Backpacking Channel Islands: California’s Untouched Beauty

Backpacking Channel Islands - Camping With A View

Are you willing to backpack the Channel Islands? These five remarkable islands off the coast of Southern California are a hidden gem waiting to be explored. And lucky for us, they are protected as a national park, preserving their natural beauty and unique ecosystem.

One of the best ways to fully experience the Channel Islands is through backpacking. By strapping on a pack and hitting the trails, you can immerse yourself in the stunning landscapes and wildlife that call these islands home.

Your Comprehensive Guide to Backpacking on Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park View

If you’re ready to plan your own backpacking adventure on Channel Islands National Park, look no further! Our comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know before hitting the trails.

We’ll cover which islands are best for backpacking, what gear you’ll need, how to obtain permits, and even some insider tips for making your trip unforgettable. Whether you’re an experienced backpacker or new to this type of adventure, our guide has something for everyone.

Planning Your Trip

Before embarking on your backpacking trip to the Channel Islands, there are a few logistics to consider. Here’s what you need to know:


The only way to reach the islands is by boat or plane. Island Packers offers ferry service from Ventura Harbor to all five islands in the park. Alternatively, Channel Islands Aviation provides flights from Camarillo Airport to Santa Rosa Island.

Permits and Camping Reservations

Backcountry camping permits are required for all overnight stays on the islands. Permits can be obtained through recreation.gov up to six months in advance. It’s important to note that permits are limited and can sell out quickly during peak season (May-September).

There are four campgrounds on Santa Cruz Island: Del Norte, Scorpion Ranch, Prisoners Harbor, and Christy Beach.

Timeline for Planning Your Trip

To ensure the availability of permits and campsites, it’s recommended that you plan your trip at least six months in advance. Here’s a timeline for planning your trip:

  • Six Months Before: Reserve your backcountry camping permit and campground reservation.
  • Three Months Before: Begin researching gear and clothing needed for your trip.
  • One Month Before: Purchase any necessary gear or clothing. If you purchased a pair of new hiking boots, slowly start breaking them in.
  • One Week Before: Start packing your backpack with all necessary items.

Related reading: Easy Techniques To Break In Hiking Boots

Packing Tips

When packing for a multi-day backpacking trip on the Channel Islands, it’s important to pack light but also be prepared for changing weather conditions. Here are some tips:

  • Clothing: Bring layers that can easily be added or removed depending on the temperature. A waterproof jacket is also essential.
  • Footwear: Hiking boots with good ankle support are recommended.
  • Gear: A lightweight tent, sleeping bag rated for the expected temperature range, cooking stove and fuel, water filter or purification tablets, headlamp with extra batteries, map and compass/GPS device.
  • Food: Plan meals ahead of time and bring non-perishable food items that are easy to prepare.

Related reading: Fueling Your Adventure: The Ultimate Guide To Hiking Snacks

Backpacking on the Channel Islands

If you’re looking for the best backpacking trails in Channel Islands National Park, you’re in luck! With five unique islands to explore, there are plenty of options for hikers of all levels. Here are some of the top backpacking trails to consider:

Cueva Valdez to Arch Rock Trail

Cueva Valdez to Arch Rock Trail

This trail is a must-do for any backpacker visiting Channel Islands National Park. The 3-mile hike takes you through scenic valleys and up steep hillsides, culminating in breathtaking views of Arch Rock. Along the way, keep an eye out for wildlife such as island foxes and bald eagles.

Montañon Ridge Loop

Montañon Ridge Loop

For a more challenging hike, try the Montañon Ridge Loop. This 8-mile trail takes you up to the highest point on Santa Cruz Island, offering panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. Be prepared for steep climbs and rocky terrain.

Del Norte and Scorpion Campground

Del Norte and Scorpion Campground

This 10-mile trail is perfect for backpackers who want to experience both rugged wilderness and coastal scenery. The trail takes you from Del Norte campground to Scorpion campground, passing through grassy meadows and along rocky cliffs.

Point Bennet Trail

Point Bennet Trail

The trail begins at Cuyler Harbor landing and leads along the beach almost one mile to the east before heading through Nidever Canyon. The route is generally considered challenging, with an average hiking time of around 6 hours. However, the stunning views along the way make it all worthwhile.

