7 Best Day Hikes in Channel Islands National Park


Located off of the coast of California, west of Los Angeles, Channel Islands National Park offers a great escape for the millions of people living or visiting the area. Comprised of 5 separate islands (Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara), this park is remarkably beautiful and diverse with plenty of wildlife to view. Planning your trip ahead is definitely a must as not all of the islands are easy to get to and some require a permit to visit. Hiking the islands allows visitors a great way to explore the islands that they just cant get standing near the pier. The coastal rock formations and sea caves are worth checking out if you have time to kayak out to these points! Below are the 7 best hikes in Channel Islands National Park worth exploring, making sure to highlight at least 1 per island. Official Website.

Nearest Metro AreaLos Angeles, CA
Area Size249,561 acres
EstablishedMarch 5, 1980
Hiking Trails115 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Hikes in Channel Islands National Park

1. Smuggler’s Cove Trail (Santa Cruz)

Santa Cruz is the largest island of this national park and Smuggler’s Cove is one of the most popular hikes in Channel Islands. The trail climbs steeply to the west side of the island and visitors have the chance to see all of the wildlife and nature that make these islands so great. If you can only do 1 hike on Santa Cruz, make it this trail. The trailhead starts from Scorpion Beach.

  • 7.5 miles – Out and back
  • 1400′ gain
  • Strenuous

2. Potato Harbor Trail (Santa Cruz)

Reaching Potato Harbor is worth your effort if you have enough time on the island. The magnificent coastal vistas along the way make for one incredible experience. Remember to bring binoculars to spot marine life – whale watching is best from December to mid-April! The trailhead begins at Scorpion Beach.

  • 4.5 miles – Out and back
  • 400′ gain
  • Moderate

3. Inspiration Point Trail (Anacapa)

Located on the cliff island of Anacapa, this is the best trail to explore while visiting. The island is split into 3 with East Anacapa being the only section open to visitors. Inspiration Point offers beautiful views of the other islets. The trailhead starts from the Landing Cove. Hike the entire islet in just 2.5 miles.

  • 1.5 miles – Loop
  • No elevation gain
  • Easy

4. Cavern Point Loop (Santa Cruz)

If you don’t have time to make it all the way to Potato Harbor, at least check out this short loop for its beautiful coastal views. This is also a good hike during whale watching season. Go clockwise to avoid a steep climb. The trail starts at Scorpion Beach.

  • 2.0 miles – Loop
  • 250′ gain
  • Moderate

5. Caldwell Point Trail (San Miguel)

A permit is required to visit and hike on San Miguel Island and hikers must be accompanied by a park ranger. This hike to the east side is the highlight of the island where you’ll be greeted by a mass horde of seals and sea lions. The trail starts at the Cuyler Harbor Beach.

  • 6.0 miles – Out and back
  • 500′ gain
  • Moderate

6. East Point Trail (Santa Rosa)

It takes a good 2-2.5 hour boat ride to get to Santa Rosa Island so you might as well hike this long coastal trail to get the full experience. There are opportunities to explore the beaches and the rare Torrey Pines on the island. A campground can be found about 1.5 miles from the pier as you will likely need to stay overnight if completing this entire trail. The trailhead starts at the pier.

  • 15.0 miles – Out and back
  • 700′ gain
  • Moderate

7. Arch Point Trail (Santa Barbara) 

Santa Barbara Island has just over 5 miles of trails making it easy to explore the entire island if you’re willing to travel there. Arch Point offers gorgeous views from the rugged cliffs. The trailhead begins from Landing Cove on the east side of the island.

  • 1.0 mile – Out and back
  • 200′ gain
  • Easy

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