A Multi-Port Visit to the Channel Islands National Park

This is the third time I’ve made reservations to visit the Channel Islands off the coast of California, the first two attempts being canceled by weather and COVID. There was a lot of anticipation to finally see this place, so much so that some disappointment was inevitable. That’s not to say the Channel Islands aren’t worth seeing; you just have to be very mindful of what each island offers and what you’re hoping to get out of a day’s trip.

Boating company Island Packers offers several options, one of which is a multi-port pass that first takes you to Santa Cruz Island and then to Anacapa before heading back to Ventura. This sounds like a good way to maximize what you see without camping overnight, but keep in mind that you really only get about two hours per island this way. The majority of your time will be spent on the boat. The boat ride is nice, though, and the crew will make every effort to facilitate wildlife viewing. We were very fortunate to see a whale and a pod of dolphins on our way out:

Dolphins swimming alongside the boat

That felt like it was going to be the highlight of the trip for a while, especially after landing on Santa Cruz. The multi-port trip takes you to Prisoners Harbor that’s farther west than the more popular Scorpion Anchorage. Prisoners Harbor has two hikes that are too long to do in two hours, so we were only able to go partway in, snap this picture looking down at the harbor, and then turn back to catch the boat to Anacapa:

Looking down at Prisoners Harbor on Santa Cruz

I think the idea of Santa Cruz Island is more interesting than the island itself. Or maybe I’d feel differently if we landed at Scorpion and were able to complete some of the shorter hikes listed there. As is, Prisoners Harbor felt like an odd stop to include with such a tight schedule. My guess is that it’s an excuse to monetize pick-ups and drop-offs that they already have to make.

Still, you do get a good appreciation for just how big Santa Cruz is as you make your way to Anacapa Island next. Anacapa is pretty fascinating in its smallness and flatness. You can walk around the entire island in the two-hour limit and see some spectacular views, including the park’s iconic Inspiration Point:

The view from Inspiration Point on Anacapa

We were there during the height of nesting season for the seagulls, so the island was covered with seagull chicks whose parents squawked nonstop at every tourist passing by. It was a strange and unique experience but did mean there was a lot of poop. For instance, Anacapa’s other famous landmark, Arch Rock, had a nice layer of frosting on top:

Viewing Anacapa's Arch Rock from the boat

I really enjoyed Anacapa Island, though. But again, you can see everything it offers in under two hours. So it probably wouldn’t make sense to do a day trip of only Anacapa, unless you’re also planning to snorkel and/or kayak. If you just want to hike, I suspect you’d be better off going to Scorpion at Santa Cruz for the day. One thing’s for sure: there are a lot of ways to experience this national park.

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