Where is Channel Islands National Park?
Park Address: 1901 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura, CA 93001 (Mainland Visitor Center)
The Channel Islands are located approximately 29 miles away from Santa Barbara, off the coast of Ventura California. Whether coming from Santa Barbara or Los Angeles visitors will find the National park visitor center located off US-101.
The park’s 5 islands are only accessible by park concessionaire boats and planes or private boat. Guests can also expect an average ferry time of 1 hour and around a 30-minute flight from Camarillo Airport. Because of this, it’s highly recommended that visitors plan their trip in advance since there's limited capacity for each trip.
How Big is Channel Islands National Park?
Channel Island National Park consists of 249,354 acres, with nearly half of the park submerged underwater. The park is home to a diverse collection of nationally and internationally significant resources. Santa Cruz Island is the largest of the group covering nearly 62,000 acres and an elevation of 740m at Devil’s Peak.
Beneath the surface, visitors can experience an often-forgotten part of California’s grand landscape. The underwater ecosystem has everything from the open water to the dense underwater kelp fields. The park's diverse underwater ecosystem is home to large marine mammals from seals and sea lions to dolphins and whale species living and visiting the islands.
Channel Islands National Park Weather
The Channel Islands have a year-round climate slightly cooler than most of southern California and is more similar to the climate in the Mediterranean. The park’s temperatures stay relatively stable throughout the islands, averaging highs in the 60/70s and lows in the 40/50s. The weather has been known to change drastically depending on the season and visitors should stay aware of sudden weather changes from day-to-day and island-to-island.
In the spring temperatures begin to warm and generating occasionally strong winds and dense fog towards the end of the season. In Summer, the fog diminishes as the temperature averages in the low 70s, and as the wind and sea calm underwater visibility is at its best. Fall continues to stay warm and calm until October when the strong seasonal winds begin to return. Winter is when the park receives the most rain, and visitors need to prepare for cooler temperatures and sporadic weather patterns.
When did the Channel Islands become a National Park?
The islands were first brought to federal attention in 1932 when the Bureau of Lighthouses brought Anacapa and Santa Barbara Islands to the attention of the National Park Service. On April 26, 1938, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the proclamation that designated the islands as Channel Islands National Monument. On February 9, 1949, President Harry Truman signed a proclamation adding 17,635 acres, stipulating the addition of “the area within one nautical mile of the shoreline of Anacapa and Santa Barbara Islands.”
President Jimmy Carter signed the legislation on March 5, 1980, establishing the Channel Islands National Park. The national park would include the former Channel Islands National monument islands, Anacapa and Santa Barbara, and add Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and Santa Miguel Islands. The park as we know it today includes a marine sanctuary that protects six nautical miles of water around the park itself.
Things to do in Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park allows its visitors to experience a plethora of activities and is more limited by the amount of time you plan to spend in the park. Unfortunately, if you only have an hour, you’ll be limited to the visitor centers in Ventura or Santa Barbara because the park is too far from the mainland. Visitors planning for a half or whole day can enjoy half-day tours or whale watching excursions depending on the season. If you enjoy camping, we highly recommend staying on the islands for a few days and making the most of your experience.
The park’s rangers and volunteers can often be found throughout the park and are involved in the educational programs of the park. The free tide pool talks and for locals the park’s “Shore to Sea” lecture is also free and takes place 6 times a year. The park offers a free virtual visit with “Channel Islands Live”, and for those wanted to explore the islands, guided hikes can also be scheduled.
The park offers a variety of hikes with trails and guides for each island. The elevation is relatively low so as long as you’re prepared with supplies, they’re rated moderate to easy. Each island provides sets of stops, providing a comfortable place to rest.
The park offers camping year-round and provides one campsite on each of the islands. Campers must reserve a campground ahead of time along with booking an overnight trip in advance. Reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance and cost $15/night. It’s important to keep in mind the local wildlife and taking extra precautions while preparing and packing for your stay.
Visitors have access to picnic tables on all the islands except for San Miguel Island. Again there are no concessions or places to buy food or beverages once on the islands. Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa have access to potable water but it’s best to bring your own just in case. The park is home to several scavenging animals on the islands so it’s always best to make sure your food and trash are secure and taken with you.
Visitors have access to several boating services available depending on what kind of activities you plan. The Weather ins the channel can be severe at times, so it’s recommended to be aware of the weather as well as the limitations of your boat. Kayaking is a great way to explore the natural beauty of the park. All water activities are “at your own risk” in the park and should not be attempted by anyone that’s considered a novice or inexperienced.
The park has an incredible world under the surface. Offering some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world with its dense kelp forests, sea caves, and coves. All water activities are “at your own risk” in the park and should not be attempted by anyone that’s considered a novice or inexperienced. Visitors enjoy the underwater experience the most on Santa Barbara, Anacapa, and the eastern side of Santa Cruz. These are generally more calm waters and wind than the other islands.
The California coast is world-renowned for its surfing, but few are willing to risk the boat shuttle to the park to check the swells. Surfing can be enjoyed along the shoreline of the islands and the remote locations with the best swells appearing based on the directions of the incoming current. The north shores are generally best in the winter/spring, while the south tends to better in the summer/fall seasons. The surf spots are remote, and we recommend using a private boat to save you a long hike from the boat shuttle designated drop-off areas.
