Channel Islands National Park

I visited both Santa Cruz and Anacapa Islands in a single day on February 5, 2022. For a day in early February, the weather was sunny and windy with comfortable temperatures in the 70s.

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September 26, 2022

My boat to Santa Cruz and Anacapa Island was scheduled to depart at 8:30am, and they recommended arriving to check-in at least fifteen minutes prior to that. I also needed to call an information line after 5:30am on the day of departure to confirm the trip would still be taking place.

I woke up early enough to call the phone number to confirm my trip was still a go, and I attempted to go back to sleep for another thirty minutes before I gave up on sleep.  I took my time getting ready and packing up my bags before I headed to the front desk to check-out and get the free breakfast voucher.  After breakfast, I drove to the Island Packers Ventura Harbor location and checked-in for my trip arriving round 8am. 

Although there were plenty of open spots on my boat only a few days earlier, it was completely booked by the day of my trip.  This was primarily due to the previous day’s trip being cancelled due to the strong winds.  That trip was not a two-harbor trip, so I assume those who rescheduled had to pay for the upgrade.  Upon check-in I was given three boarding passes which I must not lose. One was the boat for my trip, one was to board the trip to leave Santa Cruz Island, and the last pass was to board the boat to leave Anacapa Island. We were also given a waiver if we didn’t bring a print the one emailed to us a few days prior.  The waiver was for hiking the Pelican Bay Trail on Santa Cruz Island as this area does not belong to the National Park Service.  The boat was landing at Prisoner’s Harbor on Santa Cruz Island, and this is where the boundary between the National Park property and the Nature Conservancy’s property. We were only permitted to hike on the Pelican Bay Trail with a signed waiver and a guide from Island Packers.

Once I boarded our boat, the Island Adventure, I took a seat on an exterior bench on the upper level so I could see as much as possible during the trip.  Dolphins are almost always present, and we were near the end of the winter whale migration which could mean we could possibly see a Pacific Gray whale.

The trip to Santa Cruz Island takes about an hour and a half. When the first few dolphins were spotted the boat slowed briefly so people could get up from their seats if they wanted to see them, but the crew informed us that we’d be seeing a lot more dolphins once we got to deeper water.  The Captain or the First Mate gave information as we cruised along and came upon different sights such as the oil rigs that are along the Ventura coastline.  The boat slowed almost to a stop once we got to the dolphins, and my photos cannot show just how many dolphins were there.  They come and swim right next to the boat.  I’ve always loved dolphins, so this was an absolute highlight for me.  After a few minutes Captain informed us that we were going to pick up speed, and to watch as the dolphins speed up with us.  Apparently, the dolphins like to stay close to the boat as it churns up small fish for them to eat.  Watching the dolphins jump out of the water in the boat’s wake was such an incredible sight to see.

We did stop two other times to pick up mylar balloons which were floating on the ocean.  The captain told us about the issues with trash, especially balloons, in the ocean.  Balloons can kill ocean wildlife because they are mistaken for food.

Santa Cruz Island

Once we reached Prisoner’s Harbor on Santa Cruz Island, we were greeted by a National Park Ranger who went over the rules and regulations, and, for those of us who wanted to hike the Pelican Bay Trail, collected our signed waivers.  The island’s birds and foxes are extremely clever and easily open any backpacks or bags, and the ranger told us repeatedly to keep food and all bags inside the “bear” boxes. 

The Pelican Bay Trail is rated as moderate to severe and is four miles long.  We only had about an hour and half or so before we needed to return to the harbor for departure to Anacapa Island, so there wasn’t enough time to hike the entire trail to the end and back in that amount of time.  The trail is quite narrow alongside a significant drop, though the natural brush would likely break your fall, and after the initial ascent, there is a small informational kiosk you can enter with a small open space to stop and remove your jacket as may of us did at that point. There is a lot of shade from the trees through parts of the trail which was nice not having the sun beating down on you.  I hiked up the hill, stepping aside when I could to let faster hikers pass me, and stopped a few times to take photos when a really nice view was available through the trees. 

