The Ultimate Guide to Camping in Channel Islands National Park

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They are often referred to as the “Galapagos of North America.” In a way the Channel Islands of California are.  They are small islands off the coast where several unique species have developed.  They range from the cute and curious Channel Island fox to the bright blue Island Scrub Jay.  While most visitors to Channel Islands come for the day, one of the highlights of the park is to spend a few days camping on the islands.

Camping in Channel Islands National Park gives one the chance to explore more of the park and experience the park after dark.

Channel Island Camping

Things to Know about Channel Island Camping

  • Camping is limited to the designated campgrounds.  If camping on the island, make your ferry reservations FIRST then book your campsite.  Campsites must be reserved before your arrival. There is NO first-come first-serve camping.
  • Channel Islands are a closed ecosystem.  Please be sure you are not packing any pests such as plant seeds with you.  Pack out any biological trash.
  • There are no services on the islands.  Please pack accordingly.  Bring all food, snacks, sunscreen, and water with you.  Save the park money and protect the wildlife by packing out all trash.
  • Reservations are available for most sites.  A reservation is recommended on holidays and weekends.  Sites fill up fast and any remaining first-come-first-serve spots will be claimed by early afternoon during the height of summer.
  • Keep a clean campsite.  These means that all food, utensils, and any scented items in the food storage box.  Put everything else either in the food storage box or in your tent.  Keep zipper tabs away from the ground.  This is CHANNEL FOX and RAVEN country. They are attracted to human food and it is not good for them.  Both animals are rather curious and have learned to open zippers.  Both animals are curious creatures and love raiding campsites for anything that interests them.

Getting to Channel Islands National Park

Channel Island is a little tricky to get to. The park is made up of five separate islands. Each island has its own unique features. Ferry service is offered by Island Packers to all four of the islands. Ferries leave from Ventura harbor and Oxnard harbor. Ferries are offered year-round to the islands of Anacapa and Santa Cruz.  Trips to Santa Rosa run from March to November.  Trips to San Miguel runs on Monday and Fridays from July to September.  Trips to Santa Barabra are canceled until the pier is rebuilt, and NPS does not currently have a plan to replace this pier.  The islands of San Miguel and Santa Rosa can be reached via Channel Islands Aviation.

The closest major airport is Los Angeles. International Airport.

Where to camp in Channel Islands National Park?

Campgrounds in Channel Islands National Park

  • Anacapa Island Campground
  • Santa Cruz Island Scorpion Ranch Campground
  • Santa Cruz Island Del Norte Backcountry Campground
  • Santa Rosa Island Campground
  • Santa Rosa Island Backcountry Beach Camping
  • San Miguel Island Campground
  • Santa Barbara Island Campground

Channel Islands National Park Camping

** All Campground prices are valid as of March 5, 2019.

Anacapa Island Campground

Anacapa Island Campground is located on East Anacapa Island.  The campground is a 0.5-mile hike with 157 stairs from the boat pier.  The site is located in the middle of the island and there is no shade in the campground.  Each campsite comes with a picnic table and food storage box. The sites have a maximum of 4 to 6 people.  Four sites can have a maximum of six people. Three sites can have a maximum of four people.  I prefer campsite 6 or 7 in this campground.  Both of these sites are further up the hill from the bathroom and away from the other sites.

This island is inhabited by about 10,000 Western Gulls.  These gulls nest on the island from April to mid-August.  The birds make noise 24-7 while on the islands.  There is a strong guano smell on the island and bird carcasses are often found in the campground.  During the height of the breeding season, the birds can be aggressive when protecting their territory.  The island is also home to a lighthouse.  The lighthouse foghorn blasts every 15 seconds.

NO WATER AT THIS CAMPGROUND.

At the end of your trip, please leave any extra water on the island.  The Rangers will gladly use it for cleaning purposes.

Season Year-round
Number of Sites 7 individual sites
Fee per night $15 per night
Reservations Available Required
Water No
Showers No
Restrooms Vault toilets
Max Length of Stay N/A
Wheelchair Accessibility No
Wifi on Property No
Laundry Facilities No
Pets Allowed No, to protect the ecosystem all pets are banned from the islands. Service animals are allowed by permit from the park superintendent. If you have a service animal please refer to the NPS website.
Typical Fill Time Reservations Required 
Closest General Store None, it’s an island.  There are no resources on the island.

Santa Cruz Island Scorpion Ranch Campground

Scorpion Ranch Campground is the largest and most popular campground in a park.  It is located 0.5 miles from the boat landing.  The trail is mostly flat.  Most of the campground is shaded by eucalyptus trees. There is a max of 6 people in the individual sites and 15 at the group sites. Each campsite comes with a picnic table and food storage box.

BEWARE:  Before setting up your tent, check the eucalyptus trees for branches.  Eucalyptus trees absorb large quantities of water and it can make there branches heavy.  These branches have been known to fall during the Channel Islands high winds.

Season Year-round
Number of Sites

25 individual sites

6 group sites

Fee per night

Individual Sites – $15 per night

Group Sites – $40 per night

Reservations Available Required
Water Yes
Showers No
Restrooms Vault toilets
Max Length of Stay N/A
Wheelchair Accessibility No
Wifi on Property No
Laundry Facilities No
Pets Allowed No, to protect the ecosystem all pets are banned from the islands. Service animals are allowed by permit from the park superintendent. If you have a service animal please refer to the NPS website.
Typical Fill Time Reservations Required 
Closest General Store None, it’s an island.  There are no resources on the island.

