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Park History: Channel Islands National Park

Santa Rosa Island, Channel Islands NP. NPS photo

Water Canyon Beach on Santa Rosa Island. NPS Photo by Derek Lohuis.

Early March sure is full of national park birthdays.

Today, for instance, is the 28th birthday of Channel Islands National Park, which is composed of a clutch of islands off the California coast. One of the park's claims to fame is the fact that its eight islands are said to host the largest seal and sea lion breeding colony in the United States.

Of course, the islands also offer other critters, such as bald eagles. And, thanks to 21st century technology, you don't even have to leave home to catch a glimpse of these birds at home in the islands. Thanks to "Nest Cam" you can receive a feed from a remote solar-powered camera focused on an eagle nest. Tune in at the right time and you might even see one of the parents warming this year's eggs.

Of course, last year the park was in the news not only because of the web cam but because of U.S. Rep. Hunter Duncan's unsuccessful efforts to turn part of Santa Rosa Island into a hunting preserve for disabled military personnel. Never mind that the Paralyzed Veterans of America never wanted such a preserve.

Politics aside, this park, along with its incredible sea- and birdlife, can be the perfect backdrop for sea kayaking, backpacking, scuba diving or snorkeling.

There's also an amazing amount of human history in the islands:

The Channel Islands have attracted many explorers, scientists and historians during the past few centuries. Today, island visitors can explore the world of the native Chumash, walk the shores where European explorers landed, discover new tales from California’s ranching history, and witness the remains of off-shore shipwrecks.

The northern Channel Islands were home to many native Chumash communities who are believed to have inhabited the islands for thousands of years. When Europeans first reached the islands in the 16th century, they discovered a rich culture dependent upon the resources of the land and the sea for sustenance and survival. By the nineteenth century, the islands were fulfilling different purposes: vast sheep and cattle ranches occupied Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel islands and the channel waters were aggressively harvested for fish and marine mammals. The remains of ancient Chumash villages are intermingled with historic ranch complexes and later military structures, testifying to the diverse heritage of human experience on these offshore islands.

Getting to Channel Islands National Park just might be the toughest part of your trip here, as the islands can only be reached by private boat, chartered boat, or plane. Where there are no entrance fees to pay at the park, if you plan to stay overnight there's a $15 per-night campsite fee.


This is one of the great parks of our National Park System. I was fortunate to have worked in the NPS's legislative division when the Act that changed Channel Islands from a national monument to a national park was being negotiated. I was also lucky enough to have been on the region's dive team while stationed in Yosemite. We often did training dives in the kelp forests off the islands. It is a unique, wild, and beautiful place; I treasure the memories of my visits there.

Rick Smith

I'm going Rick! You just sold me.

You don't need a private boat or charter one, as there is a regular service to all of the islands. Even in the winter, there is at least one trip per day from one of the departure sites to one of the islands. In summer many more.


You won't regret it. It's a bit of a chore to visit the park as Kurt mentions in his introductory piece. But, the islands are spectacular and the historic resources on Santa Rosa are interesting. If you are a diver, this is a must.

Rick Smith

Thanks Rick! Plan to take my daughter and her husband. One quick question, what time of year is the best time to visit... for the optimum experience? Your personal choice!

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