I reached a large open plateau with an incredible view, and there was quite a lot of other people there sitting around and eating some snacks while they also enjoyed the view.  Others were continuing along the trail which is fairly exposed to the sun until it wrapped around the hill opposite the plateau.  I also ate some snacks and hydrated for a bit before I decided to head back towards the harbor.

Once back at the harbor, I took a seat on a log in the shade and enjoyed another snack while I just relaxed and enjoyed the scenery.  A few moments later, I heard some “oohhs” and “ahhs,” and I turned to see one of the Santa Cruz foxes walking towards the picnic tables.  These foxes are quite small, and very cute, but don’t let them near your bags or food.  I hadn’t seen any foxes on the trail, but I did see a lot, I mean A LOT, of their scat all along it.

Soon it was time to board the boat for the relatively short trip to Anacapa Island.  Anacapa Island is actually three tiny islets, West, Middle, and East Anacapa, with the largest being the only one accessible to visitors.  I returned to an exterior seat on the upper deck of the boat for the trip from Santa Cruz to Anacapa.

Anacapa Island

The captain pointed out some commercial lobster trap/net markers as we headed to Anacapa Island, and there were some large birds keeping pace with the boat for a short time.  Anacapa is a volcanic island, and you can really see the layers of rock that comprise the island.  I would love to be able to see it up close.

The water was rougher as we moved further from Santa Cruz Island than it had been on our way to Santa Cruz, and it made disembarking at the Anacapa Island dock quite interesting.  I would imagine that the tiny cove is challenging even in calmer water as the water would still be bouncing off the rock on three sides.  The photo I have is deceptive, because to get to the surface of the island from the dock is to climb up a lot of steep stairs.  The metal staircases weren’t bad at all, but the steps build into the island were shallow and steep.

Anacapa Island is quite small and flat, and I was able to walk the trail that circles it twice with many stops to enjoy the views.  I started out with a visit to the visitor center to read about the island and the lighthouse.  I followed that with a walk towards the lighthouse, but I didn’t go past the “Do Not Enter” sign even as others did.

There are so many seagulls, too many seagulls, on Anacapa.  They were just everywhere, and the contraptions on top of the picnic tables did nothing to keep them off.  There is no shoreline around the island so it’s a very high drop to the ocean from any point on the island.  The lighthouse sits on the only “hill,” and call it a hill is being generous.  We certainly didn’t need the two hours we had to explore Anacapa.  Forty-five minutes to an hour would have been more than enough time.  I wish we had been given more time at Santa Cruz instead.  The boat was scheduled to leave Anacapa at 4pm, and I walked down to the loading area about thirty minutes early, because I was a little bored.

For the boat ride back to Ventura Harbor I, once again, took a seat on a bench outside on the upper deck.  They took us around the other side of Anacapa Island to get a look at Arch rock and to see the sea lions that inhabit the south side of Anacapa Island.  The water was much rougher on the way back to the mainland, because the wind had really picked up while we were on Anacapa.  The sun was setting, too, and it was bitingly cold.  I had a very warm jacket with me, but my legs were freezing as the wind blew right through the fabric of my pants.

My legs were so cold that they hurt on the drive home to Los Angeles. I had my car heater full blast with only the leg vents, and my legs didn’t warm up until I was almost home over an hour later.  I regretted not having the hotel and its hot tub for a second night, but I couldn’t justify the cost at the time.

I really want to do a day trip to Santa Cruz Island and, possibly, camp there, too.  There is no water on the islands, so you do have bring everything with you.  Island Packers takes care of transporting your camping gear and supplies for you, but it’s still a little daunting for me.  You can also camp on Anacapa Island, but the campsite is fully exposed, and the sites are extremely close together.  The seagulls would also drive me crazy.  Santa Cruz Island has some trees providing some shade and privacy for camping.


Island Packers: $85 for two island day trip