The Channel Islands, belong to Nature and YOU because 250,000 acres are National Park and and 1,252 nautical miles are a Marine Santuary, to protect the fragile environment which contains animals, birds, and plants found nowhere else on earth. The park area includes a mile radius around each island and a 6 mile area of Marine Reserve surrounding each. This is a National Treasure, protected for us and future generations to enjoy. Each island has unique landscape and wildlife native to it. and unpredictable, ever-changing weather conditions. Never a part of the mainland, these islands have evolved uniquely, and our park rangers are striving to protect their individuality. Evidence of human life on these islands dates to 13,000 years ago. Visitors can hike on designated paths or camp, leaving nothing but footprints and taking nothing but photos.
The Channel Islands are just at the convergence of the warm gulf stream from the south and the cold gulf stream from the north, so this is the farthest points south for northern wildlife and fish and the farthest point north for southern ocean inhabitants. A rich soup of nutrients abounds to feed the species, and one might be lucky enough to see a wonder which we saw: hundreds and hundreds of dolphins jumping and swimming in an enormous school, which covered a vast area of the ocean as far as we could see. We watched from the Island Packer tour boat for a half hour as gulls and pelicans and other birds dived down in this feeding frenzy, which was beyond belief. If we had seen it in a movie, we would have thought it was computer generated!
Seals and sea lions are in rookeries all along these islands, and you can get close in some of the boats that take you into sea caves. Depending on what you want to do, there are many different tours available: diving, snorkeling, transport to any one island or touring around all the islands and sleeping aboard for one to five nights. Inquire in the Channel Island, Ventura, or Santa Barbara Harbors. This exploration is closest to a visit to the Galapagos Islands.
Island trips by a variety of boats are from several places in Ventura County. At the town of Ventura is a small Visitor Center and in Santa Barbara is the complete Visitor Center where you can see a film and learn all about the islands to decide which ones to visit. Local school children have the great opportunities of going as a class to augment studies and have the experience of a lifetime while learning first-hand the importance of protecting our earth and its inhabitants.
If you are visiting the area, be sure to plan well ahead for your island excursions. Full information is available on the Channel Islands.. Make reservations by calling 877 444 6777. We highly recommend Island Packers in Oxnard 805 382 1779, or Ventura 805 642 1393. The boats are filled in advance, so make your reservations for this transportation before you make your camping reservations. See the Natural Events Calendar to decide when you want to take your trip.
We chose to take the day excursion from Marine Emporium Landing in Channel Island Harbor at Oxnard, California, to Anacapa Island, the smallest and closest to the mainland, one of the four southern islands in the chain of eight. Anacapa has no fresh water source or services, and wilderness campers must bring everything. The 10 mile crossing takes about an hour on Island Packers comfortable tour boat, which can hold about 90 people and stays booked far ahead in peak seasons and holidays. If you are planning a trip to any of the islands, book your boat transport first and then your camping site, if you choose to stay overnight.
The islands are a special experience any time of year. In March and April wildflowers abound and birds are mating. In May and June baby birds are hatching. We hiked about four miles of trails on Anacapa, fascinated by the nesting of seagull pairs, who guarded brown spotted eggs and hatchling chicks with piercing squawks as we passed within a couple of feet of the ground nests. Without a water source, the only native mammals on Anacapa are small mice, so there are no predators to rob the low nests. The sea is abundant in food for the young. Parent birds dive for the seafood and partially digest it. Then the chicks peck on the red spot on the parent’s beak, causing the regurgitation of the nutrition they need. California brown pelicans, nearly extinct when this National Park was designated, have made a remarkable recovery here and nest in the high cliffs of the western islets.
In June and July the seas are cold, and there is always wind and cold nights and chilly days on the islands, year-round. Wetsuits are advised for snorkeling and diving, kayaking and water sports. You can rent any needed equipment at the harbor before leaving the mainland. Summer and fall are best times for water sports.
Winter has crisp, clear nights for star gazing because air is colder, seas are warmer. This is the time for best whale watching, although you have the possibility of seeing them at any time of year: blues, grays, and humpbacks.
How do you decide which Island to visit? East Anacapa Island has panoramic views with no trees and about two miles of nature trails. It is inviting any time of year, but no water or provisions and camping is recommended for about one night. Be prepared to climb 153 steps when you get off the boat to reach the top of the cliff to enjoy the island’s plateau. These opportunities are available year-round. In November through April boat trips to West Anacapa Island enable you to land and explore tidepools, picnic, or just relax. You’ll watch sea lions, seals, and hundreds of marine birds along the rugged coastline. If you do not want to land but to see the wildlife around the islands, a three hour cruise April through November takes you around Santa Cruz and Anacapa’s wild shorelines to see marine animals and birds.
East Santa Cruz Island is the largest and offers year-round varied landscapes and opportunities for adventure and wildlife viewing, depending on whether you choose the cruise to East (swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, SCUBA diving, and camping year-round with water available. Or you can go to Mid Santa Cruz for relaxing and stepping back into time, viewing seals and sea lions and bird watching. Drinking water is available on this island and good camping facilities a quarter mile from the Scorpion Beach landing on East side is ready year-round for longer trips, and many miles of hiking trails. If you are a serious wilderness camper, you’ll find backcountry camping about four miles from Prisoner’s Harbor on Mid Santa Cruz available year round, but has no water or supplies. It is 1,200 feet above sea level.
If your trip is April through October you can visit Santa Rosa Island, with beautiful trees and 195 species of birds, miles of nature hikes, long white sandy beaches on the shoreline, and the opportunity to see many marine animals en route to this distant island, which requires a two and a half hour boat trip each way. Camping is also popular in these months, with plenty of water available.
Santa Barbara Island (April through October)has steep cliffs and is 46 miles off-shore from Ventura. It is a haven for marine and bird life and has many nature trails and spectacular views. You can have Ranger-led hikes on any of the islands, but this one is particularly rugged, so go only if you are in good physical condition. You can camp here for two days or more, but you must bring with you any water and supplies you need because there are no provisions of any kind on this seldom-visited island. It is the opportunity to enjoy solitude and miles of hiking and great snorkeling and kayaking.
San Miguel Island is one you can choose May through October for camping if you are really into a more rugged outing. No water is available, and the crossing and landing can by rough and
exciting. You might experience strong winds and thick fog on this island, which requires 5 hours to reach by boat, but the experience of real wilderness on a remote island with no water is the dream of some strong and daring individuals.
Whale Watching is excellent on your excursions to the Channel Islands. From December 26 through March you are likely to see Pacific Gray Whales, as they migrate from 6,000 to10,000 miles to Mexico to have their babies. June through August are the best months to see Blue and Humpback Whales which return to feed off the north shore of Santa Rosa Island, where you’ll also see the Painted Cave.
For longer camping than overnight, choose Santa Rosa, which has drinking water and clean latrines, or Santa Cruz Island, which has drinking water, showers, and flush toilets. These are both quite large islands with lots of hikes. Park Rangers and dedicated Naturalist Volunteers man the islands at all times and are available to call for emergencies, which are handled by helicoptor evacuation.