Camping on the Channel Islands

For nature enthusiasts seeking a true connection with the Channel Islands, camping is the best choice. Each of the Channel Islands has an established campground. The most popular campgrounds are Scorpion Ranch on Santa Cruz Island, Water Canyon on Santa Rosa Island, and the campground on east Anacapa Island.

For an extra touch of wilderness and adventure, campers may also choose backcountry camping at Santa Cruz or Santa Rosa Islands. On Santa Cruz Island, backcountry campers hike past a historic ranch trail through canyons and ridges up to Del Norte campground, nestled amidst island oak trees 700 feet above sea level with beautiful views of the coast. August through December, the pristine beaches of Santa Rosa Island are also available for backcountry camping. With  55-miles of secluded and undeveloped coastline reminiscent of days gone by, campers can experience the sense of discovery that Island Chumash and Spanish explorers may have felt.

There are a few tips to remember that will make camping run smoothly. First of all, it’s important to pack light since all campgrounds require some walking from the boat landing areas and all gear needs to be carried by campers. There is no transportation available on the islands. Packing gear in backpacks or containers with handles makes transportation easier. Each item can weigh no more than 45 pounds. Waterproofing gear is also recommended and hiking boots are a must.

Although camping conditions are primitive, all sites are equipped with picnic tables, food storage boxes, and outhouses. However, no supplies or equipment are available on the island. Campers should bring all of their supplies including water and trash containers since there are no trash services on the islands. When packing, remember that no fires are permitted on any of the islands and only enclosed, gas camp stoves may be used. While on the island, campers are advised against feeding any wildlife and encouraged to keep food and drink in animal- and bird-proof containers. It’s important to be especially cautious at Scorpion Ranch on Santa Cruz Island where clever island foxes and ravens have picked up the art of opening zippers. Campers are advised to take extra precautions by securing food and trash using safety pins, twist ties, or paper clips.

There are no entrance fees to visit the park but it is important to plan your trip in advance. Reservations for transportation to the islands should be planned prior to making camping reservations as boats do not service all islands every day. Transportation via boat through Island Packers is the easiest choice for campers. Island Packers schedule is available on their website where visitors can find which days they are going to each island.

Camping reservations must also be made in advance for any overnight stays through Recreation.gov. Camping reservations cost $15 per night, per site, and can accommodate up to 6 people. Reservations can be booked up to five months in advance. They can be made by calling (877) 444-6777 or online at Recreation.gov.

The islands often enjoy sunny and temperate weather during the day but campers should prepare for a variety of weather conditions as weather can change quickly, especially on the northernmost islands. Strong winds or fog are not uncommon on Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands. Sun exposure is also something to consider since most campgrounds lack shade. In case weather conditions do change and sea conditions inhibit boats from picking up campers, campers are encouraged to bring supplies for an extra day. However, in case of any emergency, park rangers are there to help.