Sea Cave Kayaking at Channel Islands National Park
Let’s talk about California National Parks. Not Yellowstone, not Death Valley, not even Sequoia, but a lesser known park that’s a 1.5 hours northwest of downtown LA. Channel Islands National Park is a secluded group of islands off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. Go there. It's a relatively new National Park, with 5 of the islands in the archipelago receiving the designation in 1980. After staying the night in Ventura Harbor we got up at the crack of dawn and prepared for a day of adventure. We used SBAdventureCo to book both our ferry to and from the island as well as a guided ocean kayaking tour.
Our trip to Channel Islands was our second ferry ride on our California vacation (our first being to Catalina Island). Take your Dramamine friends, this trip is rough. Our captain said the water was calm and our boat was still hitting waves that sent it almost vertically straight up and straight back down…ugh. Lesson learned, I do not do well on water (while Mike sat next to me feeling great). Another lesson learned, sitting outside on the back of the boat helps A LOT. Another lesson learned, seeing humpback whales breach and dolphins swim next to the boat really helps you forget how sick you feel.
That’s right. Dolphins and whales and pelicans are the norm when taking the ferry to Channel Islands. The park is known as the Galapagos of North America and the majority of it's 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 and roughly 7 miles of ocean around the park makes up the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Pulling up to Santa Rosa island (the largest of the group of islands and the one easiest to get to) you feel like you're arriving at Jurassic Park.
Some things to keep in mind: this National Park doesn’t have plumbing (the bathrooms are holes in the ground) and any trash you have has to be taken off the island back with you, so be prepared to only pack what you can carry. Also watch out for the island foxes. The Catalina Island fox is found on the majority of the islands and each of those islands is home to it's own unique subspecies. They’re everywhere and adorable but they’ll pop up out of nowhere and dig through your bags. Keep em’ zipped!
There are three main activities on the island: kayaking, scuba diving and hiking. Mike and I opted for kayaking in the ocean and through sea caves. It’s just one of those activities that’s always been on my bucket list…not kayaking (I’ve done that a lot) but SEA CAVE kayaking. It's a lot of fun but difficult. We chose a tandem kayak which wouldn’t be my recommendation…it takes some time to get the hang of rowing in sync with someone else and actually getting through the caves smoothly really had us working on our communication skills.
Being in a sea cave in a kayak is a very surreal experience. There was one cave where the water was actually a neon mint green due to the way the sun streamed in and the mineral deposits in the water. The water was so clear that you could see tropical fish of all sizes swimming in between the kelp and seaweed. Mike spotted a large orange Garibaldi fish next to our kayak and I rushed to snag a photo with my GoPro.
The biggest tip for cave kayaking: the waves are going to strongly dictate whether your kayak hits a cave wall. If you need to push off the 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're going to tip...like we did. We were the only ones to tip our kayak during the whole 2.5 hour trip! Win! Thank God for my floating GoPro case.
After being soaked with salt water, Mike and I opted to make landfall halfway through the kayaking trip and finish our day with hiking (which we're experts at). We had a quick lunch of granola bars and fresh fruit that we packed with us and headed up a path that took us up to the top of the cliff and around the island for a couple miles. It was an incredibly peaceful walk surrounded by birds and the ocean as we dried off in the sun. Pelicans flew past and the air was so clear we could see the other islands 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. Support our National Parks and make this your next stop in California.