One of the main attractions of this trail is the opportunity to observe large colonies of seals and sea lions at Point Bennet. More than 30,000 pinnipeds (three different species) call this area home, making it a truly unique wildlife viewing experience.

Before embarking on your hike, it’s important to plan ahead. The trail can be strenuous, so make sure you’re prepared with plenty of water, sunscreen, and appropriate clothing. Additionally, permits are required for all visitors to San Miguel Island, so be sure to obtain one before your trip.

Ford Point via East Point Trail

Ford Point via East Point Trail

The trail to Ford Point follows an old road that can be quite challenging due to its rugged terrain. It’s important to wear sturdy hiking boots and bring plenty of water as there are no facilities along the way. The trail is approximately 5 miles round trip, so make sure you’re prepared for a long hike.

Despite the challenging terrain, the views from Ford Point are absolutely breathtaking. From the top of the point, you can see panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Rosa Island. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some wildlife along the way such as dolphins or whales.

Exploring the Islands

From hiking to snorkeling, kayaking to wildlife viewing, there’s something for everyone on these stunning islands.

Snorkeling and Diving


The crystal-clear waters surrounding the Channel Islands are perfect for snorkeling and diving. Santa Barbara Island is known for its kelp forests and diverse marine life, while Anacapa Island offers colorful sea caves to explore.


Kayaking in Channel Islands

Kayaking is a popular way to explore the sea caves and rugged coastline of the Channel Islands. Rent a kayak or take a guided tour around Santa Cruz or Santa Rosa Island for an unforgettable experience.

Wildlife Viewing

Wildlife in Channel Islands

The Channel Islands are home to over 2,000 species of plants and animals, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. Keep an eye out for island foxes, bald eagles, and whales during your visit.

Must-See Sights on Each Island

Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island is the largest island in the park and offers something for everyone. Don’t miss Scorpion Ranch Campground, Potato Harbor Overlook Trail, or Prisoners Harbor.

Anacapa Island

Anacapa Island may be small but it’s packed with beauty. Be sure to check out Inspiration Point Overlook Trail and Cathedral Cove.

Santa Rosa Island

Santa Rosa Island is known for its stunning beaches and unique wildlife. Don’t miss Lobo Canyon Trail or Skunk Point.

San Miguel Island

San Miguel is one of the most remote islands in the park but well worth the journey. Check out Point Bennett Trail or Prince Island Beach.

Tips for a Successful Backpacking Trip

Staying Hydrated and Well-Fed

One of the most important things to remember when backpacking is to stay hydrated. Make sure you bring plenty of water with you, and consider investing in a water filtration system so you can refill your bottles from streams or other natural sources along the way.

In addition to water, it’s also important to bring plenty of food with you on your trip. Look for lightweight, high-energy foods like trail mix, energy bars, and dehydrated meals that are easy to pack and won’t spoil quickly.

Related reading: Hiking Hydration: What Is Best To Drink While Hiking?

Dealing with Inclement Weather

Even if the forecast calls for clear skies, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for inclement weather when backpacking. Make sure you bring rain gear and warm layers in case temperatures drop unexpectedly. It’s also a good idea to pack extra socks and shoes in case your feet get wet.

Safety Considerations

When backpacking, it’s important to be aware of potential hazards like steep cliffs and wildlife encounters. Make sure you stay on designated trails and avoid getting too close to the edges of cliffs or other drop-offs. If you encounter wildlife like bears or snakes, give them plenty of space and don’t try to approach them.

Minimizing Your Environmental Impact

Finally, it’s important to be mindful of your environmental impact when backpacking. Follow Leave No Trace principles by packing out all trash (including toilet paper), avoiding damaging vegetation or wildlife habitats, and using established campsites whenever possible.


If you’re looking for a unique and unforgettable backpacking experience, the Channel Islands National Park should be at the top of your list. With five islands to explore, each with its own distinct features and hiking trails, there’s something for every level of hiker.

One of the biggest benefits of backpacking on the Channel Islands is the stunning wildlife you’ll encounter along the way. From sea lions and dolphins to bald eagles and island foxes, there’s no shortage of amazing creatures to see. And with crystal-clear waters surrounding the islands, snorkeling and kayaking are popular activities as well.

To make the most of your backpacking experience on the Channel Islands, be sure to pack plenty of water and food, as well as appropriate clothing for changing weather conditions. It’s also important to follow Leave No Trace principles and respect the fragile ecosystem of these unique islands.