Kayaking in Channel Islands National Park

kayaking on santa cruz island in channel islands national park
kayaking on santa cruz island in channel islands national park

Late September I finally made it out to Channel Islands National Park. From the moment we left Ventura Harbor, I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear. My inner child spent the day screaming “BEST DAY EVER!”


I’ve lived near Channel Islands National Park for over 7 years, and now I’m kicking myself for waiting so long to experience this pristine place. If you’re going to take anything away from this email, let it be to stop waiting and start doing things!


The Channel Islands do not get the same amount of visitors compared to other California national parks because of the difficulty to get here (you need to take a boat, can’t drive here), and lack of amenities inside of the park. But that’s what makes the Channel Islands even more special and a must explore.

dolphins in channel islands national park

I saw dolphins, blue whales, foxes, ospreys, seals, sea lions, and so many more animals. It took us so much longer on the boat ride just to arrive because we kept stopping to watch all the dolphins playing alongside the boat.


Then I spent the day kayaking around Santa Cruz Island. We explored a narrow sea cave and learned more about this island. The water below the kayak was so clear you could see the fish below!


The whole day felt like summer camp.

Getting To The Channel Islands

Unlike most other national parks, you can’t drive to Channel Islands National Park. To get to the park, you will need to take a boat ride on Island Packers. You can buy a separate ticket, or you can buy a ticket while booking a kayaking tour.


Depending on which island you go to, you will either leave from the Ventura or Oxnard harbor. The boat ride is about 1.5 hours one way, but it may be longer if you encounter wildlife. My boat ride was around 2 to 2.5 hours on the way there and on the way home it was around 2 hours.

woman hiking in channel island national park

On the boat ride, we encountered hundreds of dolphins jumping out of the water, playing and swimming alongside us. We also encountered blue whales, there were around 3 to 5 whales in the channel. We even saw one take a dive and stick it’s tale out!

dolphin jumping from the water in channel islands national park

You can choose to go for the day, or backpack on one of the islands.


Unfortunately, you can’t really island hop too easily. Choose an island that calls to you, or pick one depending on ferry ride availability, or you can go to an island, then back to Ventura, then to a different island the next day.

Kayaking in The Channel Islands

To kayak around The Channel Islands National Park, you have two choices. You can either pay Island Packers to bring a kayak on the boat with you and go self guided, or you can go with Santa Barbara Adventure Company. This is what I did.

woman kayaking

I went to Santa Cruz with the Santa Barbara Adventure Company, which is the perfect experience whether you have kayaking experience or not. They not only provide you with a kayak (double if you’re with an adventure buddy, single if you’re solo), but also a life jacket, helmet and a guide to show you all the rad places around the island.


Santa Barbara Adventure Company Review

The Santa Barbara Adventure Company runs kayaking tours to several of the islands. The islands they operate on vary season to season, so the best way to plan a trip is to check out their website and see which trips they’re operating currently.


I had the best time with SB Adventure! From the moment we got to the island to the time I got back to my car.


There was a group of around 14 people total, and they broke us up into two groups. My group had four kayaks (not including the guide), two double kayaks and two single kayaks. I was in one of the singles since I was solo on this trip.


I loved having a small intimate group. The guide would stop along the way and point out different wildlife like the bright orange garibaldi fish, osprey birds, seals, and more.


The guide also found a small and narrow sea cave and took us into the cave one at a time. At first I was really scared going into a narrow sea cave, but I’m so glad I went for it. It was so remarkable and seeing the different colors.

sea cave in channel island national park

What To Bring When Kayaking


First, apply sunscreen before going and bring some with you to reapply! I made this mistake, I applied it onto my face and arms, but completely forgot my legs. I ended up with a really bad sunburn. Remember to reapply sunscreen every 90 minutes.


Water Shoes

Bring water shoes because they’re required on the beach before you get into your kayak. You can’t wear flip flops. I wore my Keen Whisper Sandals. They’re the same shoes I wear on water crossings on hiking and backpacking trips, and what I wear in camp as camp shoes. If you don’t have any, you can also grab some crocs that SB Adventure provided.



SB Adventure also provides life jackets, helmets, and wetsuits if you want them. Wetsuits do get pretty warm, so if you don’t think you’ll get cold, just wear a swimsuit or something that is quick drying. They do have little changing booths so you can change out of your swimwear and into hiking clothes after you’re done.


Water and Snacks

Bring water and snacks! I brought my 32oz Nalgene bottle with me and a couple snacks like nut butter. I tossed everything into a dry sack and clipped it onto one of the ropes on my kayak. Remember to pack out all of your trash, there are no trash bags on the island.



You can also bring a camera! This isn’t required but it’s a nice bonus to remember your adventure with! You can keep it simple and use your phone. Or you can bring something like a GoPro and capture more of the adventure with better quality images. You can also bring a DSLR or mirrorless camera but the kayak does get wet! So if you don’t want to get your camera wet and be fiddling too much between the camera and paddling, I would leave it on shore. That’s what I did. I brought my Sony A7iii with me to the island to take photos on the boat and on land, but I brought the GoPro Max with me on the kayak. I just left my Sony in my backpack in the little changing area. There are people there all day so your stuff is safe!

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