Close to the California mainland, yet worlds apart, Channel Islands National Park encompasses five remarkable islands (Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara) and their ocean environment. Each of the islands is a fascinating world unto itself.
Anacapa - The three islets of Anacapa look like an island of deception or a mirage. Almost five miles long, these islets (appropriately named East, Middle and West Islands) are inaccessible from each other except by boat. They have a total land area of about one square mile. Waves have eroded the volcanic island, creating steep, towering sea cliffs, sea caves, and natural bridges, such as 40-foot-high Arch Rock—the symbol of Anacapa and Channel Islands National Park.
Thousands of birds use Anacapa as a nesting area because of the relatively few number of predators on the island. While the steep cliffs of West Anacapa are home to the largest breeding colony of endangered California brown pelicans, all the islets of Anacapa host the largest breeding colony of western gulls in the world. The rocky shores of Anacapa are perfect resting and breeding areas for California sea lions and harbor seals. The raucous barking of sea lions can be heard from most areas of the island. Two overlooks (Cathedral Cove and Pinniped Point) provide excellent spots to look down on seals and sea lions in the island coves.
Santa Cruz - Santa Cruz Island resembles a miniature California. At over 96 square miles in size and California's largest island, Santa Cruz contains two rugged mountain ranges that have the highest peaks on the islands, deep canyons with year-round springs and streams, and 77 miles of craggy coastline cliffs, giant sea caves, tidepools, and expansive beaches. One of the largest and deepest sea caves in the world, Painted Cave, is found on the northwest coastline of Santa Cruz. It is nearly a quarter-mile long and 100 feet wide, with an entrance ceiling of 160 feet and a waterfall over this entrance in the spring.
The island is also rich in cultural history with 9,000 years of Chumash Native American Indian habitation and over 150 years of European exploration and ranching. Remnants of their civilization can still be seen in thousands of “shell middens” on the island as well as adobe ranch houses, barns, blacksmith and saddle shops, wineries, and a chapel.
Santa Rosa - Santa Rosa is the second largest island off the coast of California at approximately 53,000 acres in size. About 500 plant species can be found here including six plant species which are found only on Santa Rosa and nowhere else in the world. One of these species, the Santa Rosa Island subspecies of Torrey pine, is considered one of the rarest pines in the world.
The fossil skeleton of a pygmy mammoth discovered on Santa Rosa Island in 1994 is the most complete specimen ever found. Along with extensive paleontological resources, Santa Rosa Island has rich archeological resources. Home to the Island Chumash until approximately 1820, the island contains thousands of significant and federally protected archeological sites. Archeological investigations on the island have enabled archeologists to construct a more complete picture of Chumash life on the islands.
San Miguel - San Miguel is the westernmost of all the islands. Wind and weather constantly batter the shores of this island creating a harsh but profoundly beautiful environment. The 9,500-acre island is primarily a plateau about 500 feet in elevation, with two 800-foot rounded hills. After a century of sheep ranching and overgrazing, the animals were removed and the native vegetation is coming back.
Also making a comeback, after years of hunting, are the thousands of seals and sea lions that breed, pup, and haul out on the island’s 27 miles of isolated coastline. Other wildlife include the island fox and deer mouse— found only on the Channel Islands. The island fox, the size of a house cat, is the largest land animal on the island. Dolphins and porpoises are often spotted along with gray whales, killer whales, and the largest animal of all, the blue whale.
In addition to the variety of natural resources, San Miguel hosts an array of cultural resources as well. The Chumash Indians lived on San Miguel almost continuously for over 11,000 years. Today there are over 600 fragile, relatively undisturbed archeological sites. The oldest one dates back to 11,600 years before the present—some of the oldest evidence of human presence in North America.
Santa Barbara - The smallest of the California Channel Islands, it is only one square mile in size. Formed by underwater volcanic activity, Santa Barbara Island is roughly triangular in outline and emerges from the ocean as a giant, twin-peaked mesa with steep cliffs. Farming and ranching activities created a barren island that is now being brought back to its native beauty.
Seabird colonies have benefited from the recovery of Santa Barbara Island. The island is one of the most important seabird nesting sites within the Channel Islands, with 11 nesting species. Thousands of western gulls nest every year on the island, some right along the trailside. The steep cliffs also provide nesting sites for the endangered brown pelicans, three species of cormorants, three species of storm-petrels, and one of the world’s largest colonies of Xantus’s murrelets.
The rocky shores of Santa Barbara Island also provide resting and breeding areas for California sea lions, harbor seals and northern elephant seals. These marine mammals feed in the rich kelp forests surrounding the island. The raucous barking of the sea lions can be heard from most areas of the island. Visitors can also jump in the water to see what lies beneath the ocean surface. Snorkeling in the Landing Cove, visitors can see bright sea stars, spiny sea urchins, and brilliant orange garibaldi fish. California sea lions and occasional harbor seals frequent the landing cove waters, and the surrounding rocky ledges. All of this can be experienced by hiking the six miles of trails and by snorkeling, swimming, or kayaking along the island’s coast.
Camping Reservation fee: $15.00 per night per site
Island Packers is the park's concessionaire for boat travel departing from Ventura and Channel Islands Harbors to all of the islands. A variety of trips, from half-day to multi-day, are offered. For prices, schedules, and reservations, call (805) 642-1393.
Channel Islands Aviation provides year-round flights to Santa Rosa Island departing from Camarillo Airport. For more information, call (805) 987-1301.