Exploring Santa Rosa Island (Channel Island National Park)


To me, Santa Rosa Island is synonymous with ‘paradise on earth.’  The white sand, pristine beaches, turquoise water, undisturbed and unlittered land, potential to explore and discover new areas…it felt like an exotic island lost in time. My only wish is that I had more than the allotted 3 hours to explore this magnificent island! After the 3 hour journey on boat to get to Santa Rosa, we were more than ready to explore…


Some practical details first…

  1. No restaurants, stores, shops on the island.  Everything we brought was all we had. Lots of beef jerky, bagels, trail mix, and other small and lightweight non-perishable snacks. And of course, plenty of water for everyone. Heavy but necessary. I suppose you can get some food from the galley on the boat (see my post on the boat ride to the island ) but if you are sea sick like me, I didn’t have an appetite until I got to the island.
  2. One can camp on the island for $15 a night but you must be well prepared for the elements. For us, we have not yet trained our kids to camp outdoors, so we did not have the option.
  3. It was incredibly windy and sunny (no real shade anywhere) so dress in layers. Sunscreen and hats were crucial.
  4. We picked up what we brought and we didn’t take anything with us. This is protected territory and we hope to preserve it for future generations. We aren’t allowed to carry plastic grocery bags, nor feed any wildlife. I’ve read about island foxes but did not see one that day :(. However we saw lots of birds and sea lions.
  5. Pay attention to the departure time.  I’m guilty of pushing the limits but who can resist exploring in paradise? My ticket stated 3PM departure time but when I ran to the boat at 2:50PM, I was the last one on! The boat does not go to Santa Rosa Island everyday, and they do account for everyone but I needed to be consciously aware of the time. I might’ve missed the memo that we should be ready to board by 2:30PM. :0
  6. I had wanted to explore Lobo Canyon. It’s a 9 mile hike, defined as ‘strenuous’ and I knew we would not finish in 3 hours. So my plan was to hike to the base of the Torrey Pines and enjoy the beach. However, as soon as we got off the boat, I realized that 2 members of my family were barely getting over motion sickness, so I told them let’s just enjoy the beach and take it easy. I’m glad we did! 🙂

Our boat had maybe 60 guests going to the Island that day, and more than half were researchers so as soon as we arrived, they went on their separate way while the rest of us scattered. On such a huge island, we didn’t see much of our group until the very end! I’m not sure how many on our boat were camping out on the island, and I would’ve asked if I wasn’t so intrigued by our boat ride over to the island (see my post on the boat ride here).

We basically had the place to ourselves and we heard mostly birds and the sound of chirping bugs on our hike.  Later, along the beach, the pounding of the waves and whistling of wind was deafening but welcomed. It was nature unleashed.




After we got off the boat, the ranger briefed us and then we were free to roam. I was busy getting the kids situated with their snacks so I didn’t hear everything, but my hubby was paying attention.

To get to the beach, the ranger told us to take a left after we reached the campground, which is about 1.3 miles away.


Here (in the above photo) I found steps leading to a rusted ladder going down to the beach. I wasn’t sure if we were allowed to go but I looked at the ladder and knew my kids would not manage the climb down or back up easily, so we decided on the hike. Plus, it allowed us to explore the island a bit!




To the side of the trail, there were some wooden fences that had lichen and moss (I think) growing on it. I thought its contrast with the trees nearby was interesting. 🙂




We walked by an old barn. I’ve read that the Vail and Vickers family used to own a ranch here and there are supposedly horses left behind. We didn’t see any that day but we also didn’t wander off very far inland.




The white buildings above was where we found the ranger sitting and eating his lunch. We made sure we were still on the right path to the beach (it felt like we were just wandering around and there weren’t many signs). And right behind was the only toilet I knew of on the island. I was so happy it was a flushable toilet and I loved how clean it was!


In the photo above, I couldn’t stop but wonder if that might be a lone Torrey Pine sitting on top of that hill. These special trees are only found in two places in the world; here at Santa Rosa Island and Torrey Pines in San Diego (see my post here on the Torrey Pines hike). The base to the Torrey Pine grove was a little ways ahead, and as much as I wanted to hike to it, the beach was calling my name…


As we walked along, we enjoyed our views. The ocean was to our left, and nature was everywhere. I heard the humming of insects and the sound of dirt beneath us as our feet trudged through it. Then a welcomed sight: wildflowers! In May, there were still some left! I remember in April when we went to the Channel Island Visitor Center in Ventura (see my post here), the rangers mentioned that there were wildflowers everywhere, including on the islands, thanks to this year’s rainy winter. I was so happy to see that we could still find some here on the island in May!




