Channel Islands National Park

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  • Bucket List National Park #41- only 18 parks remaining.

Channel Islands National Park lies off the coast of southern California and encompasses eight islands. In our national park book, it said if you have very limited time, the Visitor’s Center in Ventura will give you a good overview of the park. I beg to differ. I’m not sure how you could actually get a feel for the park without visiting at least one island which is what we did.

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We booked passage with Island Packers to Santa Cruz Island for an all-day excursion. There are no concessions on the island, with only limited primitive camping for those so inclined, so we packed water, lunches, camera, batteries, etc. and set out for our day trip.

Santa Cruz is the largest island in the national park, 61,972 acres, and is 22 miles long and from 2 to 6 miles wide. In its variety of flora and fauna, Santa Cruz resembles a miniature southern California of a hundred plus years ago. Rich in cultural history with over 10,000 years of native habitation and over 150 years of European exploration and ranching, remnants of these eras can be seen throughout the landscape of the island.

Santa Cruz Island

We landed at Scorpion Anchorage and set out to do some exploring. Since Santa Cruz contains two mountain ranges with the highest peaks rising above 2000 feet, most trails led upward. These mountains, a large central valley/fault system as well as coastline cliffs, and beaches combine to support more than 600 plant species in 10 different plant communities, from marshes and grasslands to chaparral and pine forests.

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Owing to millions of years of isolation, many distinctive plant and animal species have adapted to the islands’ unique environments. As a result, there are 150 plant and animal species on Channel Islands that are found nowhere else in the world. We’re not good enough botanists to be able to identify any of the plants or even know which ones are rare in the world or just rare to us.

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Three Island Fox species are specific to Channel Islands only and, after declining populations, were placed on the endangered species list in 2004. A captive breeding program succeeded in bringing the island fox back from the brink of extinction and the last of the captive foxes were released back into the wild in 2008.

Channel Island Fox - Copy

We chose to set out on the Cavern Point trail which promised “magnificent coastal vistas and whale viewing.” We didn’t see any whales but we did have some pretty terrific views. We were glad we had worn jackets, however, as it was quite windy and chilly.

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At the far point of the trail, rather than continuing the loop back, we decided to take the North Bluffs trail and proceed to Potato Harbor for “spectacular coastal views. No beach access.” In other words, a nice walk along the cliffs above the coast.

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The trails were well maintained and easy to follow. We were surprised that much of the island is basically hilly grassland. While it was chilly up on top in the wind, back at Smuggler’s Cove it was very warm.

Santa Cruz - Copy

We found ourselves back at Smuggler’s Cove with time to spare before the boat trip back to the mainland. It was a pleasant day but I think more knowledge and involvement with the marine environment would make it much more interesting.

Santa Cruz

2 Responses to Channel Islands National Park

  1. pacificwes says:

    Looking for information about Lassen Volcanic NP, preparing for a visit there next month, I came across your website. Very, very interesting. I’m envious of some of your travels. When you’ve filled out your bucket list of US Natl Parks — an outstanding endeavor — allow me to suggest visiting some of Canada’s Natl Parks, including driving the Icefields Parkway between Banff NP and Jasper NP. Perhaps you’ve done this and already know, but it’s a planetary treasure providing visuals that may haunt you the rest of your days.
    Returning to Channel Islands NP, your entry that has inspired my comments here, we camped on Santa Cruz Island a couple of years ago and kayaked the eastern shoreline. A large number of sea caves can be paddled into for some distance. Although we had a brief episode of light rain when we arrived — unusual in the So Cal summer — conditions for paddling were just about perfect. The water was crystal clear to the bottom 10-40 feet below, perfect for watching sea life including a very curious and playful harbor seal, moving about beneath us. The isolated beaches in bays like Potato Harbor offer perfect [kayak] take outs for lunch breaks.
    Topping it off, on our return trip to Ventura we passed near a small pod of Blue whales.

    . . . continuing now to peruse your excellent website.


    • mvbattelle says:

      Thank you for your nice comments. We thoroughly enjoy the national parks and yes, we have driven the Icefields Parkway and it is incredible. Your visit to Channel Islands sounds wonderful. I’m a bit behind on my postings right now but hope to catch up soon with two of the Alaska parks that we visited this summer.
      Enjoy Lassen – we certainly did.


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