How To Get To: The Channel Islands National Park

The Channel Islands National Park is one of the least visited parks in the US, despite being so close to Los Angeles. I have a hard time blaming anyone though, since the trouble of even figuring out how to get there gave me a bit of a headache. 300,000 people take a look at the Visitor Center every year but a mere 10% actually go to the islands. Bare with me here as I will repeat myself a lot so that you only read the section that applies to you. Useful numbers, websites, prices, and pictures at the bottom.

 

I. A Day Trip to the Channel Islands

Step 1: Look for any advisories on the National Park Service official website for the Channel Islands. Certain islands can close without warning for a number of reasons, and this would be on the main page. Alternatively, you could also call the visitor center and ask them at (805) 658-5730. For example, at time of writing, Santa Barbara and San Miguel islands are both closed.

Step 2: Research which Island you would like to visit. Your options are Santa Barbara, Anacapa, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, or Santa Cruz. Because Santa Cruz is so large, it has two anchorages called ‘Scorpion’ (where I’ve stayed all three times), and Prisoner’s Harbor. If you want to save yourself the trouble, Santa Cruz (Scorpion anchorage) is pretty awesome.

Step 3: Book a round-trip ticket to the island of your choice through Island Backpackers. They have exclusive rights on transportation, so you can’t shop around. Island Backpackers leaves from Ventura and Oxnard ports. Personally, I have always used the Ventura one. You might do better calling them as they can answer any questions: (805) 642-1393

Step 4: Show up an hour in advance to check in and load your stuff on the boat.

II. Multi-Day Trip to the Channel Islands

Step 1: Look for any advisories on the National Park Service official website for the Channel Islands. Certain islands can close without warning for a number of reasons, and this would be on the main page. Alternatively, you could also call the visitor center and ask them at (805) 658-5730. For example, at time of writing, Santa Barbara and San Miguel islands are both closed.

Step 2: Research which Island you would like to visit. Your options are Santa BarbaraAnacapaSanta RosaSan Miguel, or Santa Cruz. Because Santa Cruz is so large, it has two anchorages called ‘Scorpion’ (where I’ve stayed all three times), and Prisoner’s Harbor. If you want to save yourself the trouble, Santa Cruz (Scorpion anchorage) is pretty awesome.

Step 3: Check for availability of campsites on Recreation.gov. This is the federal government’s official site for booking campsites in federally controlled lands all around the US. As far as I know, there is no other way to do this, and even the visitor center will refer you here. DO NOT RESERVE YET! If the dates you have are unavailable, you might have to do step 2 again.

Step 4: Book a round-trip ticket to the island of your choice through Island Backpackers. They have exclusive rights on transportation, so you can’t shop around. Island Backpackers leaves from Ventura and Oxnard ports. Personally, I have always used the Ventura one. You might do better calling them as they can answer any questions: (805) 642-1393

Note: IF you have the recreation.gov website open and simultaneously book the campsite and boat, you can skip steps 5 and 6.

Step 5: Go back to Recreation.gov and book the campsite. Make note of your campground number for step 6 and to know where to camp!!!

Step 6: Call Island Packers and tell them your campsite. For emergencies, if someone missed their boat, they need to know where to look for you.

Step 7: Show up an hour in advance to check in and load your stuff on the boat.

 

III. Multi-Day Trip to the Channel Islands w/ Kayaking (highly suggested)

Step 1: Look for any advisories on the National Park Service official website for the Channel Islands. Certain islands can close without warning for a number of reasons, and this would be on the main page. Alternatively, you could also call the visitor center and ask them at (805) 658-5730. For example, at time of writing, Santa Barbara and San Miguel islands are both closed.

Step 2: Research which Island you would like to visit. Your options are Santa BarbaraAnacapaSanta RosaSan Miguel, or Santa Cruz. Because Santa Cruz is so large, it has two anchorages called ‘Scorpion’ (where I’ve stayed all three times), and Prisoner’s Harbor. If you want to save yourself the trouble, Santa Cruz (Scorpion anchorage) is pretty awesome.

