobbies). We even saw Oregon’s state bird there; I’m sure most of you know that’s the Western Meadowlark. It was sitting on top of a branch of some sort singing away. Eagle eye Jeff spotted it out, and Marv identified it right away.

View from the cliffs near Cavern Point

We got to Potato Harbor right around lunchtime, and when we looked down, there were two big groups of bright yellow and red kayaks down on the beach. It was fun to watch them all go back into the water for the paddle back. I loved the contrast of their bright colors with the beautiful water. Also at Potato Harbor we could hear sea lions (or seals or elephant seals???) barking. For a long time we couldn’t find them, but finally (with binoculars) we saw them way out on the triangle shaped rocked at the end of the harbor. One was climbing up the side of the rock in the dirt part! I have no idea how or why.

Potato Harbor

We returned to the main harbor via the cliff path, going down a much steeper route than the one we’d come up. I saw some women who’d spent most of their day kayaking coming up that path and by were wearing flip-flops. They told me it was NOT something they’d recommend. The trails we were on were suitable for tennis shoes or Keens or something similar – hiking boots weren’t needed.

View of Scorpion Harbor with Anacapa Island in the background (another of the park’s islands)

The boat we took back left at 4:30, so we had a good amount of time to explore the island without feeling at all rushed. We could have gone back on an earlier boat, but I don’t think that would have been worth it. Jeff is still out there for a few more days, so he may see that Island Scrub Jay yet, and then I’ll be really jealous. Hopefully he’ll at least have a photo to share with all of us. He and Marv are planning to hike Scorpion Canyon and over to Smuggler’s Cove before they return on Wednesday.

When we come back I want to do a guided kayak trip (you can do guided or on-your-own kayak trips). And I might even put my pack in one of those wheelbarrows and stay a few nights with the foxes.

Let us know if you have questions about Channel Islands National Park or other travel questions, and please share our site with your friends.

Enjoy your week or your weekend in the islands!


5 thoughts on “Checking out Channel Islands National Park

  1. Great update Erin! Was this your first time at this National Park? Also, I recommend the GUIDED kayak tour!! πŸ™‚

    • Kelley,

      Yep. This was our 38th of the 58 US National Parks! We’re contemplating which ones will be our next to visit…

      Looked like you guys had a great trip to Yellowstone & the Tetons!


  2. I have always wanted to get out there. But the cost for a family-ouch! There is a beautiful mosaic of all the islands in front of the ranger- education center at Hendry’s beach in Santa Barbara and I always think of Islandof the Blue Dolphins. Did you catch a glimpse of San Nicolas Island? You should add some LIT links to your blog here for adults/kids to read ahead of a trip or during!

  3. By the way, loved taking the trip through your lens! πŸ™‚ hope that the bird makes an appearance! 9 yr. Old Connor is a big bird watcher/identifier and his first sighting of a cardinal was on the battlefield at Gettysburg last summer. A highlight for him.

  4. Pingback: Backpacking Channel Islands National Park | A Week or a Weekend

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