A Day Trip to Channel Islands National Park

A Day Trip to Channel Islands National Park

Potato Harbor - Channel Islands National Park

A view of Santa Cruz Island from Potato Harbor Trailhead

How do you get to Channel Islands National Park?

This post will explain how to visit the Channel Islands National Park. Visiting The Channel Islands is a wonderful day trip from Los Angeles. The Channel islands are a newer National Park ( established 1980)  and are not too crowded, making exploration easy.
The ferry ride over to the Channel Islands is also a fun way to see the plentiful marine life located in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.  We planned a 2 day trip, and incorporated the charming town of Ojai along with a day trip to the Channel Islands National Park.
Here is the 1 day itinerary for visiting Ojai, CA – what to see, do and eat in this charming town
Channel Islands National Park

Ventura – Island Packers Harbor Location

Ferry transportation to The National Park – logistics

I purchased the ferry tickets through Island Packers  website. They are the contracted Ferry Service to take visitors to Channel Islands National Park. It was a bit confusing not knowing what stop we should choose, and the space was very limited even on a Monday.  I recommend calling the office as it was very helpful. We purchased tickets for a 9:00 a.m. departure for Santa Cruz Island -Scorpion Ranch and 4:00 p.m. return to Ventura.​We were instructed to arrive at 8:15 a.m. We drove to the Ventura harbor from Ojai, California and it took us about 35 minutes in traffic. The parking is free and plentiful during the week. Weekends are probably crowded. Better to arrive early on a Saturday or Sunday.


The Central Coast of California

Ferry Ticket Prices as of August 2019

The ferry ride experience

The ferry ride was great! We had calm seas. I’ve been on a whale watching tour out of Dana Point, California and many people got seasick in the 4 foot waves. If the water is too rough Island Packers will cancel the morning of, and you will be reimbursed. Island Packers also has a 72 hour out cancellation policy. Typically there will be a marine layer in the a.m., and then it will burn off by 1 p.m. It was much warmer on the island than we expected during August. Remember a windbreaker for the boat ride, as it is cold many months out of the year.
Ferry Boat to Santa Cruz Island

Island Packers Ferry Boat to Santa Cruz Island – Scorpion Ranch

Marine life viewing in The National Marine Sanctuary


This was the board at Island Packers office for marine sightings documented daily. The count includes many ferry crossings. We did not see any whales in either direction, but we did see many bottlenose dolphins. They followed the boat and surfed the wake of the boat. It was very entertaining!!

Throughout the year it is possible to see Gray Whales, Humpback Whales, Blue Whales and  Minke Whales, Orca Whales, Common Dolphin, Risso’s Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin, Pacific White Sided Dolphin and Dall’s Porpoise.

Common Dolphin

The Common Dolphin

Arriving at Scorpion Ranch on Santa Cruz Island

Scorpion Ranch Channel Islands

Santa Cruz Island – Scorpion Ranch
We chose to visit the largest of the 5 protected Channel Islands – Santa Cruz Island (not to be confused with Santa Cruz the City). Santa Cruz “Scorpion Ranch” is the destination. It offers a small self-guided National Park Welcome Center and volunteer docents offer free guided short hikes explaining the history and nature on the island. They offer a Junior Ranger program for the little ones.

The volunteer stressed the importance of protecting our National Treasure. Trash or food is to be taken home with you! Follow the “LEAVE NO TRACE” motto as in any National Park.  I was able to get my National Park Passport stamped at the Visitors Center.

Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island – Scorpion Ranch

The hike and what we learned about Santa Cruz Island

The Island Fox - Channel Islands

The Island Fox
Santa Cruz Island

Rancher’s Home – Santa Cruz Island
If you are a history buff, you will enjoy the guided docent tour. Our passionate docent volunteer hiked us up the Potato Harbor Trailhead which is about 300 feet in elevation and about 1 mile in distance. We continued on the Potato Harbor Trail Loop for a total of 4.9 miles and total elevation of 600 feet. This is considered an easy to moderate trail. Wear sunscreen and bring at least 2 liters of water as there is no shade.
Potato Harbor Trail

Potato Harbor Trail

Channel Islands fun facts to know in case you are a contestant on Jeopardy

  • 8 Islands make up Channel Islands National Parks. 5 of these islands are protected  (Santa Cruz Island (biggest), San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Anacapa, & Santa Barbara Island)
  • The 8 islands create an archipelago that extends for 160 miles from San Miguel in the North to San Clemente Island in the South.
  • ​Santa Cruz Island of the Channel Islands is not the same as the town of Santa Cruz.
  • Santa Catalina Island or better knows as Catalina (a popular resort city by boat from LA) is part of the Channel Islands but is not protected.
  • ​There are 150 unique species of plants found only in Channel Islands National Park  and nowhere else in the World.
  • Water surrounding the islands makes up the Channel Island National Marine Sanctuary.
  • The Channel Islands were colonized 13,000 years ago, and human remains which are considered to be the oldest in North America were discovered here.
  • In the late 1800’s  Santa Cruz Island became a remote cattle ranch owned by private families. The land was gifted to the National Parks and was finally established as a National Park in 1980.
  • The island fox is an endemic species to the island and they are really sly! We saw them raiding camping sites. The island is very strict about food & trash. Leave no trace!

Going back to Channel Islands National Park


Santa Cruz Island was a delight. I would enjoy going back for another day trip for a kayaking tour of the caves. The kayaking tours are offered by an outfitter company, and it is recommended to purchase tickets prior. During the visit, I would like to add in another hike on the Southwestern side of the island.

Personally I would not take the time to visit the other accessible protected islands within Channel islands National Park. I loved this National Park, but I have so many more parks to visit.

Do you love National Parks?

Here is a link to our 61 National Parks of the United States in alphabetical order

  • Yellowstone is the oldest established in 1872
  • Indiana Dunes is the newest established in 2019

Here is a link to Channel Islands National Park

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Published by Judy Hughes

I am a small group trip leader for 2 travel clubs. We check out cool and off the beaten path places around the World. Adventure is our specialty. I love to take notes and share the travel tips with you in my blog! Hope you check it out!

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