Yesterday was day 5 of our 4,500 mile Epic Road Trip- Our Late Start to Summer

We visited Channel Islands National Park yesterday for the entire day. It was a neat place to visit. It would be a great place to spend more than a day. It would be awesome to campout for a few days. They have campsites and allow camping in specific locations. The Channel Islands are special and unique location to visit. I am glad this park was a part of our itinerary for this summer trip.

The Channel Islands are located off the coast of California. It is often referred to the Galapagos Islands of California. They have approximately 150 species that exist on the Channel Islands only and no other place on the planet. That is pretty amazing! When Elizabeth and I decided to add the Channel Islands to our trip this summer we had no idea how to even go about visiting this location. We soon found out that you can only visit by boat; although that was pretty obvious since they are islands. However, what we didn’t know when we first began planning this National Park venture was that you can only book boat trips with one company only. Island Packers is the only company allowed to travel to these islands, dock, and allow passenger on and off all 5 of the Channel Islands:

Private boats can go out and see the islands, but they can’t dock on the islands, only Island Packers is allowed to dock, as they are the official boat service for this National Park. They offer day trips, kayaking, transportation for campers and their gear, day trips, whale watching tours, a floating classroom program, tranportaion of scuba divers and their gear, and more! They have been providing services for Channel Islands’ guests for over 40 years. The boat trip itself was a great experience for us! I am thankful we had calm seas yesterday. We got to see lots of wildlife on the trip out to the island including sea lions, hundreds of dolphins, a great white shark (a juvenile), pelicans, and lots of other birds. Here are photos from our boat trip out to the Channel Islands:

We booked a day trip out to Santa Cruz Island that left at 8:00 AM. We returned back to the dock at 5:30 PM. There are two stops at Santa Cruz Island. When you book your ticket you need to select which location on the island. We chose Scorpion, as this part of the island has great hiking up to an overlook where you can possibly see whales, a beach, bathrooms, and a location at the campsite to fill your water jugs. There isn’t food for sale on the island or water for sale, for that matter. You have to carry your own food and water for the entire day. You are also responsible for your garbage. If you brought it onto the island you have to carry it off and back to the mainland. There are lots of rules for visitors, but it is all for the preservation of this beautiful and unique group of islands.

Here are some things you need to know in order to visit the Channel Islands:

  1. Book your boat transportation (round trip) through Island Packers (they are the only company allowed to dock on the islands). Book plenty of time in advance. I suggest at least a month, as their boats fill up. When we booked three weeks prior to our trip the pickings were slim (and we were there on a Monday). We had only one departure time left and one return time left for booking on the date and island we desired. Availability was slim, but at least we all got on the boat! If you are looking to do a day trip then the Santa Cruz boat trip is the best option in my opinion. It has a short boat trip in comparison to the other island locations and it has a great deal of activities on the island such as hiking, paddle boarding, swimming, kayaking, and more because it is a larger island.
  2. Pay attention to the instructions from Island Packers. There are specifics about your island trip such as how much water you should bring, how to dress (it gets cool on the boat and the island), rules about how much weight you can bring on the boat, arrival time at the port, and which port you need to arrive at (Island Packers has 2 locations where boats depart from everyday), and more.
  3. Wear sunscreen even if the temperatures are expected to be in the 60’s. The forecast, on two weather sites, informed us that the temperature range during our visit to the Channel Islands would be 63-68 degrees. It is definitely cooler than the other National Parks we have visited thus far. However, I don’t know exactly how warm it did get, but my guess is the 80’s. It was definitely above 68 degrees.
  4. Dress in layers. The weather was cool on the boat and sweaters were very useful. We would have been pretty miserable without them. However, as we hiked up to the overlook once on the island, we all peeled off our outerwear and ended up in t-shirts or tank tops. It got hot!
  5. Pack swimwear! If you are going to an island location that has a beach/swim area, then bring your swimwear. We did not, as the temperature high was predicted to be only 68 degrees. I can assure you it was much hotter and that plenty of people were there swimming. My kids went into the water too, about thigh deep with their pants on and all! They dried out on the rocks after their jaunt in the water, but it would have been helpful to have swimwear and at least 1 towel for the kids.
  6. Go on a guided hike if its available. We went on a guided hike with Bill who volunteers with the Parks system. He did a great job informing us about the history of the island and all the unique plants and animals that are there. You are at the island all day long, so you will have plenty of time to venture out on your own hikes after the guided hike. He took us up to the overlook on Santa Cruz.
  7. Watch out for the island foxes and don’t feed them! They have approximately 1,500 island foxes on Santa Cruz. They are having problems with the fox hanging around the campsites stealing food from visitors. These fox basically had no fear of people and we saw over a dozen up close and personal during our visit. We kept having to tell the kids to not approach the animals, as the foxes did not run away when the kids approached. They sure are cute, but not for petting or feeding.
  8. Have your kids do the Junior Ranger program. This is available at every National Park. I hadn’t done it with my kids since they can’t read or write yet. We decided to give it a try at this park with Brielle since we had plenty of time on the Island. I asked her all the questions and then I wrote her answers in the book. She absolutely loved doing this! We decided to continue doing the Junior Ranger program at the rest of the parks we will visit as well. It is free for kids to participate! You stop at the visitor’s center when you arrive. Ask for a Junior Ranger booklet and pencil. You then follow the instructions for what to complete in the book (it varies for each age what is required to complete in the book, as some things are geared for younger kids and some for older kids). After you complete the booklet you return to the visitor’s center to see a Ranger. He will check to make sure your work is complete. Then your child will be sworn in as an official Junior Ranger. They receive a badge for that specific National Park. Brielle was so proud of the badge she earned yesterday that she had to wear it all day today at our next National Park.
  9. Hike! There are plenty of trails to hike on Santa Cruz. Pick up a trail map/brochure at the vistor’s center when you arrive. There is a visitor’s center located right on Santa Cruz. You can also visit the much larger Channel Islands visitor’s center in Oxnard, back on the mainland. This is the main visitor’s center for the Islands and they have educational programs available, as well as a gift shop and official National Park gear and materials.
  10. Pack enough food! You will be on the island all day long. There isn’t any food for sale on the island. Make sure you pack enough food for the day and for the level of activities you will be doing. If you are going to be hiking quite a bit you are going to need additional fuel. The boats have food for sale, but once you are on the island you are on your own for food!
  11. Learn about the Island history while you are there. We learned that for thousands of years the Chumash Indians lived on these islands. Then in the late 1800’s settlers arrived to raise grain and sheep on the Islands. There is a great deal of history and people who inhabited these islands over the years. They have information at the visitor’s center displays and you can also get more information while on a guided hike/tour.