View Channel Islands National Park - November 2012 in a larger map
- Water Sports – Kayaking, Snorkeling
- Sea life – Whales, Dolphins, Seals, Sea lions
- Island Fox
- Natural sea caves
- $56/adult for ferry from Ventura to Santa Barbara Island
- Free car parking in the Ventura and Oxnard harbor
- Restrooms available only at campsites and at Scorpion Anchorage
- Make advance online ferry reservations via Island Packers
- There are no cafes or hotels in the islands
- Click here to access the hiking trail map
Channel Islands encompasses the below 5 islands off the coast near Santa Barbara.
- Santa Cruz
- Santa Rosa
- Santa Barbara
- San Miguel
After much anticipation, we had the opportunity to go to the Channel Islands during the Thanksgiving weekend. It is not possible to hop all the 5 islands in one day, so we chose to visit the Santa Cruz island, the largest island in the Channel Islands National Park.
We made advance online reservations via Island Packers to the Scorpion Anchorage. The Santa Cruz island has two harbors: Scorpion Anchorage and Prisoner’s Harbor. One can board the ferry either from Oxnard or Ventura and the ferry ride to the Scorpion Anchorage is about 1 hour; the ride to the Prisoner’s Harbor is much longer. We booked the first ferry for 9am and the last return ferry for 3.30pm.
As recommended, we arrived at the Ventura harbor 45min before the departure of the first ferry to the Santa Cruz island. We checked in the Island Packers office and exchanged our online ticket confirmation for ferry boarding passes. Free maps are available for pick-up at the office. Up-to-date information of whale and dolphin sighting is also displayed.
Plunged with excitement, we boarded the ferry and stood on the bow of the ferry. As the ferry moved out of the harbor slowly, we saw a sea lion swim away. As our ferry entered the ocean, I became restless because I was hoping to spot dolphins and whales; I didn't realize the surprise that awaited us.
We were half way to the Santa Cruz island and had not seen any wildlife yet. I was beginning to get disappointed, when suddenly we saw a huge whale at the distance sprouting water. Our ferryman steered the ferry to get a closer view of the grey whale.
As soon as the whale crossed our path and moved away, another surprise awaited us. A pod of dolphins! We went closer to the dolphins and we could literally see them swimming under the clear water. They were so close that if my hands were a bit longer, I could have touched them.
|A pod of dolphins|
One would almost always see whales and dolphins while travelling to the Channel Islands. We saw the Anacapa island pass by and very soon our ferry was close to the Scorpion Anchorage. The crystal clear water in the harbor and the natural sea caves around were a breathtaking sight.
|A dolphin right beneath our ferry|
We were welcomed by a forest ranger that doled out safety instructions for a few minutes and we started the hike from the Scorpion Anchorage. There are also free guided hiking tours, but we did not take them as they take you only to the 2 mile Cavern Point Loop. We wanted to do the 5 mile hike to the Potato Harbor that goes past the Cavern Point Loop.
Scorpion Anchorage – Cavern Point Loop – North Bluff Trail – Potato Harbor Trail – Scorpion Canyon Loop Trail
Length: ~5 miles; Time: 3 hours; Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
We took the Cavern Point Loop trail that begins to the first right past the restrooms. The coastal trail is very scenic with views of seals and sea lions swimming off the shore. We reached the Cavern Point, which is a steep coastal bluff offering fantastic views of the ocean, blue green shades of the water, birds, seals, sea lions, sea caves nearby and the other Channel islands. The view of tiny kayakers on the waters is also an amazing sight.
|View of the ocean and Anacapa Island from the coastal trail|
|Breathtaking view from Cavern Point|
After taking a break, we continued walking on the North Bluff Trail along the coast that connects with the Potato Harbor trail. It was a lot of fun spotting seals and the view of the sea caves around was simply mind-blowing. The Potato Harbor offers another scenic viewpoint of the beautiful waters.
|View of a natural sea cave from Potato Harbor trail|
|Another mind-blowing view from Potato Harbor|
We returned via the Scorpion Canyon Trail that gradually descended and completed the loop, taking us back to the Scorpion Anchorage via the campgrounds. When we passed the campgrounds, we heard the leaves hustle and looked behind to notice a small island fox engrossed in finding food. It did not seem to be threatened by our presence, so that gave us enough time to watch its activities in silence.
After returning to the Scorpion Beach, we sat on the beach rocks for some time and then boarded our last return ferry at 3.30pm.
To sum it, Channel Island is a must-do and I highly recommend camping in the Channel Islands to explore them in its entirety. Another part of the Santa Cruz island has the Painted Caves, the largest and deepest sea caves in the world. The islands are rich in other water adventures. Also, none of the trails are shaded, so it is important to bring lots of water, food and dress accordingly.
- Camp on the Channel Islands to explore them; there is a lot to do
- Plan to spend sufficient time on one island; I would not recommend island hopping
- The trails are not shaded at all and it gets really sweltering. We were sweating like a pig while hiking in the third week of November
- Ideal for winter/spring/fall. Certainly not a place to go during summer
- Official Website
- Island Packers
- Yelp Reviews – Channel Islands National Park
- Yelp Reviews – Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park