Channel Islands Kayaking: Everything You Need to Know
Let's talk about a specific National Park in California that can be found in the middle of the ocean, 1.5 hours northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Channel Islands National Park is a secluded group of islands off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. Trust me, you need to plan a trip here ASAP. It is a relatively new National Park compared to some of the other heavy-hitters, with 5 of the islands in the archipelago receiving the designation in 1980. The Park is mostly untouched by man, making it a fantastic escape into nature with snorkeling spots and plenty of hiking trails. However, the best part is the ability to experience sea kayaking in the extensive cave systems of the islands.
Booking Your Channel Islands Kayak Tours
We stayed the the night in Ventura Harbor at the Four Points by Sheraton, right along the water. This allowed us to get up at dawn and literally walk to the boat launch to get to Channel Islands: a super convenient and easy way to start our adventure. SBAdventureCo was the perfect company to book both our round-trip tickets for the Channel Islands ferry (through Islands Packers Cruises), and our Channel Islands kayak rentals and tour. The boat to Channel Islands was our second ferry ride on our California vacation (our first being to Catalina Island). Take your Dramamine friends; this trip travels over some rough water. While our Captain kept saying the water was calm, my stomach begged to differ as our boat consistently hit waves sending it almost vertically straight up into the air and straight back down onto the water.
Seasickness is not something you want to experience on vacation, but I must say, the perfect distraction from feeling queasy is seeing humpback whales breach and dolphins swim alongside the boat. Dolphins, whales and pelicans are the norm when taking this Channel Islands boat trip. The Park is known as the Galapagos of North America, and the majority of its resident species can only be found there. The wildlife on and around the island is crazy abundant due to being protected and as untouched as possible. In fact, roughly 7 miles of ocean around the Park make up the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Santa Cruz Island is the largest and most accessible island (and the launching point of your sea kayaking trip) while Anacapa Island, Santa Rosa Island, San Miguel Island and Santa Barbara Island make up the rest of the National Park.
Quick Tips About Channel Islands National Park
The remoteness of Channel Islands National Park means that it does not have plumbing (the bathrooms are holes in the ground) and any trash you have has to be taken off the island back with you. Be prepared only to pack what you can carry. Also, watch out for the island foxes. A different subspecies of the Island Fox lives on each land mass of the archipelago. These pesky little foxes are adorable but you'll also run into them EVERYWHERE. They’ll pop up out of nowhere and dig through your bags. We even saw them open people’s backpack zippers looking for food!
Cross Sea Cave Kayaking Channel Islands off Your Bucket List
As I previously mentioned, there are three main activities on the island: sea kayaking, snorkeling and hiking. However, if you've decided to make the trip all the way out to to the park, you have to go Channel Islands kayaking. Sea kayaking, primarily through sea caves, has always been on my bucket list. Santa Cruz Island and the main thoroughfare of Channel Islands known as Scorpion Anchorage naturally contains countless caves and openings around the outer cliffs along the water. Many of these caves are large enough for you to explore by kayak, giving you a totally different perspective of the Park. It’s such a surreal experience entering the caves, as you’re only surrounded by the sounds of the ocean waves lapping against the cave walls and the whistle of an occasional bird. However, I quickly learned that despite how fun it is, it's also incredibly challenging rowing through waves in the open ocean.
The biggest tip for sea kayaking: the waves are going to dictate whether your kayak hits a cave wall. There will also be times when you get turned around or stuck in a cave from the current. If you need to push off the case wall with your oar to keep moving, LEAN INTO THE PUSH. Trust me, leaning away from where your pushing puts too much pressure on the opposite side of the kayak and you will tip into the ocean. I tipped twice guys...nobody else did. Obviously, I don't have the best kayaking skills, no matter how much I enjoy it. Thank God for my floating GoPro case.
Despite unintentionally spending some time in the water, exploring sea caves in a kayak was a spectacular experience. There was one cave where the water was a neon mint green due to the way the sun streamed in on the mineral deposits in the ocean. For much of our tour, the sea was so clear that you could see tropical fish of all sizes swimming in between the kelp and seaweed. Large orange Garibaldi fish are common and you may spot them swimming around your kayak oar.
Choose Channel Islands National Park Hiking to Finish off Your Day
After being soaked with salt water, we opted to make landfall halfway through the kayaking trip and finish our day with hiking (which I'm much better at). We had a quick lunch of granola bars and fresh fruit and headed up a path that led us to the top of the island cliff. Going this route led us to the Cavern Point Loop trail, a stunning moderately difficult, 2 mile round-trip trek that I recommend to everyone. You can also add the walk to the further Potato Harbor to make it a 5 mile round-trip excursion. This is what hiking dreams are made of. As you make your way along the edge of the cliff, you’re surrounded by stunning views and vistas with the open blue ocean endlessly stretching out to the horizon. Depending on the weather, you may even see whales in the water below. It’s an incredibly peaceful walk surrounded by birds and the ocean tide as you dry off in the sun. Pelicans will fly past, and the air is so clear that you can see the other islands of the archipelago in the distance.
Overall, Channel Islands is an incredibly underrated, relatively unknown National Park. It's remoteness and lack of tourists really makes this place a gem to visit especially when you have the chance to go sea kayaking. The unparalleled beauty that can be found in every inch of this place is like nothing you've ever seen before, and to think it’s only about an hour away from the craziness of mainland California is pretty nuts. Support our National Parks and make this your next stop in California.