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The Ultimate Guide to Camping in Channel Islands National Park

Sometimes, you just need to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Especially for those of you in California, having an escape from the congestion of the big city can be an incredible change of pace, both for you and your whole family. But, where do you go? Channel Islands National Park, of course.

Camping in Channel Islands National Park
Coast of Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park

Channel Island is a national park off the coast of Ventura consisting of five picturesque islands. While visiting here is fun, camping here is heavenly. In case you’re in the mood for a quick getaway into nature, here’s everything you need to know about camping in Channel Islands National Park.

What to Pack When Camping in Channel Islands National Park

Before heading out to your favorite island, you have to make sure you’re properly packed. Camping requires various tools and equipment to keep you safe and comfortable; after all, you are choosing to live in the wild for a few days. 

To help you have the best camping experience possible, here’s everything you should be packing before you head across the water. 

What to pack camping - camping gear by a car.
Picture of different expedition equipment. There are backpack with carimate, sleeping bag and dishes. Young man and woman are packing tent. They are at car.

Camping Gear

Packing, in general, must be light. While packing everything into an RV and driving to campsite can be great, that’s simply not the case for your trip to the Channel Islands. The only way for you to actually get to this national park is either by boat or by plane, so you want to make sure your equipment is compact, well-organized, and contains everything you need.

Since there is no RV camping at the Channel Islands, make sure you come prepared with a high-quality camping tent, sleeping bags, and extra pillows and blankets. Your tent should be durable and as weather-proof as possible to keep you safe from Mother Nature outside. Don’t forget the equipment necessary to pitch your tent, either.

You simply cannot go camping without bringing some flashlights, extra batteries, and a hunting knife or multi-tool. Having flashlights and backup batteries ensure that you never go without a light source; this is crucial during your camping trip, as you never know what you could be lurking about. 

Multi-tools, too, contain practically everything you’d need right in your pocket. Whether you need a sharp knife to carve some wood, some scissors to cut fishing line, or even just a pair of nail clippers to deal with that nasty hangnail, a multi-tool can help you with all that and so much more. They’re a necessity for any camping trip.

Proper Clothing

When you’re venturing out into the great outdoors, you want to make sure you have the proper clothing attire to do so. Though you’re welcome to go camping in your jeans and t-shirt, we highly urge against that for both safety and comfort reasons. Instead, you should be packing high-quality pieces of clothing that are designed specifically to handle Mother Nature.

Compression shirts and shorts can be wonderful for keeping you warm and your body protected. A long sleeve compression shirt ensures that your body heat stays trapped inside, while your arms stay shielded from bugs, the sun, and prickly, pokey bushes. Same goes for long, protective pants!

Make sure you pack a proper pair of hiking shoes, as well. If you’re planning on doing a little bit of exploring, you need to make sure that you have a good pair of sturdy, water-proof shoes. On the Channel Islands, you’re surrounded by island terrain and a whole lot of water; you have to make sure your shoes can handle that kind of wear. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself being extremely uncomfortable. 

Fried Eggs while camping

Cooking Essentials

Not everybody likes to cook in the great outdoors, but we sure do. If you’re going to be out in the Channel Islands National Park for a few days, it’s a good idea to bring along some cooking essentials. You don’t want to haul your pots and pans from home, though. Instead, you can invest in an entire outdoor cooking kit that has durable pots, pans, and utensils made exclusively for camping. 

You can’t forget a heat source to make your delicious food! There are various high-quality portable propane stoves available to you for your camping adventures, or, you can go the traditional route and just get some fire starter and cook over the open flame. However, you choose to do it, here are some camping recipes to help you enjoy it even more. 

Survival Gear
Common items for emergency

Emergency Equipment 

Finally, you cannot go exploring in the wilderness without a few pieces of emergency equipment. Unfortunately, you just don’t know what could happen out there in the wilderness, so it’s best to be prepared for whatever might come your way. In case of an emergency, make sure you always have a comprehensive first aid kit on hand.

Camping first aid kits should come standard with things like thermal blankets, bandaids, gauze, antiseptic wipes, a glowstick, and a whole lot more. Essentially, you should have everything you need to treat minor wounds and injuries, no problem.

On top of a first aid kit, having extra batteries, a map/compass, lanterns, and a communicator device will all ensure that you stay safe and sound, no matter where you venture off to and when. It may seem excessive, but having these things are the best way to survive in the wild.

Where to Camp

Your bags are packed and you’re ready to go. What’s next? Finding out where to camp, of course! Luckily for you, at the Channel Islands National Park, you have quite a variety of campsites to choose from. 

Choose Your Island!

At the Channel Islands National Park, you have the option of choosing which island you want to stay on. Each one of the five islands offers one developed campground that’s perfect for pitching a tent and watching the waves roll by. 

Anacapa Island

On Anacapa Island, there are seven individual campsites to choose from and they’re only accessible by boat. This island is the closest island to inland Ventura and it’s composed of incredible sights all molded by historic volcanic activity. Here, you’ll even see a 40-ft high arch rock that perfectly symbolizes all that Anacapa has to offer. 

