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Channel Islands National Park

Visiting the Channel Islands National Park

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Channel Islands National Park

Anacapa Island, Channel Islands National Park

© Betsy Malloy 2003
  • Hours: Park is open all year, but the visitor is closed Thanksgiving1 and December 25
  • Reservations: Not required for visitor center, but needed for the boat concessionaires
  • Cost: Day fee for campgrounds. Boat and air services charge a fee
  • Location: 70 miles north of Los Angeles near Ventura, driving directions below
  • How Long: Allow a full day to visit one island
  • Best Time to Visit: Skies and views are clearest in winter. Yellow-flowering giant coreopsis blanket the islands in spring, but early fall is best, when blue and humpback whales linger and elephant seals gather at their rookeries. Autumn's smooth seas and clear waters also attract ocean kayakers and scuba divers.
  • See It Now: Photo tour

Channel Islands National Park Review

We give Channel Islands National Park 5 stars out of 5 based on our visit to Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands. It's lightly visited, has beautiful views and interesting natural history.

The Islands of Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park encompasses five islands running east to west off the California coast near Ventura. Never part of the mainland, each has a different geography, character and its own endemic plants and animals, so many of them that I like to call it California's Galapagos.

Most visitors make their way out to the islands using one of the boat or air services that act as concessionaires for the National Park Service. Others arrive by private boat. More intrepid visitors can bring along camping gear and food and stay in one of the primitive campgrounds. There are no food concessions once you leave the mainland, so bring enough water and food to last for the trip.

Anacapa: A narrow, windswept rock with annual rainfall less than 10 inches and no trees, Anacapa shelters the world's largest gull-breeding colony, the rare Anacapa deer mouse, and eight species of songbirds. It's nearest the mainland and thus a good place for a first visit. Because of its steep cliffs, there's no boat dock, and visitors have to climb a metal ladder up the cliffside from their boat. Once ashore, you can view exhibits and take an easy hike around the island.

Santa Cruz: A large portion of this island is owned by the Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service owns the rest, which is open to the public. This largest of the Channel Islands has been much changed by human habitation and ranching, but efforts are underway to return it to its natural state. Of the Channel Islands' 85 native plant species, nine occur only on Santa Cruz.

Santa Rosa: The only island accessible by air, Santa Rosa is home to more than 195 species of birds and the endemic spotted skunk.

San Miguel: The westernmost and flattest island, San Miguel has a ghostly caliche forest (standing sand casts of long-gone plant roots and trunks). In winter, it's home to an estimated 50,000 elephant seals, who breed and pup here.

Getting to Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park
1901 Spinnaker Drive (Headquarters)
Ventura, CA
805-658-5730,
Channel Islands National Park Website

The only way to get to the Channel Islands is by boat. Truth Aquatics and Island Packers are the official Channel Islands National Park concessionaires, providing regular boat service, both one-day trips and longer excursions. Santa Barbara Adventure Company offers kayaking tours or you can take a take a 3-day, 2-night backpacking trip with a company that provides tents, sleeping bags and meals. Channel Islands Aviation offers air service from the Camarillo airport to Santa Rosa Island.

The Channel Islands National Park visitor center is located at the end of Spinnaker Drive in the Ventura Harbor. Free parking is available at the beach parking lot.

To get to the Channel Islands National Park visitor center from U.S. 101 northbound, exit at Victoria Ave., turn left onto Victoria then right onto Olivas Park Drive and follow it across Harbor Boulevard into Spinnaker Drive. From U.S. 101 southbound, take the Seaward exit, turn left onto Harbor Boulevard, turn right onto Spinnaker Drive.

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