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Backpacker Magazine – September 2012

Trail Mix: West

Your region's go-now guide

by: Chuck Graham (Secrets), Nate Seltenrich (Solitude), Dennis Lewon (Bragging), and Rachel Zurer

Point Bennet, San Miguel Island (Chuck Graham
Point Bennet, San Miguel Island (Chuck Graham
Grand 2 Grand Ultra (Courtesy)
Grand 2 Grand Ultra (Courtesy)

Secrets of the Rangers
Point Bennett, San Miguel Island, Channel Islands NP

According to Chief of Interpretation Yvonne Menard, a 25-year veteran of this craggy chain of islands off the coast of Santa Barbara, this 14-mile out-and-back to a world-class wildlife mecca is one of the best adventures in the park. Yet few people do it. “We get around 300,000 yearly visitors,” she says, “and less than one percent visit San Miguel.” September is the perfect time to go: Sea conditions are calmest, and the coastal fog has usually gone away. First, take a 3.5-hour ferry ride to the park’s westernmost isle. There’s no dock, so expect a wet landing and store your gear in dry bags. Bring all your own water and plan to stay at least two nights in the primitive campground (the boat only comes every few days). On day one, spend the afternoon snorkeling in Cuyler Harbor (pack a mask). The next day, take the ranger-guided hike to count four species of pinnipeds (see below) on the windswept beach at Point Bennett. “Every beach on the island has seals and sea lions, but Point Bennett’s rookery is unparalleled,” Menard says. “Expect to see 100,000 seals and sea lions.” Along the way, stop at Caliche Forest to see the gritty sand remnants of ancient trees. Day three, look for evidence of Chumash settlements (piles of abalone shells and sea urchin skeletons) on the east side of the beach at Cuyler Harbor before you return to the mainland.

(805) 658-5730;

Permit $15 per campsite

Ferry Island Packers, (805) 642-1393;

Pinnipeds are fin-equipped mammals like seals, sea lions, and walruses. You can see four species, including harbor seals, at Point Bennett on San Miguel Island.

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