Channel Islands National Park | Santa Cruz Island
Channel Islands National Park might be one of the most under appreciated national parks of them all. Granted, there are still several national parks I have yet to visit, but Channel Islands has definitely been put on my places to revisit bucket list.
We didn’t what to expect upon visiting this park with its distinct location and coordinating transportation, etc. So we arrive with open minds and excited to experience something new. This national park is truly amazing and unique, because you need to travel by boat to see park. Channel Islands National Park is made up of a group of islands, more on this later. Here you will find plenty natural beauty, cliff side views, sea caves, hiking trails, and pleasant surprises including sea life such as dolphins and whales.
There are a total of eight islands in the Channel Islands of which only four are included and designated as the national park. These four islands include San Miguel Island, Santa Rosa Island, Santa Cruz Island, and Anacapa Island. You must call ahead and plan your visit by making reservations to tour either by boat or airplane concessioners that will take you to the islands.
The national park visitor center is located nearby the Ventura Harbor where the boat excursions depart from. This harbor is also a visiting stop for the Hikiananalia California Voyage; a 2800 mile voyage from Hawaii to California using traditional old school non-instrument navigation.
Ventura Harbor Channel Islands National Park
Things To Do
There is a vast array of activities you can do on the islands including the following:
- Hike, explore tidepools, beaches, & rugged canyons
- This is one of the top scuba diving sites in the world as well.
Santa Cruz Island
Santa Cruz is the island we chose to explore and take a hiking adventure. We also plan to take the extended tour into the sea cave. We made our reservation about a week prior to our visit. Island Packers, Inc. are the operators of the catamaran that you will ride to visit one of the islands. There is an additional fee to go to the sea cave; and it was well worth it! Learn more about prices and trip info here: islandpackers.com
Plan Your Adventure
For this type of adventure, you need to plan and be prepared in advance for your day trip, which is the tour that we chose. We were informed to bring the following since there are no concessions, water, or supplies on the island.
- Packed lunch and snacks
- Enough water for entire day
- Dress in layers, weather can be unpredictable
- Bring needed supplements to minimize motion sickness if needed.
- Bring hat, sunglasses, sunscreen
- Do not feed any animals
We arrived early at the Ventura marina and checked in around 8:10 a.m. It’s recommended that you arrive early so you are not delaying the departure of the boat. The scheduled time to board the catamaran is about 9:15 a.m.
On this particular excursion, there are approximately 85-100 people. The weather is windy and the seas are very rough due to a hurricane to the south of the area (near Mexico). A staff member who checked us in asked if we were okay with rough waters and if we have issues with motion sickness. We told her, “Guess we will find out.”
Journey To The Island
We departed on time and began the morning with a fun and exciting bumpy boat ride. It was about 30 minutes into the ride when several folks started to feel motion sickness. The crew members were fantastic and continuously walked around the boat to check on people and helped anyone who needed it.
I admit, I was getting close to getting motion sickness. It took a lot of mental toughness and focus, but I made it to the island.
The boat ride is about one and half hour long. There were passengers who did not purchase the additional sea cave tour and were dropped off at Prisoners Harbor. Those of us remaining continued with the ride to the sea cave. To see Painted Cave, the ride is an additional 30 minutes one way, approximately. All I can say is,.. this was well worth it!
Santa Cruz Island Painted Cave
A magnificent site! I was in awe as I glanced around realizing I was looking into one of the largest and deepest sea caves in the world! You will see multi colors of remnants of algae formed on rocks and is absolutely beautiful as it reflects off the blue-green waters.
This experience was amazing! The catamaran slowly and gently afloat into the cave and hear the quiet, serene environment with the breathtaking surroundings.
We spent about 20-30 minutes pondering within the cave. The catamaran will not explore into the cave if the weather and waves are too strong. But on the day of our visit, got lucky to have been able to go deeper into the cave and capture some incredible photos.
After spending time in the cave, the catamaran returned to Prisoners Harbor on Santa Cruz Island and disembarked the boat. Here we began our hiking journey.
As you continue walking to the area where the land meets the dock, you can choose which direction to begin exploring. We started hiking turning left and made our way to the Del Norte trail. Along the path, you will encounter rest areas or viewing points which are perfect to sit and enjoy lunch at a picnic table and take in the views.
Our hiking exploration lasted about 2 hours before we had to start heading back to the boat dock for boarding.
On the return boat ride, it was much smoother more enjoyable. The winds and waves had calmed down. We encountered a hump back whale and a swarm of dolphins and seagulls on a feeding frenzy. Photos by: My husband.
Visiting Channel Islands National Park is most incredible and unique places we’ve seen. This is one amazing adventure experience. Exploring around the island is spectacular. I highly recommend a visit to this park if you are looking for a fun and different kind of adventure!
Channel Islands National Park exceeded our expectations no doubt! The thrill of traveling over water to unfamiliar land and exploring the unknown is exhilarating! The wildlife on the island migrated over on vegetation. These include mice and fox. Precautions are mentioned about avoiding all contact with any of the animals on the island. Learn more about his beautiful park at nps.gov/chis
Here is more information to plan your next trip to Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park Directions
1901 Spinnaker Drive
Ventura, CA 93001
Island Packers, Inc.
1691 Spinnaker Drive, Suite 105 B
Ventura, CA 93001