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How to Get to Channel Islands National Park, and What to See Once You Arrive

Channel Islands National Park sits quietly off the coast of Southern California. While only about an hour’s drive from Los Angeles, the park is one of the least visited in the country. That may be because to get to Channel Islands National Park, you must take an extra boat ride. 

The islands can be seen regularly from places like Ventura and Santa Barbara, and like every other national park, it has some unique things you’ll only find there.

Here’s how to get to Channel Islands National Park and why you should visit.

1. You Need to Pick an Island and Book a Ferry

get to the channel islands national park
(Source: Island Packers)

Island Packers is the official ferry company for the Channel Islands, but before you can book a ferry, you must choose an island. There are five islands, with boats running daily from harbors in Ventura and Oxnard, California. The most popular island to visit is Santa Cruz, where boats run most days of the week. The ride is about an hour long. A private boat is the only other way to get to the islands. Once you’re there, you’ll have to get around on foot.

2. Get Ready for a Ton of Marine Life

While a ferry ride may seem like a hassle, in reality, this is where the adventure begins. On the ride through the Pacific Ocean, there’s a good chance you’ll see wildlife. Depending on the time of year, it’s possible to see harbor seals, sea lions, and dolphins, including orcas. Occasionally, there are even megapods of dolphins swimming around the ferry. A megapod can contain hundreds to thousands of dolphins.

3. There’s a Fox That’s Only Found on the Channel Islands

Channel Islands wildlife
(Source: NPS)

One creature you may encounter on your visit to Channel Islands National Park is the island fox. The small, gray-colored fox is only found here. It’s smaller than most other fox species—about the size of a house cat. The foxes are known for stealing snacks and other food items from campgrounds, so be sure to store your food properly.

4. Check out Hiking Trails and Steep Cliffs

hiking in channel islands national park
(Source: Lisha Riabinina)

You’ll find plenty of hiking in the park, especially on Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa. They may appear small on a map, but the islands are actually fairly big. Santa Cruz is four times the size of Manhattan. Hikers will find plenty of elevation gain and magnificent views from overlooks and steep cliffs like Potato Harbor.

5. There’s Plenty to Explore by Boat and Underwater

exploring the channel islands
(Source: NPS)

Despite having plenty of land to explore by foot, you can’t get the whole Channel Islands National Park experience without kayaking or snorkeling around the island. Sea cave kayak tours and snorkel rentals are available on Santa Cruz, not far from where the ferry docks. Kayaking will let you explore the rocky coastline, and snorkeling will get you close to the kelp forests full of marine life.

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