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Channel Islands National Park -- Santa Cruz Island


 California Trip

 In our effort to visit every US National Park (and hopefully then international as well) we booked ourselves a little National Park road trip type deal. Now that we live in Washington, the best of West is even closer than it was when we lived in Pennsylvania. 

The plan was to hit a few amusement parks on the way as well. In PA we were spoiled with having some world class rollercoaster parks relatively close, like Hersheypark, Knoebels, Cedar Point, etc. The one thing we miss the most about the east was roller coasters. There are no good roller coaster parks in the Pacific Northwest! Thus, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Knotts Berry Farm in California were on our to do list. We tried to rule out some of the insanely hot desert National Parks, like Death Valley and Joshua Tree since we were traveling in June. So we settled on Channel Islands, Pinnacles, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite. 

We flew in to John Wayne Orange County, since it was closer to our first destination, Knotts Berry Farm, and cheaper to rent a car than LAX. Knotts is a small park, and of course like always, Xcelerator was down, so we didn't spend a lot of time there and went to Monkish Brewing on our way to the hotel for the night. I've been waiting and wanting to try these guys for ages. They did not disappoint. In the morning after Knotts and Monkish we headed over to Channel Islands National Park! Our first of many national parks on the trip. 

Monkish Brewing Company
Sitting Outside at Monkish. So good!


Channel Islands

Santa Cruz Island Channel Islands NP Sign

Unlike most National Parks, you can't drive to Channel Islands, they're islands! The islands consist of Santa Rosa, San Miguel, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, and Anacapa Islands. Your only way to reach the islands is by watercraft, either private craft, or by Island Packers boat, a licensed concessionaire for the islands.  We booked a trip with Island Packers and visited Santa Cruz island, which in fact is the most visited of the Channel Islands. Along with booking the boat ride, we also booked a guided Kayak tour with them as well. It's a very popular activity for the island, so we felt it very necessary. Scorpion anchorage is the most popular area to do this.

Pulling into Santa Cruz Island
Pulling into the island on the boat. It was a chilly cloudy boat ride in, which soon changed by afternoon.

Channel Island Hills
You're immediately greeted by beautiful hilly landscapes!

You can bring your own kayak, rent one to use solo, or simply get one for use during a guided tour. Us being amateurs, went for the guided tour, which was still nothing short of awesome! They offer more of a full day tour, or just 1.5-2 hour tour. We did the shorter tour which takes you through some awesome sea caves, but also leaves you time to hike the island on foot as well. If you decide to camp on the island and have more time, why not swing for the longer one. If you aren't camping on the island, you're very limited on time, because the earliest boat can get you to the island by roughly 10am, and the latest boat picks you up from the island at 4PM. So unless staying overnight, you have about 6 hours on the island.  

Island Packers Boat
There's the return boat! Don't miss it!

 The boat times are relatively approximate as well, because on your way through the channel, the boat does and will slow down or stop for ocean life. We were a little bit late getting to the island because the channel was EXTREMELY active with whales. We saw humpback whales AND Blue Whales on our way to and from the island. A park ranger was in complete shock. It is evidently very rare to catch a Blue Whale sighting, especially, seeing them put their tails above water to dive down, and we saw it! He said "It took me 1.5 years to see a blue whale as a ranger, and these people see it in their first hour!". On the way back from the island we came across a MASSIVE pod of dolphins who were enjoying playing in the boats wake. No seriously! They have fun with it!

Blue Whale Tail
JUST LOOK AT THAT. Amazing sights!

Whale blowing air from blowhole
Perfectly timed shot of some blowhole action! I didn't realize how much whale-watching I'd be doing here!

The guided tour provides you with everything you could possibly need on the tour as well. If you're with a partner, you get a tandem kayak, if you're solo you'll get a single. They provide unoptional life-jackets and helmets (remember you're going through sea caves!). You also get the optional choice of water resistant jackets and wetsuits. I believe they also have optional crocs to wear if you didn't bring waterproof shoes. It was a super fun time, and it was a fun challenge to get in and out and through some of the sea caves with the active ocean swells,tides, and waves happening! 

Channel Islands Sea Cave Kayak
About to start kayaking. Holding on to some kelp to stay stationary!

Inside the sea cave
Inside one of the sea caves. There's the other people on our tour sitting out in the open!

Kayaking into sea caves
Heading into more sea caves

Sea Caves Channel Islands
Follow the leader!

Once we were done with our kayak tour we stripped of all of our gear as fast as we could so we could have some time to hike as well. We did the Cavern Pt Trail and continued up only part of the N Bluff Trail towards Potato Harbor for a bit. We were worried about timing so we didn't continue all the way to Potato Harbor, but we got some amazing views along the way nonetheless. Remember, the last boat leaves at 4 and if you miss'll have to beg some campers to share their space for the night!

Channel Islands Santa Cruz
Huge hill and an old wind mill

Lizard on a rock
Cool lizard chilling on a rock. Little did I know but I was about to see a LOT more lizards on this trip, throughout the week.

We desperately searched for Island Foxes on our hike.  SO MANY people said that they saw them on their hikes. Especially near the campgrounds. We made it a point to walk by the campgrounds, but were left without any fox sightings. There were plenty of other wildlife sightings though!

Like this pelican just chilling on the beach.

Island Scrub Jay
And the beautiful island scrub jays!

channel island cliffs
The views along the trails are wild. Vast blue oceans with rugged clifflines

Channel Islands National Park

channel island national park trail
Really cool colors on the hill contrasting with the ocean

Channel Island Cliff Fall
Don't look down, but if you do, this is what awaits!

desert shrubs
Lots of desert like shrubbery on the island

Giant Coreopsis
Some wild looking shrubs. Giant Coreopsis evidently?

Purple Salsify
Purple Salsify?

I could go on and on about all the cool plants here, but we gotta catch the boat home!

Channel Islands
Waiting for our boat

Goodbye Channel Islands! I'd love to be back

Until Next time!

Beer and Boats
They actually have draft beer on the boat. I got the Island IPA. Why not??? It was around this time that dolphins started...see the video below. It was absolutely wild.

Once we got back to land we had to drive back to our hotel. Our next destination was back inland for Six Flags Magic Mountain. I literally almost never eat fast food but...when in California...

In and Out Animal Style DOuble Double
We got some In and Out in Ventura, CA. Double Double Animal Style with..non-animal style fries.


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