Channel Islands National Park: Water Canyon to East Point

Venture off SoCal's coast for long beaches, hidden canyons, and sea life.
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Venture off SoCal's coast for long beaches, hidden canyons, and sea life.

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. On day 1, take a ferry to Water Canyon Campground, your basecamp near the island's central hub.

On day 2, rise at dawn for the 13.5-mile out-and-back 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, ascending sandy switchbacks to an old ranching double track 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. Elephant seals and sea lions sun themselves here. Spot dolphins and whales 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.

On day 3, begin the 14.3-mile round-trip to Lobo Canyon by heading west on the Cherry Canyon Trail for 1.9 miles above the crescent moon-shaped Bechers Bay to Soledad Road. Continue east to Costal Road, hike north for .3 mile, then turn west onto Smith Highway. In 3.1 miles, descend into Lobo Canyon. Knobby sandstone formations protrude above 100- to 300-foot-high walls with pygmy mammoth fossils embedded in them. 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. Descend to the small beach, which thumps with surf. Hike .6 mile west along the shoreline and return along Cow Canyon's eastern rim.

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)

-Mapped by Chuck Graham

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 44.7

Waypoints

CHA001

Location: 33.993182, -120.044172

From the campground at Water Canyon take the old cattle road to the right and south toward the Torrey Pine forest.

CHA002

Location: 33.993105, -120.041022

Descend into Water Canyon and cross over creek ascending other side.

CHA003

Location: 33.992406, -120.040693

Turn left at the gate and the Y-fork.

CHA004

Location: 33.985464, -120.02642

After 1.3 miles, you'll reach the Torrey Pines trailhead. Turn right and ascend up switchbacks through the forest.

CHA005

Location: 33.983328, -120.02603

This park bench has mind boggling views of the islands.

CHA006

Location: 33.982182, -120.025615

At trail fork, take singletrack a very short distance to old cattle road and go left.

CHA007

Location: 33.980022, -120.013496

Arrive at T-junction, and go right on ranch road to head south.

CHA008

Location: 33.976921, -120.007556

At the Old Ranch Pasture sign, go straight, and continue south.

CHA009

Location: 33.954143, -119.977172

Hike the outskirts of a freshwater marsh.

CHA010

Location: 33.950696, -119.971698

You'll likely get this picturesque beach all to yourself.

CHA011

Location: 33.942756, -119.968274

East Point is a favorite roosting spot for gulls and cormorants. Also, keep an eye out for seals and sea lions - they've been known to hang here.

CHA012

Location: 33.992018, -120.053366

Head west on Cherry Canyon Trail for 1.9 miles to Soledad Road.

CHA013

Location: 34.000675, -120.05915

Continue to Costal Road, then hike north for .3 mile.

CHA014

Location: 34.007173, -120.051187

Turn left (west) onto Smith Highway.

CHA015

Location: 34.004242, -120.089702

Descend into the gorge.

CHA016

Location: 34.002715, -120.089202

Trail swings to the right. Look for volcanic rock formations and views into the windswept gorge.

CHA017

Location: 34.00313, -120.091103

Follow the Lobo Canyon Trail. The picnic area is dominated by poisonous datura plants, sacred to Chumash Indians. Oaks line southern view during the descent into the canyon.

CHA018

Location: 34.006231, -120.091496

Cross small bridge. Watch for endemic island fox foraging for food.

CHA019

Location: 34.008029, -120.092051

Wavelike, wind-sculpted rock formations frame views of path ahead.

CHA020

Location: 34.013989, -120.097044

Here, the trail intersects with tributary canyon. Veer right into canyon for an optional side trip.

CHA021

Location: 34.014679, -120.094606

Within Lobo Canyon are a few small side canyons. This canyon dead-ends in a cave surrounded by huge volcanic boulders sprouting plants. Backtrack to previous waypoint and turn right.

CHA022

Location: 34.019284, -120.098336

Continue straight. Optional: Turn right to reach the shoreline, a prime lunch spot with sweeping views.

CHA023

Location: 34.020498, -120.105483

Turn left and head south.

CHA024

Location: 34.017462, -120.105175

Hike south up a natural rock stairway. When you reach the top, look back at the ocean for prime views.

CHA028

Location: 34.016507, -120.100996

Trail intersects with doubletrack. Turn right (south), keeping Lobo Canyon slightly left. Continue back to WPT 17; retrace your route to the trailhead.