Family Vacations to Channel Islands National Park, California

Hiking in the Channel Islands National Park, California
Hiking in the Channel Islands National Park, California (courtesy, Fred Hsu/Flickr)

Channel Islands National Park Family Travel Tips

Channel Islands National Park is located off the coast of southern California and is comprised of five islands: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara. The least visited of all of the national parks in the United States, the Channel Islands are a diverse ecosystem boasting marine mammals, plants, seabirds, and other wildlife—145 species are found nowhere else on Earth.

Getting to the islands takes some planning, as access is limited in order to maintain low numbers of visitors. Anacapa, the closest island to the mainland, is still about an hour’s travel by boat. Because of the relatively light visitation to the islands, they continue to retain an unspoiled feeling.

The islands are rustic. You won’t see any hotels, towns, or shops—instead, nature rules here. Even the campgrounds are simple: most feature no showers or sinks, and only one island, Santa Rosa Island, offers running water for visitors. You won’t even see trash cans: the park’s policy is that you must contain and carry out anything you bring in. The islands vary in vegetation, meaning some areas have very few or no shade trees, and the most remote island, San Miguel, can be treacherous to get to and often surprises visitors with high winds and extreme weather. Many visitors opt to stay on the mainland and take day trips to the islands.

On the Island Packers Whale-Watching Tour, you’ll get a taste of the islands and see amazing marine life from a charter vessel, but you won’t actually travel to the islands themselves. A kayaking adventure with the Santa Barbara Adventure Company Kayak Tour will take you onto Santa Cruz Island and to Painted Cave, the largest sea cave in the world. Anacapa Island offers the quickest access and has a lighthouse, small museum, and a short nature trail, making it a good choice for families with younger kids. If your family is hardy and fit, making the haul to Point Bennett at San Miguel Island to see thousands of elephant seals and other marine mammals on the sand will be well-worth the 15-mile round-trip hike.


Published: 29 Apr 2009 | Last Updated: 30 Mar 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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