California’s Channel Islands

By Isabella Brady

As winter break comes to a close, many of us (including myself) are anxiously planning for the next break. Located twenty miles off of California’s coast, Santa Cruz island lies closest to shore among the chain, known as the Channel Islands. This national park, although ranked as the second least visited in the state, is perhaps the most breathtaking. With a rich history, beautiful views, and complex aquatic life you will definitely not want to miss the idyllic destination next summer!

With my Scouts BSA troop, we made this trip a reality two summers ago; it can only be described as simply unforgettable. Everything, even the hour-long ferry ride, was exciting. Mere miles off of Ventura harbor, we witnessed seals, and raced with a pod of dolphins (at least twenty!) from less than ten feet away. Island Packers Cruises even allows patrons to bring coolers, tents, kayaks, and anything they may need, free of charge, to explore the island independently.

Once you reach the island, there are endless possibilities for the day. Self guided or through the Channel Islands Adventure Company, one can embark on a variety of kayaking/snorkeling tours which explore the island’s network of sea caves for one to five hours. Each tour proves truly unique and adapted to fit everyone’s goals and preferences for the day. I went on the three hour tour, and highly recommend it for anyone who loves kayaking. While it may appear intimidating, guides are highly knowledgeable and adapt the speaking and adventure portions of the tour to make everyone feel comfortable and accomplished by the end of the day—you always have the choice to go into any of the caves. For anyone who is claustrophobic, please know that there are a myriad of caves, both cavernous and small—there is something for everyone to enjoy. 

On the tour, one can travel above dense kelp forests, and get out of their kayaks to see what lies beneath in the warm, clear waters. The intandem kayaks promote great team building in groups, and amazing opportunities for adventure. Those who are up for it can even try some kayak-spelunking to navigate some of the challenging caves. Personally, the most impressive cave was “the green room”. Not only does it live up to its name with emerald waters, the water literally lights up the isolated cave. 

Out of the water, there are great hiking trails which encompass the island. One can see the waters explored previously aboard a kayak from the rocky cliffs above, or the interior of the island’s rolling, green hills. The island is also home to some intriguing history, from its occupation by pygmy mammoths, Chumash natives, and later a vast cattle ranch. Historic artifacts from previous times live on today for tourists to see. Today, one can not spend the day at the island without encountering one of its key inhabitants: foxes, and lots of them! On our trip baby foxes roamed frequently, and wandered very close to visitors, a reason to come in itself!

At the end of an exciting day on the island, I recommend one final activity: snorkeling. Just off the beach there are beautiful kelp forests to be explored and a completely untouched ecosystem just below the water’s surface. Seals, manta rays and California’s state fish, the garibaldi are frequent attractions in these waters and amazing to see up close. One can bring personal snorkeling gear or affordably rent through the Channel Islands Adventure Company to experience these sights for themselves.

Overall, the Channel Islands are a great location to explore with the whole family, with spectacular views and encounters to last a lifetime. 

To learn more, or book a tour go here (keep in mind summer tours sell out rapidly).

To learn more about the islands visit the National Parks page here.