Channel Islands National Park

A view from the Potato Harbor Loop Trail on Sant Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park.

April 27, 2022.

Channel Islands National Park is free to visit, and has stunning views, super cute wildlife, and endemic species that you won’t see anywhere else in the world. Yet they are one of the 25% of least visited National Parks in the US. According to statistics, I found online only 409,630 people visited the park in 2019. This is most likely because of the difficulty getting to the park – but this difficulty can also be part of the fun!

Made up of eight islands off the coast of Ventura, California, the only way to visit The Channel Islands is by boat – either private or on an Island Packers Cruise boat. These cruises are a bit more money than we like to spend on such things but I was itching to add another National Park to our list. And as a bonus – since very few people visit – it wouldn’t be crowded as so many National Parks are these days. We decided to book a trip.

(All pics are click to enlarge. Once you have them enlarged you can view them in a slide show. Also, you can hover over the pics to see captions. Captions have more interesting facts about the island!)

After reviewing our options for which island we’d like to visit I picked Santa Cruz. It was shortest (time-wise) to get to, one of the least expensive cruises, and seemed to have the most options for hiking. Now we just needed a place to stay near the ferry terminal. I found a Boondockers Welcome location about a 15-minute drive from the dock. We hoped to visit the island the day after we left our house sit in Joshua Tree but before I had a chance to book the Boondockers Welcome spot someone else had already snagged it. So we changed our plans and decided to go to Santa Barbara for a few days to catch up with a friend and tried to book the cruise on the next date our boondocking site was free. But then there was another snag. Because you can camp on the island people are not always going and returning on the same day which means that although you might be able to get a reservation to go to the island there might not be a corresponding return slot. Eventually, we were able to coordinate a Boondockers Welcome stay with an outgoing and return trip to the island and ended up having more time to visit with our friend in Santa Barbara.

It was pretty foggy the morning of our trip. We left the harbor at Ventura at 8 am and almost missed the ferry, jumping on in just the nick of time. We did so much mixing and matching of schedules to get the trip lined up that we misremembered when we were leaving and didn’t pay enough attention to the confirmation email. The ferry ride to the island was fast (it takes a little over an hour for the boat to cover 20 miles), cold on the deck in the wind, and a little bumpy. But we had a couple of reprieves from the bumps and cold when the boat slowed down for wildlife in the water. We didn’t see any whales on our trip but we did see Harbor Seals and Common Dolphins.

There are no concessions on the island – food or gifts – so we packed a lunch, and brought lots of water and snacks. Good thing for the snacks – after the bumpy boat ride I needed a little chocolate and salt to feel right again. Once we had docked at Scorpion Anchorage and rested we headed out on the Potato Harbor Trail along the northern coast of the island. This five-mile round trip hike was fairly easy and had stunning views.

On our return trip from Potato Harbor, we stopped at the campground/picnic area. We were told that this was the best place to spot an endemic Island Fox. After waiting for a while we were just about to head on without seeing a fox when one came ambling through the picnic area paying no mind to the picnickers or me with my camera.

From the campground, we left the Potato Harbor Loop trail and headed down the Scorpion Loop Trail. This 4.5-mile trail was a little more strenuous and had a lot more up than the Potato Harbor Trail. It was getting later and we needed to be back to the dock to catch the return ferry at 4 pm or we’d be spending the night on the island. We decided to give the trail a try and turn around if we ran out of time or if the hike got too strenuous. It was a bit of a struggle but we made it to the high point, took in the views, and finished following the trail around back to the harbor where we had a short rest before hopping on the ferry back to Ventura.

The ferry ride back was uneventful. But that was OK. We had spent the whole day on the island and had hiked over 8 miles. It was a lovely day trip to a place where few other people venture.

It is quite possible that I will be sharing this post on Wild Bird Wednesday or on My Corner of the World. Check out these blog hops to see what people are up to and what birds they have seen recently all over the world.

8 thoughts on “Channel Islands National Park

  1. Wow… those cliff top views are just jaw dropping. And seeing all those dolphins swimming next to you must have been so cool! And you’re right, most people don’t get to see this place. I read a lot of travel blogs and I can’t remember seeing much about it at all, so thanks for taking me with you.

    1. You are welcome Laura! Yeah – I like doing the things most people don’t do. Usually isn’t disappointing. We’ve seen lots of dolphins but never that many at once. And every time it is always exciting!

  2. What a fun and interesting day trip. I’m glad the fog cleared, so you had those amazing views from the cliffs. Love the photo of the fox as well (you and I have seen heaps of dolphins in our years on the water). How much did the “cruise” to the island cost? Good thing the NP was free. 🙂

    1. Yes, we’ve seen heaps of dolphins but I always love seeing them. They usually make me forget about my seasickness! The cruise cost $116 for the two of us. I know that’s a lot! I wouldn’t have done it in the past but we are feeling a bit rushed these days. We’ll I was feeling richer until I did an expense report for May. We gotta slow down with the spending! It was a fun trip, though, and I love that we got to see the fox!

      1. I’ll be curious to see your expense report for May. I’m sure it is waaaaay less than us, this time! I’m hoping to post it today.

        1. I will be shocked if yours is more. Not sure when I will get mone up. We are off exploring the next few days. Looking forward to reading yours.

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