Channel Islands National Park, California

Photo by Matt Harding

Where in the West Should I Go? • 52 Places to Visit in 2022

“Close to the California mainland, yet worlds apart.” This Channel Islands National Park motto says a lot about the five islands that make up one of the country’s least-visited national parks. 

You can first head out to Anacapa Island via public or private boat transportation from Ventura and Oxnard. Technically three islands, East Anacapa Island is where you can hike, camp, take in views at Inspiration Point and hear the thunderous lighthouse horn. Seagulls nest here in the spring and you’re very likely to see harbor seals and sea lions. 

At 96 square miles, Santa Cruz Island is the largest in Channel Islands. Its best known for Painted Cave, one of the largest known sea caves in the world. Sea caves are common in the national park and are frequented by kayakers.

Further out into the Pacific is Santa Rosa Island, where backcountry beach camping is possible from mid-August through December, avoiding pupping seals and sea lions and nesting seabirds. (Read about publisher Matt Harding’s backpacking trip to Santa Rosa on our website.) The island offers 55 miles of rocky coastline and sandy beaches.

The furthest island in the main chain of Channel Islands is San Miguel Island. It is home to one of the oldest known American Indian archeological sites in the country. The Chumash people were on the island at least 11,600 years ago.

Finally, there’s Santa Barbara Island, the smallest of the Channel Islands, located southeast of the aforementioned four. Plant and wildlife there have been recovering after years of species and habitat loss due to ranching and farming activities.

Any one of these islands would be a great starting point to discover California’s ancient past, both natural and cultural.

Note that Anacapa Island is expected to be closed from mid-February through May for a dock construction project. Check out for up-to-date details on that closure and other Channel Islands information.