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Things to do in Channel Islands National Park, Best Time to Visit

Plan your trip to Channel Islands National Park with this guide that outlines activities to take part in and when to visit with what you need to bring, information on camping and much more.

The five islands comprising the chain–Santa Cruz Anacapa, Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara, and San Miguel, is a treasure trove of unspoiled natural beauty and is a California place worth considering. If you only have half a time or even a week to explore Channel Islands National Park, these are the most effective ways to visit the islands by kayak, boat or even on walking.

Embrace the Journey Itself

Embrace the Journey Itself
Embrace the Journey Itself

The journey there is a fantastic trip that takes anywhere from one to three hours via boat or one-half hour via plane. Most boat trips start at Ventura Harbor (home to the National Park’s visitor centre) through the operator Island Packers, and most trips go to the two islands closest to it, Santa Cruz and Anacapa. It is also possible to reach these islands via Santa Barbara through the Santa Barbara Sailing yacht, controlled by a U.S. Coast Guard captain. You may see dolphins and whales frolicking and maybe flying fish from either city.

Paddle a Kayak in Channel Islands National Park

Paddle a Kayak in Channel Islands National Park
Paddle a Kayak in Channel Islands National Park

A kayak trip to the Channel Islands is the best way to view the island’s abundance of Kelp forests and sea caves in close proximity. Take a kayaking excursion with the Santa Barbara Adventure Company, the leading outfitter of activities on the Channel Islands. It includes a ferry ride to Ventura, kayaking equipment, and guides. The time for paddling ranges between 90 minutes and an entire day. Excursions are held around the caves in the sea that is part of Scorpion Anchorage, a beautiful marine protected zone on Santa Cruz Island known for its marine wildlife and huge Kelp forests.

Hike and Look for Wildlife

Hike and Look for Wildlife
Hike and Look for Wildlife

Each island has one of its beautiful hikes with stunning views and chances to spot wildlife and birds. Santa Cruz Island has some 15 trails. Anacapa offers a pleasant path to the lighthouse (one of the few structures you’ll come across on the island). Also, Santa Rosa Island has Lobo Canyon, a sandstone formation with pygmy mammoth fossils and a chance to see the local island, the fox.

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Go Whale-Watching

Go Whale-Watching
Go Whale-Watching

Based on the season, various whales are seen breaching, diving and spouting out around the islands. Enjoy a whale-watching excursion by Island Packers between December and April to view grey whales during their annual migrations across the Bering Sea and Mexico. Come back in the summertime to observe the humpbacks (and occasionally, substantial blue whales) searching for local krill feasts. These tours do not take you to the islands, making them perfect for those who only have only a few hours.

Stay for Days in the Channel Islands

Stay for Days in the Channel Islands
Stay for Days in the Channel Islands

There’s no hotel in the Channel Islands, but that does not mean you cannot spend the night there or even longer. Every island has a campground, the largest being Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz and Water Canyon Camp on Santa Rosa Island. If you want a complete-service trip take an all-inclusive one-to-10-night excursion by Santa Barbara Sailing, where you can sleep on the vessel and cook your meals (or allow the crew to cook them for you) and then spend the day standing-up paddleboarding snorkelling Scuba diving, surfing or simply enjoying a relaxing beach that will be yours to enjoy.

Channel Islands National Park is one of the smallest National Parks in the U.S. because of its isolation located along the coastline in Southern California. The five islands that the Park comprises- Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara – are all protected and not equipped with modern conveniences. There aren’t any bars, restaurants or hotels similar to those found on the nearby Catalina Island, making it the perfect destination for those who love the outdoors, particularly those interested in Channel Islands camping.

It is believed that the National Park has more than 20 species of endemics that are not found anywhere else on earth, and it gives a glimpse of what native California (without Disneyland & freeways) could appear like. I worked as an ocean cavern kayak instructor in the Channel Islands, and it was one of the best summers to date.

If you’re interested in a hike, camping, kayaking or even diving, Channel Islands National Park provides it with all. It’s just a quick boat ride away from Ventura, California.

Where is Channel Islands National Park?

Channel Islands National Park is located approximately 20 miles from the coastline of California, close to towns like Ventura and Santa Barbara. It is accessible throughout the year via Ventura & Oxnard, CA, 1.5 minutes away from Los Angeles, 3 hours from San Diego & 5 hours from San Francisco.

Many refer to Catalina Island when they hear about the”Channel Islands.” However, even though Catalina Island is a Channel Island (check out our guide on taking on the Trans-Catalina Trail), it’s not to be part of Channel Islands National Park.

How to Get to Channel Islands National Park

The sole ferry operator of the Channel Islands National Park is Island Packers. The ferry service departs at Oxnard as well as Ventura, California. Ferry schedules change according to weather and seasons; therefore, make sure to check their website before you plan your excursion.

