When to Go
All-year park. Boat schedules peak in spring and summer, but you should be able to book a trip in any month. Best whale-watching time: late December through March, and July and August.
How to Get There
Take US 101 to Ventura. Northbound, exit at Victoria Avenue; southbound, at Seaward Avenue. Follow park signs to the harbor and then to the visitor center on Spinnaker Drive. Get oriented here. Schedule your boat trip in advance as most boats depart early in the morning, then go to the nearby Island Packers office. Airports: Camarillo, Oxnard, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles International.
How to Visit
Your exploration of this unique park depends on your time and resources. Even a short stop at the mainland visitor center will give you an understanding and appreciation of the park. For a one-day visit, see the closest island, Anacapa or Santa Cruz. Take all necessities, especially food and water, and dress in layers for all types of weather. Trips to the other islands require substantial advance planning. The park cautions people from doing more than treading lightly on the islands, which are maintained for the well-being of the residents, both flora and fauna.
Where to Stay
There are no hotels on any of the Channel Islands, but there are campsites available year-round on each of the islands. The campgrounds are not located close to the boat landing areas, so all gear needs to be carried. No fires are permitted; gas camp stoves available. All trash should be kept in bird- and animal-proof containers. Make sure to keep tents closed at all times to discourage rodents carrying the hantavirus. If you’re planning to camp on Santa Cruz Island follow precautions to protect food and trash from scavenging pigs that live on the island.
Before making camping reservations, make boat reservations through Island Packers. Visit the national park service website to make a reservation at one of the campgrounds and to get more information on closures and things to bring with you.
Since it takes time to travel from mainland California to the islands, plan ahead to give yourself enough time to experience them. When you first arrive, stop by a visitors center to get oriented, then go to the Island Packers office in Ventura or Truth Aquatics' office in Santa Barbara to get boat schedules for each of the islands. Anacapa is great for a day trip because it's only an hour-and-a-half boat ride from the coast and has dramatic cliffs, the famous Arch Rock, and hundreds of sea birds and marine mammals.
Santa Rosa is ideal for people wanting to spend more than a day away from the mainland. Rangers give free tours that explore canyons and beaches. To get more of a wilderness feel, visit San Miguel Island, the farthest island from the coast, which can be windy and blanketed in fog, but is usually uncrowded.