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Channel Islands National Park Fees & Reservations

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Channel Islands 11

Channel Islands 11 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You don’t have to pay an entrance fee to visit Channel Islands National Park, it’s completely free, but if you want to camp overnight (and who would blame you), you do have to pay for the privilege.

Overnight camping on the islands of Channel Islands National Park is charged at $15 per night which includes the National Park Service fee plus a fee to help maintain the campgrounds.

Of course, actually getting to the Channel Islands National Park is a different matter altogether. Basically if you haven’t got your own boat you need to either fly there or book a boat for transportation, both of which can be reserved in advance.

Boats to Channel Islands National Park – You do need to make an advance reservation for a boat trip to Channel Islands National Park. Boats depart from Ventura or Channel Islands (Oxnard), ring Island Packers on 805 642 1393 for further information.

Planes to Channel Islands National Park – You must make a reservation for your air transport to Channel Islands National Park. Planes depart from Camarillo airport, ring 805 987 1301 for more details.

Camping at Channel Islands National Park

You can camp all year round at Channel Islands National Park on each of the five islands. At the moment there’s one established campground on each of the islands;

  • Santa Barbara – above The Landing Cove
  • Anacapa – on the eastern side of the island
  • Santa Cruz – at Scorpion Ranch
  • Santa Rosa – camping at Water Canyon
  • San Miguel – above Cuyler Harbor

You are not permitted to camp on The Natures Conservancy of Western Santa Cruz Island, but there is a limited amount of back country camping permitted on Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa – more about that later.

Transportation to the Campground – basically there are more people visiting the Channel Islands National Park than there are wanting to camp there, so it’s important that you reserve your boat transport to your chosen island before reserving a camping site. You must, however, reserve a camping site before setting off for your camping trip to Channel Islands National Park. You can make your reservations up to five months in advance of your trip, and you will be charged $15 per night to camp in the park (including the reservation fee).

As you may expect, camping on the Channel Islands National Park is a pretty primitive affair (which is much of the charm) and, as there is no transportation actually on the islands themselves, you gotta’ carry all of your camping gear with you from the landing area to the campsite. Here’s what to expect;

  • Anacapa – there are 7 campsites on the island, approximately half a mile away (157 stairs), with a maximum of 4 -6 campers per site.
  • Eastern Santa Cruz (Scorpion Ranch) – this island has 31 campsites which are a flat half a mile away, with the capacity for 6 – 15 campers per site.
  • Santa Rosa – has 15 campsites, a mile and a half’s flat hike from the pier, or just a quarter of a flat mile from the airstrip, suitable for 5 campers per site
  • San Miguel – 9 campsites available here, 1 mile up a very steep hill, 4 campers per site
  • Santa Barbara – there are 10 campsites on this island, a quarter of a mile up a steep hill, each suitable for 4 campers

Camping Facilities at Channel Islands National Park

  • All campsites are pretty primitive
  • You must camp within the designated areas only
  • Picnic tables are provided
  • Pit toilets are provided
  • There is no water – except at the Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz campgrounds
  • There are no trash containers – take your trash with you
  • San Miguel and Santa Rosa campgrounds have wind breaks (what does that tell you – there’s the possibility of up to 30 knot winds)
  • Make sure that tents are securely fastened down, low profile tents are the best option
  • Fires are not permitted at any of the campgrounds
  • Only gas camp stoves are permitted
  • All food and drink must be kept in rodent proof containers
  • Keep tents zipped up at all times (to keep the mice out)
  • All trash must be stored in animal and bird proof containers to reduce scavenging
  • Bring an extra days supplies in case of adverse weather conditions when the boat can’t come and get you

When camping at Channel Islands National Park it’s important to remember that if you think you’re gonna’ need it, take it with you. There are no supplies anywhere, so take it with you and then carry it out again.

Back Country Camping at Channel Islands National Park

There are two places where you can enjoy a little back country camping in Channel Islands National Park. The first is on Santa Cruz Island at the Del Norte campsite, close to Prisoners Harbor which is available all year round, and the second is on Santa Rosa Island, although currently back country camping is permitted only between August 15 and December 31st.

  • Del Norte Campsite, Santa Cruz Island – This campsite is 700 feet above sea level and enjoys a large amount of shade, plus glorious views over the coastline. It’s a 3.5 mile hike to the campground from Prisoners Harbor, or a 12 mile hike from Scorpion Anchorage. There are 4 campsites each taking a maximum of 4 campers, plus a picnic table, pit-style toilet (bring your own paper) and animal proof container. There is no water.
  • Santa Rosa Island – camping is permitted on certain beaches between August 15 and December 31.  The nearest beach where camping is allowed is a 9 mile hike from the drop-off location for the boat and the plane. Water is available all year round in some of the islands canyons.

A word of warning from the wise to the foolish – is that you? Back country camping really is an awesome experience, but it’s certainly not suitable for inexperienced backpackers. The weather here can be difficult, the terrain is extremely rugged and back country or off-trail camping is not for the faint hearted . . . should only be attempted by experienced backpackers.


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