Step 3: Check for availability of campsites on Recreation.gov. This is the federal government’s official site for booking campsites in federally controlled lands all around the US. As far as I know, there is no other way to do this, and even the visitor center will refer you here. DO NOT RESERVE YET! If the dates you have are unavailable, you might have to do step 2 again.

Step 4: Book a round-trip ticket to the island of your choice through Island Backpackers. They have exclusive rights on transportation, so you can’t shop around. Island Backpackers leaves from Ventura and Oxnard ports. Personally, I have always used the Ventura one. You might do better calling them as they can answer any questions: (805) 642-1393. CALL TO RESERVE to ask if they have room available for kayaks. The boat has limited spots, so you might have to change dates if the kayak storage is full.

 

Note: IF you have the recreation.gov website open and simultaneously book the campsite and boat, you can skip steps 5 and 6.

 

Step 5: Go back to Recreation.gov and book the campsite. Make note of your campground number for step 6 and to know where to camp!!!

 

Step 6: Call Island Packers and tell them your campsite. For emergencies, if someone missed their boat, they need to know where to look for you.

Note: IF you own your own kayak, you can skip Step 7 and the second part of step 8.

 

Step 7: Book a Kayak with Channel Islands Kayak Center. Tell them your travel times and let them know that you already made sure Island Packers has room.

Note 1: If you don’t want the kayak the whole time you will be there, be aware that they charge an additional $28 fee for “unaccompanied kayaks each way.”

 

Note 2: There are other choices for renting kayaks. Channel Islands Kayak Center is simply right next to the Island Packers office in front of the port so I chose this for simplicity sake. Feel free to shop around using this list provided by the National Park Service.

Step 8: Show up an hour in advance to check in and load your stuff on the boat. Also, check in 45 minutes early with Channel Islands Kayak Center to get the kayak, gear, maps, and instructions. 

 

THINGS TO KNOW

Cost of Boat: $60 for day-trippers, $80 for people camping [Yeah, I don’t understand it either]

Cost of Kayaks: $55 for 1 day, $45 for each additional day. They don’t seem to take well to bargaining either.

Cost of Camping: $15 a night

National Park Fee: NONE

Time of boats: 8am (earliest) – 4:30am (latest) (This is why I suggest a multi-day trip)

Trash: There are no trash cans! Everything you bring, you take out

Electricity: NONE

Water: Potable water available, but non-flushing toilets only

 

Other Activities:

  • Swimming (Wetsuit suggested unless it is summer)
  • Snorkeling (Bring your own gear)
  • Scuba Diving
  • Bird Watching
  • Stargazing

 

USEFUL WEBSITES AND NUMBERS

1) National Park Service: Channel Islands National Park(805) 658-5730

2) Island Packers(805) 642-1393

3) Recreation.Gov, (877) 444-6777

4) Channel Island Kayaking Center, (805) 984-5995

 

PICTURES (or you can read my original post)

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Julio Moreno

Julio is a California native who has lived abroad since 2009 as an expat in South Korea and New Zealand. He is especially passionate about experiencing other cultures and visiting as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible.
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2 thoughts on “How To Get To: The Channel Islands National Park

  • May 3, 2014 at 10:37 am
    Permalink

    Amazing tips, Julio. I would expect the place like this one to be much more expensive than this, so I’m pretty surprised with the low prices. The landscape is absolutely stunning. I hope to make it there soon!

    Reply
    • May 23, 2014 at 2:53 am
      Permalink

      Sorry, I didn’t see this comment earlier. Yeah, it is surprisingly not bad. I wouldn’t call it cheap, but worth it. The kayak is actually cheaper to buy on amazon (or craigslist), and sell it afterwards. I definitely would have done this had I known better.

      Reply

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