The hike was more of a scenic walk, but I couldn’t help but wonder why we couldn’t just cut to the left and go straight towards the ocean. It was getting a bit warm by then and I really had to keep myself from taking that ‘shortcut’ several times. And then I realized why: we were walking around and to the right of an “Active Airstrip.” I saw the sign in the above photo about a mile in. Glad we didn’t cut over! No planes were landing that day, but just in case, I didn’t want to have to run out of the way :0


Finally after what seemed like more than 1.3 miles, we reached the campground sign and made a left. The sign indicated “Beach Access” and we all ran down the hill towards paradise…



I can’t even begin to describe my joy when I saw the beauty of Water Canyon Beach, so I will just let some of my favorite pictures do the talking…






My family and I enjoyed a nice picnic and then we stepped into the water. It was a bit cold but not too bad. And it was beautifully clear! My kids pulled out their sand toys and happily got to work. I could’ve just watched them play and enjoyed these views forever but I knew we only had 3 hours. By then, it was closer to 1:30PM. I kept looking over to the right side. From a distance I wondered if the pile of rocks was something I could climb or duck under. Could it lead to a cave? Or another hidden beach? I ached to explore, and my hubby said he’d watch the kids but I would need to be back no later than 2PM. “Ok, don’t worry, I’ll just run back…” I told him if I got too far.



Barefoot, I walked quickly along the beach. I adore the feel of sand between my toes. But I carried my hiking boots with me just in case I needed them to climb something. The topography to my right changed a bit and pretty soon, I saw a big gathering of sea gulls. What were they picking at? As I got closer, I realized there was a rapidly flowing stream from up above, and the water led continuously to the beach. There were probably critters the birds were picking at in the stream…


And then there were some really neat sandstone bluffs. Layers of layers of history I bet were piled in between. I wondered how far back in time this went? I marveled at the vertically growing dudleyas growing on the rocks. Amazing! I could never get dudleyas to grow in my succulent garden but they seem to do so well here in nature…who wouldn’t, here in paradise? 🙂  I looked in one crevice wondering if I could squeeze in and if it might be a tunnel…it wasn’t so I continued forward.


And at last, I reached the pile of rocks I saw from a distance. I looked all around. Sadly, I could not go around it without swimming in the ocean. And I didn’t dare climb it because I could crush the barnacles growing on the rocks, but also if I fell and injured myself, no one would hear me or even know!

natureinspiredmom.sr34.jpgI got some awesome pictures though! There was a little hole where I suppose a small animal could hide out overnight, but definitely not a tunnel.


Satisfied, I started making my way back. It was 1:53 PM, so I sprinted all the way back to my family. It was definitely hard to look straight ahead…I kept looking to my right as I ran…this perfect view was evanescent to me, as was the pounding of the waves, and the salt in the howling wind that was making my hair fly about in every direction.


I made it back to my family by 2PM. My kids refused to go. First, they must race up and down, roll down the white sand dunes, and make snow angels in it. It was really cute and I don’t blame them!  Then they told me they must make one last sand castle. And then of course, we had to clean up the sand toys and pack up. My youngest reluctantly dragged her sandy toes over to me. She hid her shoes somewhere on purpose so I needed to look for them. After what seemed like a long time, we were ready and made our hike back towards the barn and then the pier. Actually by then, we were all running back! We saw our boat cruising its way to the pier and we weren’t going to miss it!



We were on the edge of the pier when I walked by that rusted ladder again. On a sudden impulse I decided I had to go to the beach below now! No regrets! So, I scaled down that ladder and put my feet down on the soft sand and looked around. What a fantastic view! Layers and layers of sandstone bluffs and even more beach to the right of the pier! But really, it was time to go. (Well, now I know for next time, I will go to the right of the pier to explore!) Reluctantly, I climbed up the ladder quickly and ran the length of the pier.





By the time I got to the boat I was breathing heavily. It was 2:50PM. That was definitely a fun filled 3 hours worth of exploring in paradise! I guess I was the last one on the boat but absolutely no regrets! I LOVED my time on the island. I took a last long look at Santa Rosa Island; I wanted to let this image of the island sink into my memory forever. Like the memory of the Painted Cave/sea cave (see post here) that I saw later on the journey back by boat, the perfect images of this island were precious and evanescent. I was actually sad when the boat took off a minute later but I promised myself I would return to paradise again soon!



Thanks for reading! 🙂




18 thoughts on “Exploring Santa Rosa Island (Channel Island National Park)

      1. Good point! Actually on the journey there via boat, I was just happy I didn’t lose the camera (iPhone) as I had to hold on to the boat railing with one hand and take photos with the other, in choppy waters. 🙂 On the island, I was glad I had a camera (any camera) as it was so gorgeous; ended up with more than 500 photos 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  1. What an absolutely beautiful place, and so great that you had it to yourselves! How fun to be able to explore all the different areas. Wildflowers, views, clear waters… wow. Another fun family day!! I’ll have to remember Santa Rosa Island.

    Liked by 1 person

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