Channel Islands on a whim

Never ventured further south along the California coast than Morro Bay before (which is just north of San Luis Obispo). Given the three-day weekend, we decided to see how far we’d get. Los Angeles wasn’t out of the question, but Stephanie had her sights set on Channel Islands National Park. Besides three and a half days of Zipcar, we had no plans or reservations.

We left late on Friday night after an unusually eventful evening (after-work drinks with a departing coworker, dinner with an out-of-country friend staying at our apartment). So we only made it as far as Salinas before pulling into a Motel 6 for the night (the same one we stayed at on a previous whim). The next day we stopped in San Luis Obispo for a quick walkabout and lunch “creekside” at Novo. Though we had half a thought to check out Santa Barbara, we decided to continue on to Ventura, to better our chances of making it to the Channel Islands.

San Francisco to Salinas to San Luis Obispo to Ventura to Channel Islands map
San Francisco to Salinas to San Luis Obispo to Ventura to the Channel Islands
The Channel Islands as seen from US-101, near Santa Barbara
The Channel Islands, as seen from US-101, near Santa Barbara

We arrived at Island Packers in Ventura Harbor on Saturday evening, 30 minutes before closing. There was an “all trips full” sign on the door. I went in anyway and asked if they had space left on any boats heading out the next day. They said they were full up, but after checking again, discovered that two spots to Santa Cruz Island on Sunday morning had become available. I signed us up.

We were on the boat at 9 the next morning, heading across the deep channel that gives the Channel Islands their name. Santa Cruz Island is over 20 miles from the mainland, which means I got to enjoy 6-9 foot swells for a solid hour. Suffice it to say I was a little queasy. Stephanie seemed fine.

Route from Ventura, CA to Santa Cruz Island, part of Channel Islands National Park
Ventura to Santa Cruz Island
Approaching Santa Cruz Island, part of Channel Islands National Park
Approaching the eastern end of Santa Cruz Island

We arrived at the Scorpion Anchorage, got a short orientation on the island, and then took off on the Scorpion Canyon Loop Trail. The weather was perfect. It was in the 80s with a gentle breeze, and the sky was completely clear. The trail was flat for a while, and then it started heading up. And up and up and up. We made it to the Montañnon Ridge trail, and followed it for a while before settling on a spot with a panoramic view for lunch. We had to be careful with time, as the boat would be leaving at 3:30pm, with or without us. This made us a little less adventurous than normal. We wound our way back down the loop trail, with time remaining to shock our sore feet in the cold water and sit on the beach.

Scorpion Canyon Loop Trail on Santa Cruz Island, part of Channel Islands National Park
We were not the only ones on the Scorpion Canyon Loop Trail
View towards the California coast from Santa Cruz Island, part of Channel Islands National Park
View towards the California coast
View of Anacapa Island from Santa Cruz Island, both part of Channel Islands National Park
View of the diminutive Anacapa Island in the distance

On the boat ride back, we experienced two impressive displays of nature. The first was a flock (technically a “wreck”) of brown pelicans dive-bombing an unseen group of fish below the surface. It was incredible how they managed to avoid each other and the other seabirds waiting for their scraps. The second was a pod of dolphins that started to race alongside the boat as we approached. Since we had a seen a few dolphins doing the same on the way in, I was prepared with my camera. Most of my shots are just splashes, but I managed to capture a single frame of two dolphins jumping simultaneously. And then they were gone.

Diving brown pelicans just off the coast of Santa Cruz Island
When pelicans attack!
Dolphins leaping with Anacapa Island on the horizon
Dolphins leaping with Anacapa Island on the horizon

4 Comments

sis

great shots of the wildlife. impressive.

Craig

I’ve always wanted to visit the Channel Islands. Thanks for sharing your experience and putting this destination back on my radar.

looks like a perfect short-trip !! – great !

Craig et al, I would highly recommend camping there sometime, especially if the weather was going to be good.

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