Corbitt's National Parks
     Channel Islands
              National Park


1938: National Monument

1980: National Park

Size: 249,561 acres

2008 visitors: 332,177

Stamp: yes

Rating (1-5):

About the Site

Not easy to get to, but well worth the trip. The Channel Islands off the coast of southern California offer a glimpse of unspoiled beauty and tranquility. These five islands once were closer to the mainland, and animals and plants crossed the channel. Then, when the seas rose after the ice ages and cut off the islands, flora and fauna began to develop along different lines. Giant mice, pygmy mammoths, and foxes the size of house cats were familiar creatures long ago. Now, out of the 2,000 species of plants and animals found on the Channel Islands, fully 145 are found nowhere else in the world.

The islands have been home to people for over 13,000 years. Later, Chumash and Gabrieleno/Tongva people settled the islands, and joined in a trading network that extended up and down along the coast. In October 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed into the Santa Barbara Channel. The next January he died of injuries and may have been buried here, though his grave has never been found. In 1793 Captain George Vancouver gave the islands their present names.

What You're Going to See

You may take a boat or a seaplane to the islands. Take the time to enjoy the peace they offer, the barking sea lions, the gulls, the waves lapping on the sandy shores. Visitors can swim, snorkel, hike, camp, view wildlife, kayak, sail and explore the tidepools, beaches, and ruggen canyons. Naturalists lead hikes. The kelp forests, caves, clear water, and rich diversity of animals and plants place the Challel Islands among the top scuba diving sites of the world.

Be sure to check the park newspaper for details about safety and regulations. Island Views: A Visitor's Guide to Channel Islands National Park is free and describes the many tour options that are available. Be sure to start at the Visitors Center in Ventura, which has information, a film, an indoor marine life display, exhibits, a native plant garden, a bookstore, and a second-story observatory from which, on a clear day, the islands may be sighted.

Personal Observations

Um. Guess who didn't get out to the Islands.
But the Visitors Center is good! It's right at the end of Harbor Boulevard in Ventura, and you can't get any closer to the ocean. There's a good bookstore, and several interesting exhibits, including the partially excavated skeleton of a pygmy mammoth. An upstairs observation deck offers two telescopes and a view of islands, if you visit on a clear day. My day was cool and foggy, and I couldn't see past the rock wavebreaks oceanside.

The staff of the visitors center, as invariably true in my experience, was helpful and eager to answer questions. One lady in particular was quite disappointed when she learned I wasn't able to take a boat to the islands that day.

Getting There

From the Los Angeles area, go west on Highway 101 to Ventura. Take the Victoria Avenue exit south for less than a quarter mile. Turn right onto Olivas Park, and stay on it as it enters Ventura Harbor and winds around for a mile. The road ends at the Visitors Center.

Nearby Attractions

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is not far to the east. Of course, California Coastal National Monument is pretty close, too.

Visited March 2004.