Santa Cruz Island Del Norte Backcountry Campground

Del Norte is the only backcountry campground in the park.  It is located in the middle of Santa Cruz Island.  It is a 3.5-mile hike with 1.450 ft of elevation gain from Prisoners Harbor and 12 miles from Scorpion Anchorage with 2,660 ft of elevation gain.  Both hikes are strenuous.  Each site has a picnic table and a food storage box.  A maximum of four people per site and campsites come with a picnic table and food storage box.

The campground is located up on the hill of Santa Cruz.  There is no beach access from the campground but it does have a bit of shade and sea views.

NO WATER AT THIS CAMPGROUND.

Season Year-round
Number of Sites 4 individual sites
Fee per night $15 per night
Reservations Available Required
Water No
No
Restrooms Vault toilets
Max Length of Stay N/A
Wheelchair Accessibility No
Wifi on Property No
Laundry Facilities No
Pets Allowed No, to protect the ecosystem all pets are banned from the islands. Service animals are allowed by permit from the park superintendent. If you have a service animal please refer to the NPS website.
Typical Fill Time Reservations Required 
Closest General Store None, it’s an island.  There are no resources on the island.

Santa Rosa Island Campground

Santa Rosa Island Campground is a 1.5-mile hike from the pier. The campground is a 0.5-mile hike from the airstrip.  The trail to the campground is mostly flat.  Each campsite comes with wind shelter, picnic table, and food storage box.  The sites have a maximum of five people

Due to the ferry schedule, a three day say is usually required.

Season Year-round
Number of Sites 15 individual sites
Fee per night $15 per night
Reservations Available Required
Water Yes
Showers No
Restrooms Vault toilets
Max Length of Stay N/A
Wheelchair Accessibility No
Wifi on Property No
Laundry Facilities No
Pets Allowed No, to protect the ecosystem all pets are banned from the islands. Service animals are allowed by permit from the park superintendent. If you have a service animal please refer to the NPS website.
Typical Fill Time Reservations Required 
Closest General Store None, it’s an island.  There are no resources on the island.

Santa Rosa Island Backcountry Beach Camping

There are 30 sites spread around the island for backcountry camping.  The hiking distance and difficulty vary.  The closest backcountry site is 8 miles from the pier.  These sites are for EXPERIENCED backpackers and kayakers only.  Many of the trails are unmaintained and unmarked.

Season August to December or September to December
Number of Sites 30 individual sites
Fee per night $10 per night
Reservations Available Required
Water No
Showers No
Restrooms No (Please follow Leave No Trace)
Max Length of Stay N/A
Wheelchair Accessibility No
Wifi on Property No
Laundry Facilities No
Pets Allowed No, to protect the ecosystem all pets are banned from the islands. Service animals are allowed by permit from the park superintendent. If you have a service animal please refer to the NPS website.
Typical Fill Time Reservations Required 
Closest General Store None, it’s an island.  There are no resources on the island.

San Miguel Island Campground

San Miguel Island Campground is a 1-mile steep hike from the beach to the campground.  The trail gains 40 ft of elevation gain.  Each campsite comes with wind shelter, picnic table, and food storage box.  The sites have a maximum of four people

Due to the ferry schedule, a three day say is usually required.

NO WATER AT THIS CAMPGROUND.

Season Year-round
Number of Sites 9 individual sites
Fee per night $15 per night
Reservations Available Required
Water No
Showers No
Restrooms Vault toilets
Max Length of Stay N/A
Wheelchair Accessibility No
Wifi on Property No
Laundry Facilities No
Pets Allowed No, to protect the ecosystem all pets are banned from the islands. Service animals are allowed by permit from the park superintendent. If you have a service animal please refer to the NPS website.
Typical Fill Time Reservations Required 
Closest General Store None, it’s an island.  There are no resources on the island.

Santa Barbara Island Campground

***Access to Santa Barbara Island is limited.  Winter storms have damaged the pier and some of the trails.  Island Packers ferry is not currently running trips.  All landings must be done on the rocky ledge next to the dock.  Be sure to assess the weather conditions such as tide and swell heights prior to landing.  

Santa Barbara Island Campground is reached by a 0.25-mile steep hike.  There is no shade or windbreaks at this campground.  Groups are limited to 4 people per campsite. All sites come with a picnic table and food storage box.

NO WATER AT THIS CAMPGROUND.

Season Year-round
Number of Sites 10 individual sites
Fee per night $15 per night
Reservations Available Required
Water No
Showers No
Restrooms Vault toilets
Max Length of Stay N/A
Wheelchair Accessibility No
Wifi on Property No
Laundry Facilities No
Pets Allowed No, to protect the ecosystem all pets are banned from the islands. Service animals are allowed by permit from the park superintendent. If you have a service animal please refer to the NPS website.
Typical Fill Time Reservations Required 
Closest General Store None, it’s an island.  There are no resources on the island.

Planning on going camping in Channel Islands National Park? Confused about which campsite to pick. National Park Obsessed\'s Ultimate Guide is here to help.

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Jennifer Melroy

Jennifer has been obsessed with national parks as a child.  This Tennessee native spent her childhood exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and traveling with her parents to National Parks and around the Caribbean.  She is always planning her next adventure and is ready to see the world while trying to visit all 59 National Park (*She is ignoring the hunk of concrete that just became a national park).

Jennifer Melroy has 76 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Melroy

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