You want to disconnect for a while. Your idea of relaxation is far away from crowds where you can go on hikes, kayak a while, and maybe even see a few shooting stars. While I highly recommend the National Parks, many of the more popular ones can become crowded if you go during peak season. What you need to find is a place where few venture. You need to look no further than the Channel Islands National Park, just an hour off the coast of Los Angeles.
The Channel Islands National Park was introduced to me by one of my high school teachers. He would take his AP Environmental Science class every year to check out nature at its rawest. I remember this as one (or two, since I went twice) of my favorite childhood trips. After failing to go on my last trip to the US, I was determined to make it this time.
My little brother was also turning 21 and one of the things he wanted to do more than anything was to go camping for the first time. While the initial plan was to go to Crater Lake NP and later Yosemite NP, sometimes, you find paradise right around the corner.
What is so special about the Channel Islands National Park?
This set of five islands is a mere hour boat ride from the second most populated city in the USA. Despite its proximity, it is completely isolated from the outside world due to very savvy planning by the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy which owns 76% of Santa Cruz Island. Another reason I think very few people visit is the incredible hassle of figuring out how to even get there (my next post will have detailed instructions).
Santa Cruz, which is the only island I have visited, has no electricity, no trash cans on the entire island, and no flushing toilets. There is also no cell phone reception and only a handful of potable water faucets making for a pristine “get away from it all” setting.
This island is the biggest and contains a handful of trails, with the opportunity for long distance off-trail hiking too. While the water is crystal clear at some points, and some of the trails are breath-taking, the best thing to do is kayaking!
Kayaking Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz island has a great number of sea-caves which are navigable through kayak. Even the most inexperienced kayakers can enjoy this treat in complete isolation since the seas are usually fairly predictable and safe in this area. This is the place where I first learned to kayak 10 years ago. My little brother had never done it before and learned without much trouble.
If you are a more experienced kayaker, there is an even greater challenge. Painted Cave on Santa Cruz is one of the largest sea-caves in the world. Other visitors told me how their entire boat could fit in the cave as it is 100 feet wide, 160 feet tall, and over 1300 feet deep. The visitor center suggests you don’t try to kayak there from Prisoners Harbor, but some people do every year. Private boat companies also offer tours to see this cave from the mainland, something I definitely want to do my next time around.
Flora and Fauna
The islands contain over 2,000 species of plants and animals, 146 or which can be found nowhere else. One of these is the incredibly adorable Channel Island fox.
You can also see humpback whales, grey whales, bottle-nose dolphins, and a great amount of seals throughout the coast of the islands. We were lucky enough to find many seals in numerous coves and caves, as well as in the open ocean.
Beware of the ravens, North America’s smartest bird. They are able to unclip and unzip bags in their search for food. Despite ‘securing’ my bags, they were able to open them up and scatter my stuff all over the place, twice!
Stargazing at its best
This time around, there was a full moon. Despite the brightness, we were still able to see many shooting stars, including one that fragmented half way through. It seriously lit up the sky similar to this one that hit Russia a few days ago. If you looked closely enough, you can even see satellites in lower earth orbit with the naked eye.
One of the two times I went in high school, I remember there not being a moon and being able to clearly see the star dust of the Milky Way. Even during my trip to Komodo National Park and my recent 2,200 mile road trip across America, I have yet to see a clearer night sky.
Last bit of advice: BRING ENOUGH FOOD!
Due to poor planning, we ran low and eventually, completely drained the food supply of our 5-day stay on the islands. While I was trying to limit the amount of trash we produced (since you have to carry it out of the island with you), it is not a good feeling to go hungry! The islands have no restaurants or food sources of ANY KIND! Keep in mind that if you are being more active, you will need more food.
I will upload the videos I took on the YouTube channel (yes, one exists), but for now, enjoy this one I found online: