Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

California Trails

Channel Islands National Park Is a Window Into California’s Wild Past

From tiny foxes to giant sea cliffs, Channel Islands is a world all its own.

Lock Icon

Join O+ to unlock this story.

Already have an Outside Account? Sign in

Outside+ Logo

All-Access
Intro Offer
$3.99 / month*

  • World-class journalism from publications like Outside, Ski, Trail Runner, Climbing, and Backpacker.
  • Annual print subscription to Outside Magazine + 2 Gear Guides.
  • Outside Watch – Award-winning adventure films, documentaries, and series.
  • Gaia GPS – Premium backcountry navigation app.
  • Trailforks – Discover trails around the globe.
  • Outside Learn – Expert-led online classes on climbing, cooking, skiing, fitness, and beyond.
Join Outside+
Backpacker

Digital + Print
Intro Offer
$2.99 / month*

  • Annual subscription to Backpacker magazine
  • Access to all member-exclusive content and gear reviews on Backpacker.com
  • Ad-free access to Backpacker.com
Join Backpacker


*Outside memberships are billed annually. Print subscriptions available to U.S. residents only. You may cancel your membership at anytime, but no refunds will be issued for payments already made. Upon cancellation, you will have access to your membership through the end of your paid year. More Details

The archipelago that makes up California’s Channel Islands National Park is a time capsule. When you step off the ferry, you enter a vanished world: Sheer seaside cliffs and inland meadows, where elephant seals rather than tourists crowd the beaches. As the fog parts before the ferry bow, the noise of one of Earth’s most populated regions is left far behind, replaced by the roar of waves and the shrill cries of gulls and falcons.

sea lions
California sea lions hunt for fish next to Anacapa Island (Photo: ian shive / tandemstock.com)

In these islands fall is a season of animalian visitors, with migratory songbirds sweeping in to join endemic shrikes and bright blue scrub jays in Southern California’s most important seabird nesting ground. Offshore, blue whales head south for the winter, blowing spouts of seawater towards the cliffs. This is the best time for backpackers to visit, too, as beach camping is only allowed in fall and early winter (Santa Rosa’s 55 miles of shoreline have the prime seaside sites), and autumn has the best combo of comfortable temps and sunny days for exploring over 50 miles of trail.

Channel Island Fox
An endangered island fox on Santa Cruz Island (Photo: an shive / tandemstock.com)

There’s more to see than just the migrators, though: The Channel Islands are home to dozens of species found nowhere else in the world, like the diminutive island fox (the largest are only a foot tall). No matter how long you spend in this last bastion of the California coast’s wild past, there is one guarantee: You won’t want to leave.

kelp forest
The kelp forests off San Clemente Island provide food and shelter for thousands of species, including endangered abalone and southern sea otters. (Photo: Jim patterson / tandemstock.com)

Do it