7 Best Hikes in Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park Overview

If you’re looking for a unique outdoor experience in California, look no further than Channel Islands National Park. Located just off the coast of Los Angeles, this stunning park is made up of 5 distinct islands, each offering its own unique beauty and wildlife. To help you plan your perfect adventure, we’ve put together a list of the best hikes in Channel Islands National Park.

While Channel Islands National Park is a great escape from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, it’s important to plan ahead. Not all of the islands are easy to get to, and some require a permit to visit. Make sure to research the islands you want to visit ahead of time and plan accordingly.

In addition to hiking, kayaking is also a popular activity in the park. Visitors can explore the park’s stunning sea caves and coastal rock formations by kayak, offering a unique perspective of the islands.

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

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Channel Islands National Park

Smuggler’s Cove Trail (Santa Cruz)
View of Smugglers Cove, Santa Cruz Island.
View of Smugglers Cove, Santa Cruz Island, Photo by Garrett

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′ elevation gain
  • Strenuous
Potato Harbor Trail (Santa Cruz)
Between Cavern Point, Potato Harbor, and Scorpion Ranch, Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, California (58)
Between Cavern Point, Potato Harbor, and Scorpion Ranch, Santa Cruz Island, Photo by Ken Lund

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′ elevation gain
  • Moderate
Inspiration Point Trail (Anacapa)
Inspiration Point - Anacapa Island
Inspiration Point – Anacapa Island, Photo by Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith

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 mile loop
  • No elevation gain
  • Easy
Cavern Point Loop (Santa Cruz)
Cavern Point, Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, California (6)
Cavern Point, Santa Cruz Island, Photo by Ken Lund

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 mile loop
  • 250′ elevation gain
  • Moderate
Cardwell Point Trail (San Miguel)
Hiking Up San Miguel
Hiking Up San Miguel, Photo by CALChux

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′ elevation gain
  • Moderate
East Point Trail (Santa Rosa)
East Point, Santa Rosa Island, Photo by Joe Decruyenaere

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′ elevation gain
  • Moderate
Arch Point Trail (Santa Barbara) 
The Landing At Santa Barbara Island
The Landing At Santa Barbara Island, Photo by CALChux

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′ elevation gain
  • Easy

Featured Image: Anacapa Island and lighthouse through the clouds, Photo by GPA Photo Archive

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