Imagine spending the day on an island that is home to plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world. You’re probably thinking you have to travel to the Galapagos Islands in South America, right? But did you know that the Channel Islands off the coast of California are home to 145 unique animal and plant species? Thousands of years of isolation have created this amazing natural environment, and in 1980, five of the eight Channel Islands (Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Rosa and San Miguel) were designated as the Channel Islands National Park.
So when we planned our California road trip, I knew we had to spend the day exploring this lesser known treasure. Because the Channel Islands are one of the least visited parks in the entire system, it’s a fabulous place to hike, snorkel, scuba dive or kayak. Read on and take a look at some of my pictures and I’m sure you will agree.
Our day began with a foggy ferry ride from the Oxnard marina to Santa Cruz Island. Island Packers is the only authorized transportation (unless you fly in or travel by private boat). It was about an hour ride by boat, so by the time we arrived on the island, the fog had lifted to reveal an amazing view. Since we were planning to snorkel later in the day, we had rented gear ahead of time and brought it with us. Wet suits were necessary, given the constant cold temperatures of the water even in summer. Since everything has to be brought to the island on the boat, you really need to plan in advance.
What an amazing day we had! One of the highlights was the guided hike we took around the island, learning all the cool things that make the Channel Islands so unique. Lucky for us, the island fox, who is only found on the Channel Islands, made several appearances. You can learn more about what makes this particular fox so special on the park’s website.
Our picnic lunch took place at one of the highest points on the island, with views that made you forget you were off the coast of California. We took the 2 mile Cavern Point hike which provided us with amazing coastal views.
After our hike and lunch, it was time to snorkel. If you’ve ever tried to put on a rubbery wetsuit, you know how much fun it can be, but you definitely needed it based on the water temperature. This was the first snorkeling experience for my kids, who were 11, 13 and 15 at the time. We entered the water on Scorpion Beach, where there were lots of kelp beds, which make for great snorkeling. The water was definitely cold, and since we realized that only one hood had come with our wetsuits, we didn’t stay in the water as long as we would have liked. But I still can remember my two girls clinging to each other and yelling at my husband because of the sea lion who kept popping up about 2 feet away from him! My husband, or course was busy snorkeling and oblivious to what was going on around him. Definitely a memorable experience!
Each of the islands are unique, and we can’t wait to go back and explore the others. Guided kayaking tours are also available, but because of the strong currents, much of the kayaking around the islands is not recommended for beginners.
It was an amazing day, and on the return ferry ride, we were treated to views of sea life hanging out on the buoys. Depending on the time of the year, you might be lucky enough to see whales and dolphins on your ride. Check the Island Packers website to see all the marine mammal sightings for each of the past months. If you are visiting in the summer, be sure to book in advance. If you stay in nearby Oxnard, it’s an easy 15 minute drive to the harbor.
Next time you are in California, take the time to visit this natural wonder. I’m sure you won’t regret it.