Spend three nights basecamping for the grand tour of the island’s northern shoreline, from East Point’s beaches to Lobo Canyon’s sandstone bluffs. Day 1: Take a ferry to Water Canyon, and hike .5 mile west to Water Canyon Campground (1), your basecamp near the island’s central hub.
Day 2: Rise at dawn for the 13.5-mile out-andback to East Point; the early start ensures a return before afternoon winds. Head east on Coastal Road, and in 1.3 miles, a 10-foot-high canopy of supersized bonsailike trees marks your entrance to the Torrey pine forest, one of two such groves in the world (the other is in San Diego). Head south on the Torrey Pines Trail (2), ascending sandy switchbacks to an old ranching double track (3) with views north to Skunk Point’s white sands. Turn southeast, hike along a freshwater marsh, and join Coastal Road in .5 mile. Pass several small beaches (which are closed March 1 to September 15 for snowy plover nesting) en route to East Point (4). Elephant seals and sea lions sun themselves here. Spot dolphins and whales (“Key Skill,” next page) between here and Santa Cruz Island to the east. Return by the same route—or continue to the southern shore if you want to beach camp.
Day 3: Begin the 14.3-mile round-trip to Lobo Canyon by heading west on the Cherry Canyon Trail (5) for 1.9 miles above the crescent moon-shaped Bechers Bay to Soledad Road (6). Continue east to Costal Road, hike north for .3 mile, then turn west onto Smith Highway. In 3.1 miles, descend into Lobo Canyon (7). Knobby sandstone formations protrude above 100- to 300-foot-high walls with pygmy mammoth fossils embedded in them (“See This,” next page). Keep an eye out for tiny Pacific tree frogs, a keystone species that anchors the ecosystem by providing a critical food source. Lobo Canyon broadens where the creek spills into a secluded cove (8). Descend to the small beach, which thumps with surf. Hike .6 mile west along the shoreline and return along Cow Canyon’s (9) eastern rim.
Ferry dock Ventura Harbor, Spinnaker Dr., Ventura, CA
Ferry Island Packers, $75 (round-trip); (805) 642-1393; islandpackers.com
Permit $15/night. Reserve up to five months in advance. (877) 444-6777; recreation.gov
Gear up Real Cheap Sports, 36 W. Santa Clara St., Ventura. (805) 648-3803; realcheapsports.com
Map Trails Illustrated Channel Islands NP ($12, natgeomaps.com)
Trip data backpacker.com/hikes/1049809