Channel Islands National Park

Trek into the wilderness and sleep in the backcountry
Places we've visited and fallen in love with
A cool experience with 6 to 10 mile hikes

Beachside backpacking and sea lion sightings at Santa Rosa Island

Beachside backpacking and sea lion sightings at Santa Rosa Island

Beachside backpacking and sea lion sightings at Santa Rosa Island

Beachside backpacking and sea lion sightings at Santa Rosa Island

Designed by
Veronica Head
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Last updated
May 17, 2024

Trip · 3-day backpacking trip

For · Families and curious backpackers

Vibe · Moderate and adventurous

Distance  · 

Permits · Reserve a campsite and a round-trip ferry ticket

Drive · 1 hour drive from LA and a 2.5 hour ferry ride

Ideal dates · August 15 - December 31 (when the island is open for camping)

Pets · Not allowed on the islands

Channel Islands National Park  (CINP) has five spectacular islands: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara. Planning a backpacking a trip involves some ferry logistics, but don't let that deter you from having a once-in-a-lifetime California adventure. This trek takes you to Santa Rosa Island, which is only open for a few months out of the year. Plan ahead and enjoy unforgettable views.

Official National Park Website

Current Park Conditions

Directions to Ventura Harbor

Main image credit: Yvonne Leow

Stuff to know

  • Rodent-proof canisters and sacks are recommended in the backcountry. Pack up your scented items too.
  • Bring wag bags! Backpackers must pack out their poo and toilet paper.
  • Begin your trek with at least 2 liters of water and bring water bottles or containers for at least 6 liters.
  • Mosquitoes and ticks inhabit the islands. Bring yo' bug spray.
  • Watch out for poison oak, especially when walking off-trail.
  • Backcountry campfires are not allowed in CINP.
  • Practice Leave No Trace!

Resources

Ferry Information

Operator: Island Packers

Frequency of Trips: Boat trips run April through early November, 2-4 days per week.

Travel Time from Ventura Harbor: Boat trips are 3 hours.

Landing Conditions: Visitors must climb up steps from the boat, then up a steel-rung ladder to a lower landing, and then climb up stairs to the top of the pier at Bechers Bay. When the pier is closed, landings are via skiff onto the beach.

Check the weather
Santa Rosa Island in Channel Islands National Park

Where to camp

Water Canyon Campground

The campground is located 1.5 miles from the ferry drop off point, along a relatively flat trail.

Each campsite comes with a:

  • Picnic table
  • Fire pit
  • Food storage container
  • Space for up to 6 people
  • Vault toilets (onsite
  • Drinking water

Tucked away in a canyon to protect visitors from strong northwest winds, Water Canyon Campground offers exceptional island views, access to spectacular hiking opportunities and a nearby white sand beach. Remains of an ancient species like the pygmy mammoth have been uncovered on Santa Rosa Island. These miniature mammoths, reaching just four to six feet tall, roamed the island's grasslands and forests during the Pleistocene Age.

Check-in: Noon · Check-out: Noon

Nightly Rate: $34

No items found.

Itinerary

Day One

Santa Rosa Canyon. Credits: Recreation.gov

Leave LA and catch the morning ferry

  • Nearby grocery store · Vons - 2101 North Rose Avenue in Oxnard
  • Last pit stop · Harbor Cove Cafe - 1867 Spinnaker Drive in Ventura (2 minutes from Island Packers!)
  • Open Monday to Sunday from 7:30 AM to 11 AM and 11:30 AM to 2 PM
  • Grab a coffee and breakfast burrito for the ferry ride
  • Check-in and pick up your ferry ticket at the Island Packers Office. Ask for an interpretive guide booklet to learn more about the rich cultural history of Santa Rosa Island.
  • Before boarding the ferry, separate your backpacking stove fuel, lithium batteries, and water from your pack

Go dolphin and whale-watching!

  • It's about a 2.5 hour ferry ride from Ventura to Santa Rosa Island. Island Packers usually stops at Santa Cruz Island prior.
  • Arrival timings can vary if the captain decides to pause for dolphin and whale sightings.
  • Look out for pods of common dolphins, and grey whales are harder to spot. Whale sightings usually happen from mid- to late-December through mid-March.
  • Snacks and drinks are available to be purchased on the ferry.

Welcome to Santa Rosa Island!