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Island Packers has ferries to all islands on day or night excursions or go whale watching or birding tours.

The Best Time to Visit Channel Islands National Park

The Channel Islands are open and accessible throughout the year. However, keeping an eye out for closings and changes via the Channel Islands National Park website is crucial before deciding on your next excursion.

Seals, whales, dolphins and sea lions can be seen throughout the Santa Barbara Channel, travelling to and from the islands. Viewing wildlife on the ferry can be a bonus on the Channel Islands National Park excursion.

I would highly suggest going for a day trip to the islands instead and going on a whale-watching excursion. Island Packers & The Condor Express provide whale and marine wildlife viewing trips within the Santa Barbara channel if you’re not keen on travelling all up towards the island.

SPRING IN THE CHANNEL ISLANDS

SPRING IN THE CHANNEL ISLANDS
SPRING IN THE CHANNEL ISLANDS

Spring is the ideal time to see blooming wildflowers on the Channel Islands. Because of the spring rains, the islands will typically appear very green during this period. Certain seabirds begin their nesting season in spring, and they are the Channel Islands fox that gives birth to babies this time of year.

SUMMER IN THE CHANNEL ISLANDS

SUMMER IN THE CHANNEL ISLANDS
SUMMER IN THE CHANNEL ISLANDS

Summer is among the most enjoyable times of the time to travel to The Channels Islands, but also the busiest. The best time to visit is during summer. For pleasant weather, prepare your trip well ahead of time, mainly when you plan to camp, as permits can be issued quickly. Sea lions and seals also give their children to the world in this period.

FALL IN THE CHANNEL ISLANDS

FALL IN THE CHANNEL ISLANDS
FALL IN THE CHANNEL ISLANDS

The fall season is an excellent opportunity to explore Channel Islands National Park, particularly between October and September, with the possibility of pleasant clear and precise weather and the warmest temperatures for snorkelling. The water can be highly tranquil during this time of year for ferry transport, and also one thing to consider if you’re prone to getting seasick.

WINTER IN THE CHANNEL ISLANDS

In winter, conditions for the water can be erratic, and ferry services can be delayed due to the rough sea conditions. But, the winter climate along the California coast can be a bit different from sunny, warm days to cold, rainy days, so you don’t know what kind of weather you’ll encounter. If you plan to visit the Channel Islands in winter, ensure you understand the weather conditions before leaving so that you can prepare accordingly and pack warm layers. For animals, the winter months are when Northern Elephant seals and Harbor seals have their pups, and California brown pelicans start nesting.

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The Channel Islands National Park Visitors Centers

The Robert J. Lagomarsino Visitor Centre is situated on the mainland of Ventura Harbor on Spinnaker Drive, just next to the Island Packers ferry company. The Visitor Center includes an aquarium with marine life and exhibits showing the diverse nature of each island in the five. There’s also a tiny bookshop.

Then, in Santa Barbara, there is an outdoor Visitors Center with great views of Santa Barbara and details on Channel Islands National Park, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, and The City of Santa Barbara.

Channel Islands National Park Camping

Channel Islands National Park Camping
Channel Islands National Park Camping

Camping is accessible all year round across all five islands. Reservations can be made on Recreation.gov. Reservations at campsites for the Spring Break and the summer season typically sold out months in advance, and so do ferry transportation. The Channel Islands National Park ferry transportation. It is essential to reserve your spot at least two months ahead, though reservations are possible up to 6 months before. There is a $15 per night site charge for reservations.

Camping on islands lets you share the experience with only a few people, giving you more extended time for exploring. Channel Islands camping also allows you to watch sunrise and sunset over the surrounding islands. Learn more about the various campgrounds and check for any announcements on the NPS website for Channel Islands camping.

There are a few things you should be aware of concerning Channel Islands camping

1. There aren’t any services on the islands, so make sure you’ve got everything you need to live independently. There’s a tiny store/snorkel rental shop on Santa Cruz Island at Scorpion Anchorage, which sells Channel Islands swag, rashguards and sunscreen in boxes; however, they do not have food or propane, matches or batteries. Please use our three-day backpacking checklist to ensure you’ve got everything you require before leaving.

2. It’s possible to get turbulent, so ensure you have a strong tent. Don’t forget the tent stakes.

This post is an excellent resource for backpacking recipes that are simple to pack.

3. Campfires and open flames are permitted within the area. You’ll need the stove you use to cook food in your backpack.

4. Channel Islands foxes and ravens could break into soft coolers. Therefore, a cooler that has wheels and a hard-sided side is suggested.

5. Pack as light as possible. The campgrounds require a little hike to get to. If you’re travelling with an entire group, you might consider bringing along an inflatable

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