Channel Islands: California’s Secret Gem

Channel Islands: California’s Secret Gem

By: Mike Jerrard


  Situated just a rather short boat ride from the heavily populated and busy coast of California’s coastline lies one of North America’s most impressive group of islands. Eight islands make up the chain and several can be visited during certain times of the year.

  With rare and unique flora and fauna endemic to each individual island, each has its own character and highlights. We decided on Santa Cruz to explore for its rich wildlife and access to potable water since we would be camping for multiple days. The Scorpion Ranch campground is the most accessible campground from a landing point and is the one we chose to spend our time at. We highly recommend reserving a campsite in the upper loop if it permits as it is much more private and scenic. With only 31 sites in total, there is never a large group of people and being largest island of the chain, you can quickly feel as though you are on a private island with a short hike away from camp.

  Santa Cruz is rich with both Indian and European history and many remnants of past settlements remain today. Also exceptional is the wildlife both on the island and off. Whales are commonly seen en route to the island depending on the year and the island itself hosts many species of birds and unique mammals.

  The star of the island is the Island fox, North America’s smallest fox which closely resembles a Gray fox as it is a descendant. Once severely reduced in numbers due in part to the predation of Golden eagles who replaced the islands Bald eagle population when they were affected by the infamous DDT pesticides. The foxes are now recovering and we were lucky enough to see multiple individuals. They are quite curious and being diurnal can readily be seen. They have a habit of stealing campers food so it is a definite must that you use the provided food storage lockers. The Santa Cruz Island fox is a unique subspecies as are the other subspecies that inhabit the other islands.




  • Bring extra food and water as return boat trips although scheduled may not be guaranteed due to weather.
  • Immediately store all food in storage lockers.
  • Be prepared for all weather elements as they can change quickly.
  • Seasickness is quite common on the boat trip over .
  • Pack all trash with you and leave no trace of your trip due to the fragility of the islands.
  • Bring proper sun protection as many islands have very little shade.

  Many islands can be visited via day trips or camping trips lasting several days. Rates range from around $50-$60 for day trips to $80 for camping trips. Camping fees are priced around the $15/night rate. Detailed information for travel to the various islands can be found at  Currently a few of the islands are closed for travel in 2016 due to recent storm damage.


Island Highlights:


  • Closest island a mere hour from the mainland makes for an easy day tour.
  • Day trips or overnight camping available.
  • Breeding Western gulls.
  • Wildflowers.

Santa Rosa:

  • Second largest island after Santa Cruz.
  • Trips usually include a visit past the Painted Cave ( one of the world’s largest sea caves).
  • Great hiking.
  • White sand beaches.
  • good whale watching during travel to island.

Santa Barabara:

  • Very isolated .
  • Smallest of the Islands.
  • No potable water and minimal shade.
  • Breeding seals and sea lions.
  • NOTE***no scheduled trips for 2016.

San Miguel:

  • Farthest island west of the California mainland (3.5 to 4 hour trip).
  • No potable water and minimal shade.
  • Home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of seals and sea lions.
  • The Caliche Forest-sand casts of ancient trees.
  • NOTE***trips to San Miguel are closed indefinitely due to Navy concerns over safety for undetonated explosives. A risk assessment and cleanup will be needed before trips can be resumed.
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Author: Michael Jerrard

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