Channel Islands National Park Lodging: Campgrounds, Cabins, Securing Reservations

by Amy Myers
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Photo By MICHAEL MACOR/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Located just off the coast of Santa Barbara lies the most breathtaking waterfront destinations in all of SoCal – these are the campsites and campgrounds of Channel Islands National Park. Consisting of five explorable islands full of sandy shorelines, rocky ridges and strange formations, the park is an ideal destination for kayakers, divers and beachgoers that believe the adventure doesn’t end when the sun goes down.

Stunning as the Channel Islands are, by nature, they’re incredibly remote and therefore only have rustic camping options available. That’s not to say that this national park is reserved for pro campers only, but it will help you to have some knowledge of how to set up your site without needing electricity or running water. If you decide that front-country amenities are non-negotiable for your trip, you can stay at one of the many RV parks and campgrounds located on the mainland.

Also important to note about Channel Islands National Park is that these attractions are only accessible via boat. Luckily, there are concessionaire boats at the harbor, including the Robert J. Lagomarsino Visitor Center, Outdoors Santa Barbara Visitor Center and the official concessionaire service, Island Packers. Once you’re at your chosen campsite, you’ll need either a kayak or a private boat to tour the rest of the islands. Otherwise, you can follow the concession’s schedule to head back to dry land – though, with the sunsets you find on the Channel Islands, you may never want to leave.

Deep purple and orange sunset looking towards Anacapa Island, Ventura, California. (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Camping on the Channel Islands

Anacapa Island

  • Location: 1901 Spinnaker Dr, Ventura, CA 93001
  • Price: $15 per night
  • Number of campsites: 7
  • Months open: year-round
  • Nearby attractions: Frenchy’s Cove (accessible by boat), Arch Rock, Inspiration Point, Pinniped Point, Cathedral Cove and the Anacapa lighthouse
  • Reserve an Anacapa Island campsite here

Anacapa Island is one of the most popular destinations for paddlers. Home to 30 sea caves and the Anacapa Lighthouse, there’s no shortage of explorable attractions on this island. In addition, Anacapa houses over 265 plant species on its five miles, two of which are found only on this island. For wildlife enthusiasts, you may even catch harbor seals and California sea lions mating and resting along the shoreline.

To reach Anacapa’s campsites, you’ll need to climb 157 steps (about a half-mile) from the dock. As the site of one of the largest brown pelican nesting grounds, the island experiences “seabird rookery conditions” from April to late August. This means there will be guano, strong odors, bird carcasses and constant calls throughout the island. So, if this (understandably) doesn’t sound like an ideal getaway atmosphere, consider booking your trip at another time of the year or choosing from the four other islands’ campsites.

Santa Cruz Island

  • Harbor location: 1691 Spinnaker Dr #105B, Ventura, CA 93001
  • Price: $15 per night
  • Number of campsites: 31
  • Months open: year-round
  • Nearby attractions: Historic Ranch, Cavern Point Loop, Potato Harbor, Scorpion Canyon Loop, Smugglers Cove, Montañon Ridge Loop, Smugglers Canyon, Yellowbanks, San Pedro Point, Prisoners Harbor, Del Norte Overlook and Camp, Chinese Harbor, China Pines and Pelican Bay
  • Reserve a Santa Cruz del Norte campsite here

From one of the largest sea caves in the world to the tallest peak of Channel Islands National Park, there’s something for everyone at Santa Cruz Island’s campsites. Santa Cruz is actually California’s largest island, spanning 24 miles long and six miles wide. With the vast nature of the island, there are also a handful more campsites available. The other good news is that Santa Cruz’s campsites are just a quick, flat 5-mile walk from the landing, so getting to these well-loved spots is fairly easy.

Despite the greater amount of campsites, wildlife and plant life are still able to flourish across Santa Cruz Island. There are over 600 plant species, 140 land bird and 11 land mammal species that thrive in this part of Channel Islands National Park. This includes the island fox, which, outside of Santa Cruz is close to extinction. With plenty of room to roam, nest and mate, the island is an oasis for creatures of all kinds and humans who love to observe them.

Santa Rosa Island

  • Harbor location: 1691 Spinnaker Dr #105B, Ventura, CA 93001
  • Price: $15 per night
  • Number of campsites: 15
  • Months open: year-round
  • Nearby attractions: Water Canyon Beach, Carrington Point, Cherry Canyon, Black Mountain, Torrey Pines, East Point, Lobo Canyon and Coastal Trail
  • Reserve a Santa Rosa campsite here

Six miles west of Santa Cruz is the national park’s second-largest island, Santa Rosa. Along the edges of the island, you’ll find flat, white-sand beaches, including Water Canyon Beach, a popular spot for visitors to set up a picnic near the historic ranch house. You can also surf in several areas along Santa Rosa Island.

Of the Channel Islands, Santa Rosa’s campsites are the furthest from the landing, at 1.5 miles from the pier. The route is fairly flat, though, this might make you rethink dragging any unnecessary gear to your campsite. Also worth noting is that you will more than likely experience high winds while you are traveling to and maybe even staying at Santa Rosa Island. Of course, the views and attractions are worth the extra weather, but you might want to pack an extra couple of layers just in case and refrain from any paddle sports unless you’re a pro.