Camp Site and Tent on Anacapa Island, Channel Islands, California
Camp Site and Tent on Anacapa Island, Channel Islands, California

Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island is home to the most family-friendly, well-developed campground in the entire national park. Scorpion Canyon Campground has 25 campsites for you to choose from, offering various activities that are wonderful for the whole family. Feel free to go scuba diving, whale watching, or just have a picnic on the beach. 

San Miguel Island

Reached by both boat and plane, San Miguel Island offers nine campsites for you to stay in, each one boasting amazing waterfront views. In order to even get to this campground, though, you have to make quite a hike up the Nidever Canyon. If you’re down to do some hiking right off the bat, camping at San Miguel Island is the right spot for you. 

Santa Barbara Island

If you’re looking for some breathtaking coastal views, camping at Santa Barbara Island is perfect. Again, this campground takes a little bit of work to get there, but once you’ve reached the top of the bluff, you’re surrounded by ocean views that are simply spectacular. Here, you have ten campsites to choose from. 

Santa Rosa Island

Beaches of Santa Rosa Island
A canyon offers a glimpse of the remote beaches of Santa Rosa Island with clear water and beautiful colors.

Finally, you can also go camping at one of the 15 primitive sites that Santa Rosa Island provides. This campground deliberately tucked away behind a large canyon to provide ultimate privacy (and protection from the wind). Right on the edge of the water, you spot various bird species and even island foxes if you’re lucky. 

Sights to See

Now that you know where to stay, it’s time to learn about the sights worth seeing on each of the beautiful islands in the Channel Islands National Park. 

Inspiration Point, Anacapa Island

Inspiration Point, Anacapa island
View from Inspiration Point, Anacapa island, California in Channel Islands National Park.

There is no view more incredible than the one that Inspiration Point offers. Located all around Anacapa Island, Inspiration Point is an easy 0.5 mile hike that allows you to explore not only the island, but the scenery of the channel of islands in front of you. 

When going on this hike, make sure you remember to bring your camera: you’ll capture some photos that you simply cannot believe exist. 

Painted Cave, Santa Cruz Island

The beautiful and colorful Painted Cave at Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands.
The beautiful and colorful Painted Cave at Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands.

Here on Santa Cruz Island, you will find one of the largest and deepest caves in the entire world. Santa Cruz Island is home to Painted Cave, a cave full of bright, colorful rock types and various water wildlife. 

The entire cave is less than half a mile long and 100 feet wide. To enter the cave, you get to experience a 160-foot waterfall pouring right over you. 

Point Bennett, San Miguel Island

If you’re on San Miguel Island, you have to head on over to Point Bennett. Here, you will get to see over 30,000 seals and sea lions relishing in their natural habitat. 

This is a spectacular sight to see, but do remember that it took years for their population to increase after years of deadly hunting. So, treat these cute pinnipeds with respect and watch them thrive in their home. 

Whale Watching, Santa Barbara Island

Humpback Whale tail
Detailed front view of a Humpback Whale tail with water cascading off the back. Channel Islands National Park in the background.

When you’re staying on Santa Barbara Island, make sure you hop on a boat and head out to do some whale watching. 

The waters surrounding this island (and the others) are home to at least 27 different whale species. You’re most likely to see these magnificent gray whales from mid-late December through mid-March, with blue whales being active during the summer.

Torrey Pines, Santa Rosa Island

Santa Rosa Island is an incredible place for all you plant enthusiasts. On this island, you will find over 500 different plant species that are endemic to Santa Rosa island. 

One of these plant species is the incredible Torrey pine. The Torrey pine is well known to be one of the rarest pines in the whole world, and this island is full of them.  

Torrey Pines Channel Islands
Santa Rosa Torrey Pines. One of the eight California Channel Islands, the only spot off the maniland where the rare Torrey Pines (Pinus torreyana) grow.

Things to Consider

When you’re camping in the Channel Islands National Park–no matter which island you’re on–you want to make sure you consider two things: weather and wildlife. 

For the most part, the Channel Islands experience quite mild weather because of the moderation from the seas around them. That being said, during the summer months, you’ll experience temperatures in the 70s, while the winter offers 50°F weather quite consistently. 

You don’t have to worry about too much inclement weather, except for the occasional rainfall or heavy fog. However, it’s best to be prepared for anything, so bring water-proof everything!

When it comes to wildlife, you have to consider both terrestrial animals and aquatic animals. Because these are islands, you’ll see much more bird species than anything; however, there are also a variety of small animals living here, such as foxes, deer mice, and various reptiles. 

Aquatic animals, as we mentioned, are incredibly common. You’re likely to see some whales off in the distance, as well as various seal species, otters, dolphins, lobsters, and so much more. When venturing out into the sea, always be aware of your surroundings. 

Happy Camping!

Camping in Channel Islands National Park is one of the most incredible places to camp and visit in all of California. When you’re here, you don’t even feel like you’re off the coast of Ventura. Camping here, as you can probably tell, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that everyone deserves to have.

National park camping is one of the best ways to camp. But, if you’re interested in state camping, RV camping, or anything else, Beyond the Tent is here to help. Check out our blog for everything about camping, camping gear, and everything in between.