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What to do in the Channel Islands National Park

Your go-to guide for both land and sea activities in the Channel Islands National Park!

A pod of orcas in the Santa Barbara Channel, backed by the Santa Ynez mountain range.

Wildlife Watching

Even before you reach the Channel Islands National Park, you’re bound to see ample wildlife on the Island Packers boat ride. The usual sightings include common dolphin and seabirds. Depending on the season, visitors may also see whales such as humpbacks and blue whales, or even the very rare orca!

Windswept view from the Cavern Point trail overlooking Scorpion Anchorage, Santa Cruz Island.

Hiking

Especially during the spring when wind flowers are blooming and the islands are so green they appear tropical, hiking is one of the best activity options on the island. When it’s too cold or windy to spend all day on the water, there are countless great hiking options. One of our personal favorites is to Cavern Point. Learn more about hiking trails in the Channel Islands National Park and plan your trip today!

Visitors also have the option to go on a guided hike with either Island Packers crew (meet the crew here!) or volunteer Naturalist Corps member, both are highly trained, knowledgeable, and passionate naturalists who love what they do! In some parts of the National Park, such as the Pelican Bay trail at Prisoners Harbor, guests must be lead on a guided hike.

Kelp forests are diverse habitats for fish like Garibaldi and California Sheephead (pictured).

Swimming, Snorkeling, and SCUBA Diving, Oh My!

During the warmer months of the year (May-October), many visitors to the Channel Islands opt to dip into the cool Pacific. Swimming and snorkeling around the islands is readily accessible (Santa Barbara Adventure Company will rent you wetsuits, hoods, mask, snorkel, and fins on the island). You can expect to see ample wildlife, including Garibaldi and California Sheephead fish, urchin, sea stars, sea lions, harbor seals, and much more!

If your willing to dive deeper, then SCUBA might be for you! The SCUBA diving on the Channel Islands has been named in the top 10 cold water dive sites in the world! You can take a day-trip to do 2 or 3 tank dives with The Raptor or The Spectre dive boat operators, both located in Ventura Harbor. From there, trips run primarily to Santa Cruz and Anacapa island for some of the healthiest kelp forest, cold water diving on the planet.

A bustling group camp site in the upper loop of Scorpion on Santa Cruz Island.

Camping

Want to spend more time on the islands and immerse in nature? There are many camping (and backpacking) options on the Channel Islands. Be sure to pack light as some of the camp sites are a mile or more away from the pier. Also, be sure to book your spot in advance through Recreation.gov! Pro tip: We recommend booking the ferry (Island Packers) before booking your campsite.

A kayaker near Scorpion Rock at Santa Cruz Island.

Kayaking

Sea kayaking is BY FAR our favorite adventure activity to do on the Channel Islands. Book your guided kayak tour with excellent guides at Santa Barbara Adventure Company. This way you get to see the best part of the National Park: the ocean and coastline!

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