San Miguel Island

  • Harbor location: 1691 Spinnaker Dr #105B, Ventura, CA 93001
  • Price: $15 per night
  • Number of campsites: 9
  • Months open: year-round
  • Nearby attractions: Cuyler Harbor, Judith Rock, Adams Cove, Otter Harbor, Lester Point, Harris Point, Judge Rock, Gull Rock, Cardwell Point, Crock Point, Tyler Blight, Green Mountain, Cabrillo Monument, Caliche Forest, San Miguel Hill, Lester Ranch site and Simonton Cove
  • Reserve a San Miguel campsite here

San Miguel Island’s claim to fame is as the home to one of the oldest known American Indian archeological sites, created roughly 11,600 years ago. The island is as much a destination for adventure as it is for culture. To help convey the significance of this island in both natural and human history, the Channel Islands National Park also offers interpretive programs and guided tours. For wildlife watchers, you can see up to five different types of pinnipeds (or seals) and even 30,000 individuals at Point Bennett.

The campsites on San Miguel Island are located a mile away from the landing up a steep slope, making it one of the hardest walks to the grounds among all of the Channel Islands. The journey isn’t far, but it may be difficult for any travelers with disabilities. Similar to camping on Santa Rosa Island, you may want to switch out heavier, luxury gear for light and portable alternatives.

Santa Barbara Island

  • Harbor location: 1691 Spinnaker Dr #105B, Ventura, CA 93001
  • Price: $15 per night
  • Number of campsites: 9
  • Months open: year-round
  • Nearby attractions: Arch Point, Elephant Seal Cove, Webster Point, Sea Lion Rookery, Signal Peak and North Peak
  • Reserve a Santa Barbara campsite here

Located in the middle of Channel Island National Park is the smallest island, Santa Barbara. With sheer cliffs on all sides, Santa Barbara has a few beaches along its edges but for the most part, they’re pretty rocky and can be a bit dangerous to explore. On the plus side, though, this island’s protected edges also create the ideal environment for elephant seals to gather and Scripps’s murrelet chicks to hatch. At just one square mile in size, Santa Barbara proves that great things really do come in small packages.

As with San Miguel Island, getting to Santa Barbara’s campsites requires a hike up a steep slope. Thankfully, though, this time, the trip is only a very brief quarter-of-a-mile. So, you won’t be expending too much energy before reaching basecamp.

Lodging Outside of Channel Islands National Park

Evergreen RV Park

  • Location: 2135 N Oxnard Blvd Oxnard, CA 93036
  • Price: $90 per night
  • Number of full hook-up campsites: 94
  • Months open: year-round
  • Proximity to concessionaire harbor: 15 minutes
  • Reserve an Evergreen RV campsite here

Just a few minutes from the concessionaire boat services is the Evergreen RV Park, the ideal option for Channel Islands National Park visitors that need more comforts than fire rings and pit toilets. You can still explore the islands during the day, but once the sun starts to set, you can head back to a campground with picnic and BBQ areas, hot showers, free Wifi and even a dog park for any furry visitors. And, if you run into a rainy day during your stay, you can take advantage of the reading lounge with a fireplace and cable TV. Other amenities at this location include laundry services, mail service, a shuffleboard area and a full-service office.

Jalama Beach County Park and Campground

  • Location: 9999 Jalama Road, Lompoc, CA 93436
  • Price: $68-78 per night
  • Number of campsites: 117
  • Months open: year-round
  • Proximity to concessionaire harbor: 1.5 hours
  • Reserve a Jalama Beach campsite here

Jalama Beach County Park and Campground is a bit further out from the harbor location, but if you’re looking for an all-in-one destination, you’ll want to reserve a campsite here. Amenities for Jalama Beach campsites include a general store and grill, playground, snack bar, horseshoe pit, picnic tables, restrooms with showers and a sanitation dump station. Electrical hookups are available at 31 of the campsites. For those that require an extra bit of comfort, the park also has seven ocean-facing cabins to choose from that have electricity, a full bathroom and a kitchenette.

If you feel like you’ve had your fill of all that Channel Islands National Park has in store, there are plenty of outdoor activities you can enjoy at Jalama Beach, including swimming, fishing and surfing. Much like Santa Rosa Island, this area does tend to get pretty windy, so exercise caution while partaking in any water-based adventures.

El Capitan Canyon Cabins and Yurts

  • Location: 11560 Calle Real, Santa Barbara, CA 93117
  • Price: $199-959 per night
  • Number of cabins and yurts: 13
  • Months open: year-round
  • Proximity to concessionaire harbor: 1 hour
  • Reserve an El Capitan cabin or yurt here

There are two different experiences that you can find at El Capitan Canyon, and both are pretty lavish. Really, this is the destination for the most glamorous glampers. With private, full bathrooms, fireplaces, kitchenettes, plenty of room to spread out and a private deck, these cabins make your stay near Channel Islands National Park that much cozier.

Alternatively, for those that want a bit more connection to their surroundings, the Adventure Yurt onsite has a raised rooftop with a domed skylight for late-night stargazing from the comfort of your bed. Though the yurt option is a bit more rustic, that doesn’t mean it only has the bare necessities. Inside, you’ll find a queen bed, mini-fridge, microwave, ceiling fan, heater and a twin day bed. Close to the yurt are restroom facilities with private shower stalls and attached changing rooms.

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