Visiting the Park
I've been to the Channel Islands National Park twice so far (in the spring and fall). Both times visiting the Santa Cruz Island, landing in Scorpion Cove after riding the boat from Ventura Harbor operated by the Island Packers. The latest trip we made in April 2018 was by far the best for this California park. I think this was mainly because the island was green and the flowers were in bloom...it doesn't stay that way all year long. The hill sides had experienced periodic rains which even though it was a small amount, they look magnificent.
Summer and fall times seem to be the most crowded, so as local Southern Californian I try to avoid trips during that time. But just to put into perspective, the last fall trip to Santa Cruz, the landscape was very dry and brown. For me, that made a big difference compared to spring.
The Channel Islands consist of 5 distictively different landforms:
There is a rich history dating back to the native Chumash tribe who inhabited the islands before European settlers came. At one point during the 20th century, ranchers had begun sheep grazing. When hiking Santa Cruz, we saw a lot of the remnants of the sheep herding time (i.e. barbed wire fences, wooden posts, and water pipes to deliver water.
How to Get to the Islands
There are a few islands in Southern California that are worth visiting. Of course, most people think to go to Catalina because of the ease in transportation options (as there are multiple departure zones, restaurants and other amenities there). However, to reach the Channel Islands, the options become much more limited. Either you'll need to have your own boat or you'll have to take a chartered one by Island Packers.
North of Los Angeles there is a small town called Ventura. From the harbor there you can take a boat to one of the several islands within the Channel. We chose Santa Cruz mainly because of the frequency of departures and it is the closest one to Ventura.
Island Packers offers trips on their boat via the Ventura Harbor gate. This tri-hulled ferry type boat is pretty smooth overall, and there are restrooms plus a snack bar on board. Make sure to check with them before planning what island you plan to visit. Some boats only go once every few days or less.
Also, there is an additional rate if you plan to camp at one of the sites, mainly because it means that you'll have extra gear with you that the staff will assist in bringing on the journey.
On your boat ride, the captain will slow down and even sometimes venture over to pods of dolphins or whales. When we were coming back we saw 2 basking sharks which was unusual even for the crew of the boat to see.
Before you leave for the islands, it's probably a good idea to stop by the visitor center in Ventura Harbor or Santa Barbara. By the time you come back they will most likely be closed (their hours are 8:30am - 5:00pm). The address and phone number for the visitor centers are below:
Robert J. Lagomarsino Visitor Center
Address: 1901 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura, CA 93001
Phone Number: (805) 658-5730
Outdoors Santa Barbara Visitor Center
Address: 113 Harbor Way 4th Floor, Santa Barbara, CA 93109
Phone Number: (805) 884-1475