Channel Islands National Park Guide

Rocky, isolated, and refreshingly uncrowded, Channel Islands National Park offers a tantalizing glimpse of California in its natural splendor.

In this guide, we will look at the best places to visit in Channel Islands National Park, things to do, entry fees, commonly asked questions, etc. So let’s get started! 



Park Channel Islands National Park
Things to doKayaking, Snorkeling, and many more
Hotels near Channel Islands National Park Comfort Inn Ventura, Hotel Santa Barbara, and many more.
Entry FeeFree
Camping LocationsMultiple Locations


Where Is Channel Islands National Park?

California’s Channel Islands are located just offshore from Santa Barbara on the Central Coast.

This park consists of five islands, including Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara, and San Miguel, spread across 160 miles of ocean accessible only via boat or seaplane.

Also, no transportation is available within the park, so you will have to move across the park on foot or do kayaking. 

About Channel Islands National Park

This Park is often called the Galapagos of North America because of its unique, diverse wildlife.

If you’re craving solitude, pristine nature, and a refreshing sea breeze, Channel Island Park is your perfect escape.

Also, if you want to explore sea caves, beautiful landscapes, jutting rock cliffs, or get yourself immersed in nature and tranquility, there’s no better place than this Park.

The Park homes nearly 150 species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world, including inland fox, which is the size of the well-fed house cat.

More than 167,000 people visit the Channel Islands every year to spend much-needed time outdoors to rejuvenate themselves. 

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History Of Channel Islands National Park

This Park has an extraordinary history spanning over 12,000 years.

The Channel Islands have attracted many historians, scientists, and explorers over the past few centuries and discovered the rich culture dependent upon the land and sea resources for survival. 

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was the person who observed the islands in 1542.

Federal efforts to preserve the islands began in 1932 when Santa Barbara and Anacapa Islands were noticed by National Park Service and designated as a national monument.

In 1974, William H. Ehorn, a monument Superintendent planned and established the foundation of this Park.

Senate approved the bill to create the park in March 1979. In 1980, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and San Miguel islands were combined with the monument to establish Channel Islands, National Park. 

Best Things To Do In The park

Whether you’re visiting for a couple of hours or plan to camp, this Park offers an extensive variety of things to do in terms of recreational activities:  

Santa Barbara Island

Santa Barbara is the smallest yet prettiest Channel Island that attracts the most visitors. The island is a haven for wildflowers and famous for its elephant seal population, stunning overlooks, and cultural history.

It is located about 38-miles from the mainland, and tours are allowed only a few times a year.

Camping, hiking, and snorkeling are the most popular things to do in on Santa Barbara Island, plus you’ll have the opportunity to see the rare plants and seabirds that nest on the island between January and August. 

Anacapa Island

It is the closest island to the mainland, just 12 miles from shore, perfect for one-day or half-a-day excursions.

Some of the best things to do on the island include visiting the Anacapa Lighthouse, exploring stunning Inspirational Point, and snorkeling in the Kelp Forest.

While there are no endemic island species in the area, you may still spot hundreds of seagulls and sea lions resting on the beach.

You can either explore the island yourself or take guided hikes. 

Santa Cruz Island 

Santa Cruz is the largest island in the park that offers the largest variety of recreational activities.

The island has one of the best hiking trails, the world’s largest sea caves, and pervasive wildlife.

The main point of interest on the island includes Scorpion Anchorage, Prisoners Harbor, Painted Cave exploration, and island day tours.

It is ideal for camping, day trips, and kayaking guided by Channel Island Adventure company. 

San Miguel Island 

San Miguel is the most difficult Channel Island to reach due to adverse weather and windy conditions, but it is worth visiting.

Hiking is one of the top things to do on the island to soak up the marvelous scenery and spot the wildlife.

San Miguel was once utilized as a bombing range, so no off-trail hiking is permitted.

The points of interest on the island include Cuyler Harbor Beach, Nidever Canyon, The Cabrillo Monument, and Lester site Ranch. 

Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa Island is rich with archeological and paleontological resources 13,000 years ago.

Several trails are scattered throughout the island, providing visitors wit fantastic hiking opportunities.

Island also offers a variety of watersports such as swimming, diving, and snorkeling.

But we recommend it only for experienced travelers who can deal with heavy winds and adverse weather conditions.

Santa Rosa is an excellent place for an on-day or overnight camping trip. 

Best Time To Visit

You can visit the park during any season throughout the year. The right time depends on what outdoor activity you’re planning to do on the island. 

Summer and Fall are ideal for diving, snorkeling, and kayaking, with an average ocean temperature of 70 °F and excellent visibility underwater. 

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Map Of Channel Islands National Park

Make sure to download the Park’s map before your visit to find your way around the park with ease.

Here’s a PDF map of the park showing all islands, campgrounds, and main attractions. To download individual maps of all islands, visit the NPS website

Best Hotels Near Channel Islands National Park

Channel doesn’t offer any loading options inside the park, but there are tons of hotels, and rentals near the park with easy access: 

  • Comfort Inn Ventura 
  • Hotel Santa Barbara 
  • Barbara Resort & Spa
  • Four Points by Sheraton Hotel Ventura
  • Hampton Inn Channel Islands Harbor 
  • Hilton Garden Inn Oxford 

Camping Locations

Overnight camping is allowed on this Park. There’s currently only one established campground on each island, managed by National Park Service.

The camping fee for all campgrounds is $15 per night with a reservation. Camping conditions are primitive, and ticks are present on the island.

Limited backcountry camping sites are also available at Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands. Reservations can be made via

Weather Of Channel Islands National Park

This Park has several different islands, each with its unique weather moderated by marine influence.

The weather conditions vary on day-to-basis and can be unpredictable at times. Winters are cool and wet, but Summer is hot and dry.

July to October are the hottest months, and December to March are the coolest. Fog is a common weather feature, especially in Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands.

Don’t forget to check out the weather forecast before visiting the park. 

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Entry Fee Of Channel Islands National Park

This Park is open 24/7, and there’s no entry fee for the visitors. You have to take a seaplane or a boat to reach the island untouched by urbanization. 

Traveler’s Checklist 

Here are some must-have items you should bring with yourself to this Park:

  • Daypack 
  • Fleece jacket or sweatshirt 
  • Waterproof outer clothing 
  • Sunscreen and hat
  • Hiking shoes
  • Binoculars 
  • Sleeping bag
  • Drinking water
  • Animal proof food containers
  • Extra food
  • Pocket knife
  • Headlamp/flashlight
  • First-aid kit 
  • Tick Spray
  • Map & Compass


Which is the most popular Channel Island?

Santa Barbara is the prettiest island mainly because of its spectacular vistas, miles of hiking trails, and wildflower season.

How many days Do I need at Channel Islands National Park?

2-3 days would be ideal for a perfect off-the-grid weekend to explore everything the park offers and enjoy outdoor activities.

How Long is the boat ride to the Channel Islands National Park?

It takes around an hour or so to reach the Channel Islands by boat and half an hour by plane.

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