Off the coast of California are some tiny yet beautiful islands known as the Channel Islands. They are protected as a national park, and you can visit two of the islands by taking a ferry from Ventura, California. The Channel Islands are often referred to as “the North American Galapagos” due to the presence of unique plants and wildlife.

This year is a great opportunity to see some of the “super blooms” of wildflowers that sprouted from the extra moisture the state received over the past several months.

Here’s why Channel Islands National Park is worth a trip

Channel Islands National Park is a great spot to find wildlife you won’t see anywhere else.

The series of islands are “composed of five tectonically formed islands and surrounded by an extensive marine sanctuary. The park teems with wildlife not seen anywhere else on Earth,” National Geographic reported.

There are 145 endemic species — species that are only found in a specific geographic area they are native to — located throughout the islands, according to Travel + Leisure.

At the Channel Islands, Santa Barbara Adventure Company says you could see endemic species like the following:

  • Island Fox — they are miniature and adorable.
  • Island Scrub Jay — a stunning blue bird with a distinct call.
  • Spotted Skunk — known for its “glossy fur,” it’s one of only two terrestrial carnivores who roam the islands.
  • Island Paintbrush — you can spot red or yellow blooms in the spring.
  • Torrey Pine — “One of the rarest pine trees.”
Channel Islands National Park is a great place to see unique wildflowers and more greenery than you often get to see in Southern California. This photo was taken on May 4, 2023. | Sarah Gambles, Deseret News

How to get to Channel Islands National Park

Getting to the Channel Islands is honestly half the fun. The trip offers stunning and peaceful views of the water, the islands and the wildlife around, but it is a time commitment.

Ferries to the islands leave from Ventura, California, which is around an hour and a half drive from downtown Los Angeles, depending on traffic.

Island Packers runs the ferry trips that last about an hour each way, and it’s recommended to reserve your tickets early in case they sell out on the day you want to go. When you reserve the tickets, you will select which island you want to visit, what time you would like to leave for the island and what time you would like to return from the island.

The ferry comes with a guide who explains some of the history of the islands, shares animal facts and points out animals in the water you might miss. You do have the possibility of seeing swarms of dolphins feeding, as well as a humpback or gray whale moving through the waters off the coasts.

There are snacks and drinks on board for purchase, but no meals are provided with your ticket purchase.

Santa Cruz is the largest island. It has a visitor’s center and offers the most opportunities for hiking and kayaking. The island of Anacapa has the iconic lighthouse you might recognize from photos, and is often less crowded. There are pros and cons to both.

Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park is the largest of the islands, so hikes offer views of the ocean or the canyons. This was on May 4, 2023. | Sarah Gambles, Deseret News

What to do at Channel Islands National Park

Late spring is likely the ideal time to visit the Channel Islands because it’s your best chance of seeing wildflowers and seabirds nesting, according to Outside Magazine.

Here are some activities that you can do as part of your visit:

1. Hiking Santa Cruz Island

There are lots of hikes that offer 360 degree vistas of the water from the towering cliffs, as well as hikes that meander through rolling hilly canyons. Any hike could be a chance to see some of the unique Island Foxes or other animals on the island. Just make sure you have enough time to wrap up whatever hike you choose before you need to get back on your scheduled return ferry.

2. Kayaking and snorkeling around the Channel Islands

You can bring your own kayak on the ferry, but you must let Island Packers know beforehand. There are a few different kayaking excursions you can book with varying kayaking skill levels. Some do require you to arrive at a certain time to the island, so make sure you plan your kayaking excursion and ferry reservation to match up. It’s also recommended to make the excursion reservations in advance because they do sell out.

3. Camping at the Channel Islands

There are limited campsites available, and they do require you to make reservations in advance. Campsites offer picnic tables and pit toilets, but you must bring your own water and food because there is no drinking water or food available on the island. You’re also required to carry all of the trash you make during your stay out of the park with you.

Things to keep in mind on your trip to Channel Islands National Park

Even if you’re just doing a day trip, make sure to bring water and snacks because there will not be any available once you get there. It’s not a park you can drop by on a whim, so make sure to plan when and where you want to go, what you want to do, and how long you want to stay well in advance.

Enjoy the peace and quiet in a unique place so close to one of the largest metropolises in the United States!

“Millions of people live on the Southern California mainland, but (in the park) you don’t hear engines or see lights or have any sense that human beings other than you exist,” novelist T.C. Boyle told Sunset Magazine in 2011, per National Geographic.