It’s hard for me to believe that it took us until May to visit a national park, but it’s always tough for me to get work off when I work at a ski area all winter. We’d been planning this trip for a while, and I was super excited about it. Brady’s grandparents live in Santa Ynez and it’s tough for me to take a trip anymore without finding SOME way to make it to a national park. Thankfully the Channel Islands are pretty close, especially when you fly in to LAX like we did!
The first thing I’ll say about Channel Islands is this- you can do a day trip pretty reasonably, but you should camp if you can. We camped two nights and I could’ve easily camped there for two more. We had an incredible campsite (because I’m the best, what can I say?) and it made our trip so much more relaxing to know that we didn’t have to cram everything into one day like we do on road trips. Not that road trips are bad, in fact they’re one of my favorites, but the islands are a bit of a challenge to get to, so it’s definitely worth giving them a little more time to experience.
After a brief stop at the totally awesome visitor center (they have a giant tidepool/fish tank thing with living animals inside! It’s so cool!) we headed onto our ferry to head to Santa Cruz Island. It didn’t take long for the magic to start. On our way out, our boat captain slowed down and we discovered we were smack dab in the middle of an enormous pod of dolphins- larger than our captain had ever seen! He estimated there were over 400 dolphins in the Channel. I’ve described this encounter dozens of times and words and photographs are simply insufficient. It was hands down one of the most incredible and magical experiences of my ENTIRE life. The water was just teeming and alive with these beautiful majestic dolphins. I am so beyond grateful that Brady gave me a new camera as a birthday present, as what I’ve had in the past would’ve done this encounter no justice.
Riding on a high from that spot of incredible luck, we hiked the mile-ish (according to GPS it was .76 miles… yeah I’m a nerd and tracked it on my watch) to our campsite. We set up camp, lazed around, and went to bed early (we HAD been up since 4am our time… yuck).
The next day started off sunny and beautiful and after a lazy breakfast we headed out to explore! We combined the Potato Harbor + Cavern Point hikes into one big loop.
After a day of exploring, we headed back to camp for another short little hike (and a quick super late lunch), and I wandered around taking photos of our site and all of the island foxes, which are EVERYWHERE in the campground. Santa Cruz Island is the only place in the world where these little guys exist, and they’re beyond adorable. Kitty-sized and fearless, I could not get enough of them.
The next day we were headed back to the mainland, so we decided to do some exploring around Scorpion Cove for the morning. We are way into tidepooling in this family!
After heading back to camp and packing up all of our gear, it was off to the mainland again. Our ferry back was certainly not as eventful as our amazing dolphin encounter, but it was still calm and relaxing, and we did get to see some dolphins and sea lions working together to hunt, as well as some sea lions porpoising, which I’d never seen in the wild! Unfortunately it was pretty much impossible to get any decent photos, so I’ll spare you. Channel Islands was an amazing park and one I can’t wait to return to when I can explore more of the islands, and from the water as well!
Our Channel Islands National Park “Must Do” (for Santa Cruz Island):
Potato Harbor/Cavern Point loop trail! Hike clockwise from the upper campground- the trail is less steep and you’re ultimately rewarded with beautiful views of Anacapa Island spread out in front of you as you near the end of your hike! The loop is approximately 5 miles round trip. Bring water and sunscreen, as there is no shade for the majority of the hike!
You can also check out our review of our campground here.