Channel Islands National Park Sea Kayaking Overview

Gorp.com
Scene Serene: The tranquil spread at Channel Islands National Park, California (courtesy, National Park Service)

The thrill of riding a wave into a white-sand beach that isn't accessible by land ranks high on the long list of reasons to take up sea kayaking. The Channel Islands have dozens of such beaches, plus tall cliffs to paddle beneath, sea caves to explore, and a great big ocean separating you from the nearest metropolis. This is some of the best paddling in California.

Special Know-How

Though outfitters take novice paddlers to the islands all the time, you shouldn't kayak here on your own unless you're plenty experienced. High winds (especially on Santa Rosa and San Miguel) can make landings really tricky, and choppy waves can fill up a sea cave with little warning.

The weather is most predictable August through October, after the summer fog clears and before the strong east winds blow in. But fog and high winds can occur any time of year—check the weather with NOAA (805-988-6610, http://weather.noaa.gov) before you go. Water temps range from the low 50s to the high 60s.

The Islands' Best Paddling...

Santa Cruz Sea Caves
Easy to moderate
Painted Cave is the best-known cave destination for Santa Cruz paddlers, but there are plenty of lesser-known nooks to explore near Scorpion Anchorage. If you're with a group, this is where you're likely to spend the day. Solo paddlers might prefer the isolated beaches—there are plenty to choose from on the east end of the island (the westernmost two-thirds of the island is owned by The Nature Conservancy; you need a permit to land there).

Santa Barbara Island
Easy to moderate
This may be the smallest island in the park, but there's no shortage of prime paddling opportunities. From the dock at the Landing Cove, you can paddle to sea caves that aren't as well known as the ones on Santa Cruz, but are every bit as scenic. This island is also where you're most likely to come across large groups of seals and sea lions soaking up the sun and watching kayakers go by.

Santa Rosa and San Miguel
Difficult
High winds and rough swells make these islands tough to paddle except on very calm days. If you're up to it, however, solitude is pretty much guaranteed. On Santa Rosa, you can start at the Bechers Bay pier and follow the Torrey Pines coastline to various beaches. On San Miguel, start at Cuyler Harbor beach and paddle to nearby rock formations and around Prince Island.

Oxnard to Anacapa
Difficult
Crossing the channel is no easy task, but this 11-mile route from Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard is the most doable. It takes strong paddlers anywhere from three to six hours, depending on the weather. Hazards include fog and boat traffic, which is heavier here than anywhere else on the coast. Access points include the dock at Landing Cove (East Anacapa) and a beach landing at Frenchy's Cove (West Anacapa).

Kayak Outfitters

Southwind Kayak Center: 800-SOUTHWIND, www.southwindkayaks.com
Channel Islands Kayak Center: 805-984-5995, www.cikayak.com
Aquasports: 800-773-2309, www.islandkayaking.com
OAARS: 805-390-8213, www.islandkayakers.com
Paddle Sports: 805-899-4925, www.kayaksb.com


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