Posted: Friday, Oct 29th, 2021

By Visit Ventura

Know Before You Go: Channel Islands National Park

Much ado is (rightly) made about the five islands of Channel Islands National Park, and if you want to know why you must visit these life-changing islands just off the coast of Ventura, well just click here.

But right now we have more practical matters at hand. Any trip to the Channel Islands will be a whole lot more pleasant if you’re prepared. Knowledge does that.

And so, a short, practical must-know list. With a nod to the wisdom of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” … Learn it. Know it. Live it.

Photo by Lucas Suarez

If you don’t have your own boat, the only way you’ll get out to the islands is with Island Packers Cruises. Their boats depart from Ventura Harbor and Oxnard’s Channel Islands Harbor. No one knows the islands and their waters better. Book ahead. Island trips are popular.

There’s no food out there. No, Circle K, no In-N-Out. If you don’t bring food with you it will be a long day. If you’re reading this on the boat, don’t jump overboard. Island Packers boats sell snacks, drinks, and a handful of microwavable items. They take credit cards, but cash is nice too so, at day’s end, you can leave a tip for the boat crew.

Bring lots of water. When you’re hiking on the islands it’s a long way between sources of water (ie campground spigots) — and, more often than not, there aren’t any (some of the islands don’t have any public drinkable water at all). Unseemly to stand, weeping, outside the ranger’s quarters.

Dress in layers, so you can put things on and take things off. Yes, it’s Southern California, but no it isn’t. The islands possess their own weather, some of it shockingly severe. A weather station on San Miguel Island once recorded a windchill of 17 degrees fahrenheit. Note the term “wind.” All of the islands can do wind in a big way. A fine idea to check the current weather forecast before (see “cell phone reception” below) you get on the boat. For more info click here.

You’ll wait forever for an Uber. The only way you’re getting around on the islands is by foot (or kayak). There’s no transportation on any of the islands.

Wear sturdy hiking shoes. You hear this one all the time, but you still see flip-flopped folks navigating trails like Bourbon Street patrons at closing time.

Wear a hat. If you don’t, you’ll bake yourself silly; and possibly make more irrational decisions. Your Mom is right — sunscreen and chapstick too. And maybe a tie for that hat. Remember the wind.

Pack it in, pack it out. There’s no place to leave your trash on the island. No trash cans. No dumpsters. Be prepared to cart your trash home.

Don’t leave your gear unattended, especially if there’s food in it. The island foxes and the ravens are zipper masters. Goodbye cookies, apples, and sandwiches. Nor are the ravens averse to flying off with shiny objects — like car keys — either. Campers, zipper your tent shut. Foxes have been known to prance jauntily into tents and, after eating whatever is available, leaving a deposit.

Can you bring your dog? Sorry, no.

Do you have to pay a park entry fee? Happily, no.

Can you get cell phone reception? Mostly, no. Sometimes there is spotty reception, but nothing you can bank on. Great idea to turn your phone off or put it in airplane mode while you’re on the island; this prevents your phone from roam searching (mostly vainly) for a signal, draining your battery.

If you’re camping, book your boat ride first and then your campsite. It’s a long swim — with or without camping gear. You can book a campsite on any of the five islands by calling (877) 444-6777 or going through Recreation.gov.

Take advantage of the Park Service’s great NPS Channel Islands app. Self-guided tours, hiking trails, maps and so much more..And download it before you go.

Emergencies are rare, but they happen. If you can, contact a ranger. If phone service is available call the National Park Dispatch Center at 559-565-4221 (they answer 24/7). On the water, use a marine radio to contact the US Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16.

Consult the Channel Islands National Park website for a whole lot more useful information. Please see also the page specific to planning. Island Packers has great information too — here and here.

Know that a trip to Channel Island National Park will change your life.

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