Wildlife and Fauna
The water surrounding the Channel Islands National Park is home to about one-third of the world’s cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises). They are also joined by four iconic pinnipeds (California Sea Lions, Northern Fur Seals, Harbor Seals, Northern Elephant Seals). Besides diverse marine life, there's an array of land birds, Seabirds, and Shorebirds as well as over 800 plant species, with each island having its own unique fauna.
When to go to Channel Islands National Park?
Channel Islands National Park is open year-round. Visitors should consider the significant seasonal differences before planning their visit to the park, so we've highlighted some of our top reasons.
In the Spring, the islands are green, and the wildflowers are in bloom, birds begin nesting, and Island Fox pups are born as the Gray whale watching season ends. The Summer is the peak season for water sports and activities, as well as whale watching Blue and Humpback whales returning, and the Sea Lion and Fur Seal pups being born. Fall is considered to be the best time of year to snorkel, dive, kayak, and swim as the water reaches around 70F and water visibility can reach up to 100 ft. The winter is notorious for having some of the best sunsets, the return of the Gray Whales, the Northern Elephant Seals, and Harbor seals pups are born, and the island plants begin to turn green and bloom in the later months.
Must-Have things to bring to Channel Islands National Park
The park is different from most and you will need to plan ahead and be prepared before arriving at the park. There are no services on the island, including food stores and gear rental shops so everything will need to be prepared and double-checked before venturing to the island. That’s not saying you’ll be on a deserted island but if you think there’s a slight possibility, you’ll need something, the park recommends you bring it.
Whenever traveling it’s always wise to have water. The park has limited access to clean water, it’s the one thing you’ll never want to run out of. It’s better to overpack and have extra leftover than run out of water and have your return boat delayed. The concessionaires limit each bag to 45 pounds so it's best to divide smaller containers into several bags to make sure the bags are lighter and easier to carry throughout the park.
The islands in the park do not have anywhere to buy food. Once you leave the concessionaires, you’re on your own. Your snacks and meals should be simple and repackaged at home with something you can easily take home to avoid unnecessary waste and little in the park. Like water, it’s best to plan and be over-prepared unless you want a long ride back to the visitor center.
Waterproof bags and containers
San Miguel Island does not have a designated pier, so visitors are recommended to bring waterproof bags as a precaution. Sealable containers are an important necessity when camping or if you plan to do activities before or after your picnic. The animals are clever and can open some zippered bags and lidded containers. To avoid them stealing your lunch or eating something they shouldn’t the park suggests “mouse-proof” containers so the animals will get noticed or frustrated before they can get what’s inside.
Jacket and Weather Attire
Make sure you check the weather before visiting the park. We recommend always having a jacket or something to keep you dry in your bag when going to any park, but it's even more important when visiting islands with sporadic and/or severe weather. Once you’re on the island, it’s best to continue to track the weather especially if there's a chance of a storm that day. You should pack for potentially strong and even dangerous winds and rain. The temperatures are generally stable but expect the weather to feel cooler on the islands.
Water and food are easy to remember essentials, but items like toilet paper, you’ll never want to be without. It’s also important to pack sealable containers and to have something with you that can collect and protect your trash from being eaten or blown away. Fortune favors the prepared - prepare properly and listen to the park’s warnings and updates and you’ll have an astonishing experience in this one-of-a-kind park.
Where to stay in Channel Islands National Park (80-120)
The park is well-established but doesn't offer services or hotel lodging on any of the Channel Islands. Visitors can enjoy campgrounds with potable water in the Scorpion Canyon on Santa Cruz Island and the Water Canyon campground on Santa Rosa Island.
If camping isn’t your thing, or you’d prefer not to stay at one of the campsites the park boat services can ferry you back to an abundance of accommodation options along the coast. We highly recommend staying along US-101 on the coast or near the visitor center in Ventura. The sunsets are nothing less than spectacular.
Food Nearby Channel Islands National Park
The Ventura Harbor Village is located around the Channel island Visitor center. The Harbor Village offers a diverse array of local cuisine between its local restaurants and fresh markets. All venues offer take-out and guests can enjoy a stunning view from the on-site picnic area.
The islands themselves are established as a natural preserve to ensure there's minimal impact and contamination from the mainland to the animals and the ecosystem. Visitors have access to campsites on the islands and but most of the luxuries of modernization are left on the mainland. It’s best to book a campsite in advance and prepare any food and drinks you’ll need before leaving the mainland.
Airports near Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National park is located off the coast of southern California. Visitors flying in generally find it easiest to fly into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). For those that would prefer to avoid the 70-80 miles drive up US-101N to the park, there are smaller airport options as well. Visitors can also arrive in Burbank (Bob Hope Airport) which is about 60 miles via US-101N. Camarillo and Oxnard airports are the closest to the park’s visitor center with the most limited flight options. Our personal recommendation is to arrive at Santa Barbara Airport and enjoy the 40-mile drive along the coast with views of the park as you travel down US-101S.