Each of the five islands offers different hiking experiences, with well-signposted trails on Anacapa to much more challenging hiking through the rugged landscapes of Santa Rosa. Most visitors use Santa Barbara or Oxnard hotels near Channel Islands National Park as a base for their trip and this approach gives the flexibility to visit several different islands for a range of walking experiences.
Anacapa has dramatic cliff and sea views and there are well-marked trails guiding walkers from the landing cove to Inspiration Point and west towards the island's lighthouse. Close to the landing area you may also be able to spot some Californian sea lions.
Larger than Anacapa, Santa Cruz provides longer and more challenging walking opportunities. One of the most popular trips is to Smuggler's Cove, where you can explore a ruined ranch house, or just enjoy the surf crashing onto the beach.
The most popular hike on this island is a 7.5 mile loop, offering great views over the ocean and of the island's famous pine trees. More gentle walking is available if you are don't have time for the full trail. Expect to see lots of sea birds, wild flowers and maybe even a scorpion.
The unspoiled, undeveloped nature of the Channel Islands makes them perfect for enjoying life outdoors. With no Channel Islands National Park cabins available, get back to nature with camping on one of the main islands, or visit a selection of islands on day trips from the mainland. Whatever you decide, it's easy to get your outdoors adventure started.
The eastern part of Santa Cruz island is the best place for sea kayaking, with beautiful sea caves, cliffs and easy access to beaches. Join an experienced guide to get the best out of your trip and along the way you might see dolphins, whales and sea lions.
Spend longer on the islands than a day trip allows by booking one of the places at the Scorpion Ranch campsite. Given the lack of Channel Islands National Park cabins this is a popular option which requires advance booking but sleeping under the stars and having the place to yourself is an experience not to be missed.
Divers and snorkelers come from all over North America to explore the kelp forests, caves and cliffs of the National Park. Anacapa is one of the best snorkeling locations with lots of marine wildlife which can be seen within a short distance of the landing area.
Whether your kids are into wildlife or just enjoy the great outdoors, the Channel Islands National Park offers activities to suit. The adventure begins with the boat trip across from the mainland, where dolphins are often spotted. Once you are on the island the family quality time really starts.
There are few wildlife sights more thrilling than seeing whales exploding out of the ocean in a shower of foam. There have been 27 different species of whale and dolphin spotted in the waters around the Channel Islands, including the humpback whale in summer, gray whales in winter, and dolphins year round.
Frenchy's Cove on Anacapa or Smuggler's Cove on Santa Cruz have shorelines ideal for poking around in tide pools at low tide. Kids can expect to find sea anemones, limpets, urchins, starfish, and any number of other interesting sea creatures. On selected days of the year, rangers lead tidepooling excursions from the main visitor center.
Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa are the best places for surfing, and the remote nature of the islands pretty much guarantees you will have the beach to yourself. Why not make a day of it by packing a picnic or doing some swimming or snorkeling as well as riding the waves?