An Ocean at Your Doorstep

Anacapa IslandWalk-In Camp
California's wild coastline

East Anacapa Island, Channel Islands National Park

Anacapa Island is the closest of Channel Island National Park's islands to the mainland, at only 12 miles from Port Hueneme. That means the boat ride takes only an hour and a half, as opposed to the five hours it takes to reach San Miguel Island, the Channel Island furthest from the mainland.

Because of its proximity, you get to spend most of your Anacapa vacation hiking, snorkeling, swimming, and camping, rather than bobbing up and down on a boat out at sea. Easy? Yeah, this is easy. And best of all, after all the day visitors leave, just you and a few other folks will be camping on an island in the Pacific. The sunset hour, after the last boat leaves, and the first few hours of the next morning, before the first boat arrives, are pure heaven.

Planning Your Getaway

Here's how you plan an overnight getaway to Anacapa Island: First, choose the dates you want to travel and make your boat reservations with Island Packers, the park's transportation concessionaire. After you've secured your passage, call (800) 365-CAMP to get your camping reservation for Anacapa. (You have to get your boat passage before your camping reservation; the former is actually more difficult to get.)

Then, start packing your gear. Since the accessible part of the island is very small, you probably won't stay more than a night or two. The most important thing you must bring is water; there is none at the campground. Your camp stove will also serve you well, because no campfires are allowed on the island. Plan on dressing in layers. The weather can be foggy, cool, windy, sunny, hot, or all of the above in one day.

Anacapa Island is actually three tiny volcanic islets, connected by submerged reefs, and the boat drops you off on the easternmost one. After you disembark, your first task is to climb up the 154 stairsteps that cling to the island's cliffs. Make sure you don't pack too much gear, because it could require dozens of trips back and forth to carry all your stuff. Island Packers, the ferry service, insists that no single item of your luggage weigh more than 40 pounds; this rule will serve you well when you have to haul everything up those stairs.

Hiking on Anacapa

Once you ascend the cliffs, the campground is only a half-mile hike away. It's a small camp, with only seven sites, accommodating a maximum of 30 people. (On summer weekends the camp can feel cramped; plan your visit for a weekday if possible.) The camp has picnic tables and pit toilets — nothing fancy here — and you must carry out your own trash.

While you're on Anacapa, you'll certainly hike the 1.5-mile East Anacapa Loop Trail, which tours the entire eastern islet. The trail's main highlights are two overlooks at Inspiration Point and Cathedral Cove, where you can look down on seals and sea lions on the rocks below. (You'll probably hear their lonesome barking during the night.) There are millions of opportunities for bird-watching; bring your binoculars to identify the sea birds. Where you can see over the edge of the rocky cliffs, you'll spot some of the island's 130 sea caves.

Although fall usually brings the best weather to Anacapa Island, many visitors like to make the trip in April or May. Spring wildflowers are superb, including the giant coreopsis, which looks like a yellow daisy on steroids. The eight-foot-tall flowers reportedly bloom so brightly that they can sometimes be seen on the mainland, 12 miles away.


Be sure to bring your swimsuit to Anacapa. Although the island's beaches are inaccessible because its perimeter cliffs are hundreds of feet high, on calm days you can swim at the landing cove. Snorkeling is also popular.

Facilities, reservations, fees: There are seven primitive campsites on East Anacapa Island, which can accommodate a total of 30 people. No water is available; you must pack in bottled water. Campfires are not permitted; bring a backpacking stove. Reservations and a camping permit are required; call (800) 365-CAMP to reserve a campsite (there is a small reservation fee). Campsites are free, but a fee is charged for transportation to the island via Island Packers, the authorized concessionaire to Channel Islands National Park. Call Island Packers at the number below for rates and departure information. Pets are not permitted.

Who to contact: Channel Islands National Park, 1901 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura, CA 93001; (805) 658-5700 or (805) 658-5711. Or call Island Packers at (805) 642-7688 or (805) 642-1393 for information and reservations.

Maps for backpacking: A free map of Channel Islands National Park is available from park headquarters or the Anacapa Island visitor center. For a topographic map of the area, ask for Anacapa Island from the USGS.

Season: Open year-round; best in fall and spring. Fall has the least fog; spring features the giant coreopsis bloom.

Directions: Island Packers provides boat transportation to Anacapa Island from Ventura Harbor and Oxnard (Channel Islands Harbor). Advance reservations are required. Phone Island Packers at (805) 642-7688 or (805) 642-1393 for information and reservations.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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