After yet another short four hour drive down the coast of California from Pinnacles National Park, we arrived to Ventura, CA where the Visitor Center is for Channel Islands. And boy oh boy, Channel Islands National Park…. what a gem.
This park does take a little bit of pre-planning. There are only three ways to get to the islands; by a private boat, a plane through Channel Islands Aviation, or – the most cost effective and popular option – by boat through the Park concessioner, Island Packers. Being the main option for most, tickets do sell out so you need to reserve them early. You also have five islands to choose from, so you really get a “choose your own adventure” type National Park!
- Anacapa – the closest island, and the most visited. Popular for wildlife and plant viewing.
- Santa Cruz – the largest island, and thought to be what Southern California looked like 100 years ago. It houses one of the largest sea caves in the world.
- Santa Rosa – the next largest island, with plenty of Chumash (natives) and ranching history, sand dunes and beaches.
- San Miguel – western most island, home of the most diverse sea life population, former Navy site, and historical sites.
- Santa Barbara – the smallest island, comprising of steep cliffs and rare, endangered animals and plant species such as Scripps murrelet and the Santa Barbara Island live-forever plant!
- There are three other islands, but do not have access
Mike and I decided to spend our time on Anacapa Island. After we dropped the adventure pup off at a Rover doggy day care, we headed to Island Packers for our boat ride to the island. While most of the trips with this company are full and booked out early…. we had what was almost a private tour! Our captain told us we went during the sweet spot where children were just getting back to school and it was a weekday! On a boat that holds 100 people, there were 8 of us. Pretty dope.
The journey to the island was probably the high point for us – there were seals playing on the dock when we left and ten minutes into the cruise, dozens of dolphins swam with our boat and played in the waves of our wake! It was surreal and so incredible to be so close to these playful creatures.
About an hour cruise, we arrived to Anapaca Island. It’s truly a huge cliff – once the boat anchors, you have to climb a bunch of flights of stairs to get to the top of the island. We took a guided tour with the park volunteer, which was about an hour on a 1.5 mile loop trail. It was SO beautiful and informative.
We visited Inspiration Point, Pinniped Point, Cathedral Cove, and the Lighthouse. Just stunning. The smells from the massive amounts of birds can be a bit much sometimes, but the birds are cute. The island suffers from an invasive plant species called “iceplant.” It’s a beautiful plant, but doesn’t belong here. It was brought in to the island in the 1940s by the lighthouse workers for landscaping and erosion control… unfortunately, it overwhelmed the native plants and depleted the food sources for many of the native animals and seabirds. For the past decade, volunteers and park staff have worked hard to remove the plant, but different strains keep popping back up.
After exploring the island, Mike and I went back to the boat landing area and swam in the reef. It’s a popular place for snorkeling and diving so many of the boat staff and guests brought equipment. Mike loves snorkeling, and one of the volunteers was kind enough to let my man-child snorkel around for a bit with their goggles and fins 🙂 After that, we had a beautiful afternoon cruise back to the mainland. The Park Ranger swore me in as a junior ranger on the boat ride back which might be one of my favorites now!
- SUNSCREEN – This island has NO shade.
- Reserve your boat tickets early! You can also camp on some of the islands!
- Pack plenty of water and snacks. There are no amenities on the islands.