  • Bask in stunning island views and steady your sea legs on the historical Santa Rosa Island pier

Hike into the campground

  • It’s a 1.5 mile flat hike to the Water Canyon Campground
  • Make sure you have sunscreen and 1L of water for the hike there.
  • Look out for island foxes!

Arrive at the campground

  • Arrive at camp, check in, and set up your campsite, dropping your supplies off
  • Make sure you keep your food in a critter proof container to keep it away from the island foxes.

Hike Cherry Canyon Loop

  • This 4.0 mile easy loop takes you from the campground, around Cherry Canyon, and past the airstrip.
  • Make sure you bring plenty of snacks and water with you (1-2L per person) for the afternoon. If you’re looking for a lightweight and packable daypack, check out REI’s 18L flash bag.
  • Take a detour down to Water Canyon Beach to relax in the pristine white sands before returning to camp at the end of the hike.
  • You might find old metal artifacts from past Santa Rosa Island ranchers.

Relax at camp and enjoy an ocean sunset dinner

  • The wind can pick up overnight so be sure to fasten down your tent.
  • Cook up dinner. Enjoy the glorious sunset and sound of crashing waves.
Channel Islands National Park was established in 1980. For over a century before, Santa Rosa Island was occupied by sheep and cattle ranchers.

Day Two

View of the sunrise at Santa Rosa Island in Channel Islands National Park
Sunrise at Santa Rosa Island. Credit: Yvonne Leow

Catch the sunrise and make brekkie

  • Enjoy the sunrise at Water Canyon Beach and cook up a breakfast back at camp.
  • If the coast is clear from sea lions, take a dip into the cold Pacific Ocean.
  • Pack a lunch, snacks, sun screen, and plenty of water for the afternoon.

Head out to Torrey Pines

  • You’ll start this hike 1.3 miles in from the Water Canyon Campground. The remaining 5.2 miles is a moderate out and back trek that loops around Torrey Pines Trail.
  • Enjoy your pack lunch out on the trail.
  • Once you reach Torrey Pines, you can opt in to more adventure and continue on to the Skunk Point Loop, or return back to camp and relax at the beach in the afternoon.
  • Skunk Point Loop is an easy 6 mile loop that takes you along the beach and coastal bluffs.

Lounge around, play games, whatever your heart desires

Santa Rosa was home to the Island Chumash tribe. In fact, the oldest human remains ever discovered in North America, dating back to 13,000 years ago, was found on Santa Rosa Island.

DAY THREE

View of Santa Cruz Island from the ferry
The view of Santa Cruz Island from the ferry. Credit: Yvonne Leow

Pack up and leave camp by 8 AM

  • Cook up brekkie, pick up any random pieces of litter around camp, and save some snacks for the return trek
  • Layer on sunscreen, bug spray, and fill up your water bottles!

Trek 1.5 miles back to the pier

  • Arrive at least 45 minutes before your departure time, it’s never a bad idea to be early for the ferry.
  • If you have some time to kill at the pier, climb down the ladder onto the beach and dip your toes into the ocean

Board the ferry and head home!

  • It's about a 2.5 hour ferry ride back to Ventura
  • Swing by an In N' Out or Shake Shack on the way back to LA
Torrey pines grow naturally in two places on Earth: one area is in San Diego and the other is on Santa Rosa Island.
June 1, 2024

Bewilder at LAist Super-Fun Saturday

Make wildflower seed bombs with Bezzi the Yeti at LAist's Super Fun Saturday

Event in 2 days

Bewilder Basecamp: Spooky Wonders

Join Bezzi the Yeti on her first spooky camping adventure!

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$399.95

NEMO 4-person Aurora Highrise

This colorful tent has plenty of standing room, is easy to set up, and pack out!

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$249.95

NEMO Stargaze Reclining Camp Chair

Lean back, and we mean all the way back, in this comfy camp chair. You'll never want to sit up.

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NEMO Moonlander Camp Table

We can confirm that these camp tables withstand hot bevvies and rock collections.

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Food For The Sole Blueberry Banana Crunch

Gluten Free • Vegan

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Packit Gourmet Diner Deluxe Eggs with Sausage

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Campfire cinnamon roll ups

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Brookside Dark Chocolate Covered Blueberries

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Angie's Boom Chicka Pop

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Santa Cruz Organic Apple Sauce

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Summer rolls with almond butter satay

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Dan dan noodles

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Asian chicken lettuce wraps

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Pho ramen

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Curry ramen

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Peanut butter cheesecake overnight oats

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