Off the coast of California is a site nicknamed the “North American Galapagos”. The Channel Islands National Park includes five islands and the sea that surrounds them. In the islands there are more than 150 types of animal species that are either native or unique to the islands. Besides the wildlife and plants, there are also more well-preserved archeological sites than anywhere on the Pacific coast. Humans have continuously occupied the islands for over 10,000 years.
The island closest to the mainland is Anacapa Island which is made up of three tiny islets that combined are about one square mile. Dramatic cliffs tower above the sea where brown pelicans and western gulls nest. From the vantage points of Cathedral Cove and Pinniped Point, sea lions and harbor seals can be seen stretched out on the rocks. Visitors shouldn’t miss Arch Rock the forty foot high natural bridge and the Anacapa lighthouse just beyond it. The diving here is spectacular with over 100 sea caves. For those thinking of spending the night there are a few downsides. There are only a few spots to camp, you have to bring in your own water and supplies and pack them out. Also there are no showers at the campsites.
Santa Cruz Island
California’s largest island, the interior has two mountain ranges with canyons and streams. The coastline is bordered by cliffs, beaches, and tide pools. The Painted Cave, one of the largest sea caves in the world is found here. The cave is colored by lichens, algae and multihued rocks. In the island’s marshes, forests, and grasslands there are 140 different species of birds along with sea lions and seals. A few of the plant species are unique to the island. The American Indians of the Chumash tribe lived here for over 9000 years where they mined quartz and made shell bead money. The ranchers and explorers 150 year legacy can be seen in the adobe houses, a chapel, wineries, and a blacksmith shop.
Santa Rosa Island
The third island from the mainland is Santa Rosa, The second largest island in California with 53,000 acres. Sandy beaches and towering cliffs overlook the sea. Visitors should be aware of the high winds on the island. Unfortunately this makes water sports more dangerous. But the sandy beaches, such as Canyon Beach, are great for walking. Hiking trails are numerous and the terrain varies from flat trails to the arduous trail to Black Mountain. The tide pools on the East Point of the island are teeming with anemones, sea stars, urchins and other marine life.
Santa Barbara Island
Santa Barbara is the smallest of the five islands at one square mile. It is shaped like a triangle and resembles a mesa. Sea Lion Rookery, Webster Point, and Elephant Seal Cove are good points from which you can observe the sea lions and seals which come here to feed on the kelp forest. Those who venture into the water can to snorkel dive, swim or kayak although there are no beaches here. For landlubbers there are six miles of hiking trails. Overnight camping trips are allowed but are limited to those staying a minimum of three days. Those who visit in the spring are treated to a fantastic display of wildflowers.
San Miguel Island
The westernmost island is San Miguel with extreme wind and weather conditions. A thrilling attraction on the island is at the end of a 8 mile hike to Point Bennett where a visitor can see a remarkable 30,000 seals and sea lions of five species on the beaches. Visitors can often spot porpoises, dolphins and whales along the coast. Bird lovers will see brown pelicans, western gulls and cormorants in the skies. Black oystercatchers are easy to spot because of their red bills and pink feet. The unique caliche forest and pygmy mammoth fossil bones are must-sees on the island.