About the Site
Channel Islands National Park  


Park History

Ventura Harbor

Santa Barbara Channel


Anacapa Landing

Anacapa Coast

Anacapa Surface

Anacapa Trails


Anacapa Buildings

Inspiration Point

Arch Rock

Middle Anacapa

West Anacapa

Santa Cruz Island

Prisoner's Harbor

Scorpion Anchorage

Santa Cruz Views

Santa Cruz Trails

Cavern Point

Scorpion Ranch





Channel Islands National Park is one of four parks in the national park system, which also include Isle Royale, Dry Tortugas, and Virgin Islands, located entirely on islands. Channel Islands National Park is comprised of 5 islands off the coast of southern California, the northern 4 in the Santa Barbara Channel. The islands feature rocky shores, sea caves, mountains, canyons, and a landscape reminiscent of historical California. The islands feature a number of archaeological sites as well as animals and 70 different plants which are endemic to the islands.

The four northern islands of Channel Islands National Park are Anacapa, comprised of three islets parts of which are shown below, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel. These islands are located 11 miles or more off the California coast in the vicinity of Ventura, where the visitor center is located, and Oxnard. Further to the south is the small island of Santa Barbara. Three additional Channel Islands--Santa Catalina, San Clemente, and San Nicholas--all in the south, are not part of Channel Islands National Park.

The nation's 40th national park was created on March 5, 1980. It includes 248,515 acres of land, and also includes 1,252 square nautical miles of ocean off the coastlines of the islands. The islands themselves range considerably in size. The largest island, Santa Cruz (shown below), covers 60,000 acres or 96 square miles. Santa Rosa is next largest at 53,000 acres or 84 square miles, stretching about 15 miles in length and 10 miles wide. San Miguel, the westernmost island, is 9,325 acres and 14 square miles, 8 miles long and 4 miles wide, lying about 26 miles from the mainland. The three parts of Anacapa Island together are about 1.1 square miles total. Santa Barbara Island, in the south, is only about 640 acres, a single square mile.

In addition to the land sections of the park, the islands are surrounded by the Channel Island National Marine Sanctuary. The picture below shows a portion of the sanctuary on the north side of Santa Cruz Island.

Life in the waters around the islands is very rich. Currents which flow around the islands are unusual, and bring life forms which typically exist as far away as 1000 miles north and south of this area. In fact, the richness and variety of life forms in this area rivals others like the Galapagos, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Carribean.

Channel Islands National Park is one of the least visited of the parks in the National Park System. This is due, of course, to the difficulty of reaching the islands. However, at the current time transportation to any of the Channel Islands in the park can be easily arranged. Visitors can arrange for day or partial day trips, or for overnight trips of one or multiple nights.

A visit to any of the Channel Islands is particularly rewarding. The views of the islands and the sea surrounding them are in many places spectacular.

There are also a number of historic buildings which can be seen on the island. This includes the lighthouse and a collection of other buildings on East Anacapa Island, shown below.

Wildlife, including a wide variety of birds such as the gull, can also be found in abundance on the islands. There are more than 700 terrestrial plants and animals on the islands in the park.

Park History

Geological History The Channel Islands were originally formed by volcanic activity approximately 14 million years ago, and moved to their present location and form by plate tectonics and rising and lowering sea levels. Although it was at one time believed that the four northern Channel Islands--East, Middle, and West Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel--might have been connected to the mainland, it is now believed that this is not true.

However, 180,000 years ago when the sea level was approximately 150 feet lower than in more recent times, these islands were apparently part of one large island land mass known as Santarosae which covered about 724 square miles. This large island was separated from the mainland by only a few miles. The islands reached their present size and shapes about 2000 years ago.

Chumash Indians Humans have been part of the story of the Channel Islands for a long time. It is not known exactly how long humans have lived on or visited the islands, although there is some evidence of habitation by humans as long ago as 30,000 years. Solid evidence of humans from around 9000 BC has been found on the northwest part of the island of Santa Rosa.

For potential visitors, ParkVision recommends "Story Behind the Scenery" guides and "Trails Ilustrated" maps.

By 1150 the island inhabitants, the Chumash Indians, had developed a complex society. The Chumash lived on the Channel Islands until the arrival of the Europeans. Although they did not practice agriculture on the islands, they did use plants for food and medicinal purposes. They ate shellfish, berries, nuts, roots, bulbs, and various plants. The Chumash lived in thatched houses supported by whalebones. They plied the waters of the Channel and around the islands in cleverly designed 25 foot canoes called tomols. These crafts were constructed from redwood planks and enabled the Indians to move quickly across the water.

Europeans The first European to see the Channel Islands was Portuguese navigator Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who sailed from Mexico into the Santa Barbara Channel and landed on the islands in 1542, visiting Santa Catalina and San Miguel. Cabrillo's expedition resulted in the first contact between Europeans and the Chumash, as well. Sebastian Vizcaino sailed into the Santa Barbara Channel, named it, and landed on the islands in 1602. Gaspar de Portola visited the islands in 1769, and gave the island of Santa Cruz its name. George Vancouver visited the channel in 1793 and standardized and finalized the names of Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Anacapa by which the islands are known to this day.

From the late 1700's to the mid 1800's hunting of sea islands in the channel was intense. Some temporary camps used by the sealers were established on the islands. By the late 1800's, sea otters and some kinds of pinnipeds had been hunted almost to extinction.

By the mid 1800's, all of the Chumash had been moved to the mainland and no longer lived on any of the Channel Islands.

Since the arrival of the Europeans the Channel Islands have belonged to three countries. From 1769 to 1821 the islands were controlled by Spain, as a result of the de Portola expedition. From 1822 to 1848 the Channel Islands were ruled by Mexico, subsequent to gaining its independence from Spain. From 1848 to the present day, as a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the Channel Islands have belonged to the United States.

An interesting chapter of the history of the Channel Islands was written during prohibition, following passage of the Volstead Act of 1920. Liquor smuggling in the area became big business and a number of stills were hidden in caves on the islands.

Creation of the National Park In 1932, the Channel Islands began to be considered for protection as a national park or monument. All 8 Channel islands were assessed for potential inclusion in the park. In 1938, the islands of Anacapa and Santa Barbara were declared a national monument in by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in order to preserve archaeological artifacts and geological formations on the islands. During World War II Anacapa and Santa Barbara Islands were used by military observers. In 1949 President Harry Truman added the sea area to one nautical mile off shore of the islands monument.

In 1974, the islands of the monument were opened to the public. In 1976 the National Park Service and the US Navy began to allow pubic visits to the island of San Miguel.

In the early 1960's Thomas Storke, editor of the Santa Barbara News, lead lobbying efforts to have the islands declared a national park. Arguments between conservationists and those who valued the recreational resources took place. Particular impetus for creation of a park came from William H. Ehorn, superintendent of the Channel Islands National Monument from 1974 on.

The bill establishing Channel Islands National Park was signed by President Jimmy Carter on March 5, 1980. San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and portions of Santa Cruz were authorized to be added to the areas previously protected as a national monument, although sections of the islands were still owned by the Navy, National Park Service, Nature Conservancy, and private individuals. As late as 1997 new land on Santa Cruz Island was acquired by the National Park Service.

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  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013

  • Commercial use of the images contained in this document without express written consent is strictly prohibited.

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