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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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
- Distance: 44.7
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.
Location: 33.993105, -120.041022
Descend into Water Canyon and cross over creek ascending other side.
Location: 33.992406, -120.040693
Turn left at the gate and the Y-fork.
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.
Location: 33.983328, -120.02603
This park bench has mind boggling views of the islands.
Location: 33.982182, -120.025615
At trail fork, take singletrack a very short distance to old cattle road and go left.
Location: 33.980022, -120.013496
Arrive at T-junction, and go right on ranch road to head south.
Location: 33.976921, -120.007556
At the Old Ranch Pasture sign, go straight, and continue south.
Location: 33.954143, -119.977172
Hike the outskirts of a freshwater marsh.
Location: 33.950696, -119.971698
You’ll likely get this picturesque beach all to yourself.
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.
Location: 33.992018, -120.053366
Head west on Cherry Canyon Trail for 1.9 miles to Soledad Road.
Location: 34.000675, -120.05915
Continue to Costal Road, then hike north for .3 mile.
Location: 34.007173, -120.051187
Turn left (west) onto Smith Highway.
Location: 34.004242, -120.089702
Descend into the gorge.
Location: 34.002715, -120.089202
Trail swings to the right. Look for volcanic rock formations and views into the windswept gorge.
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.
Location: 34.006231, -120.091496
Cross small bridge. Watch for endemic island fox foraging for food.
Location: 34.008029, -120.092051
Wavelike, wind-sculpted rock formations frame views of path ahead.
Location: 34.013989, -120.097044
Here, the trail intersects with tributary canyon. Veer right into canyon for an optional side trip.
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.
Location: 34.019284, -120.098336
Continue straight. Optional: Turn right to reach the shoreline, a prime lunch spot with sweeping views.
Location: 34.020498, -120.105483
Turn left and head south.
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.
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.