Difficulty G Distance 0 to 2 miles Rating: 9 Santa Barbara/Ventura Season: All year

Anacapa Island


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Middle and West Anacapa Islands from Inspiration Point
Arch Rock, off the shore of Anacapa Island

Anacapa Island

  • Location:  Channel Islands National Park, off the Ventura coast.   Island Packers is the main travel provider to the Channel Islands National Park.  Visit their site here for schedules, fares and other information.
  • Agency:  Channel Islands National Park/National Park Service
  • Distance: 2 miles (loop)
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty rating: G
  • Best season:  Year-round (pending boat availability)
  • USGS topo map: “Anacapa”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; Dramamine (for boat ride)
  • Recommended guidebook: California Hiking
  • More information: here
  • Rating: 9

If you tell people you are visiting Anacapa Island, the three responses you will get, in this order of probability, are “Where?”, “Wow!” or “Why?”

To answer the easiest (“where?”) Anacapa is the nearest of the five islands in the Channel Islands National Park, located about 12 miles off the coast of Ventura.  Although the visitor’s center on the mainland is pretty popular, only about 30,000 people per year go on the islands themselves (according to www.channel.islands.national-park.com), and about half of them go to Anacapa.  Anacapa is actually three small islands, totaling less than a mile square in area.  The only hiking trails are on the easternmost of the three.

Anacapa is volcanic in origin, and rises over 100 feet from the ocean.  The only way up its sheer cliffs is by an intimidating metal stair case (the island’s stark landing cove may look more like a prison than a national park).  Following recent repairs to the stair case, the island is now re-opened to the public after being closed for four months.

Once on the island, you get a very different perspective of southern California.  The mainland is visible, as is giant Santa Cruz Island, but you are surrounded by water on a barren rock with no shade trees.  Catalina it is not.  Some people who do not know what they are getting themselves into find it to be a rather unpleasant experience (“Why?”).  The high presence of seagulls on the island leads to a lot of…well, you know.

But for those who enjoy a slightly more rugged experience, Anacapa Island is a great place to find it, not far as the crow (or seagull) flies from Ventura, but a very different environment.  The figure-8 shaped trail (easy to follow on the maps) leads from the picnic area across the island, past some steep cliffs, ending up at yet another Inspiration Point (although if there’s one Inspiration Point that truly deserves the title, this is it).  Here, you get views of the rest of Anacapa and Santa Cruz Island.

On the way back, drop by Cathedral Cove, where you can see a circular harbor from over a hundred feet above.  The cliffs drop straight down where waves crash on the rocks.  From here, it is a short walk back to the ranger station.  If you feel like it, take a short trip in the other direction to the eastern corner of the island, to get a closer look at the 1932 light house.  Due to the light house’s foghorn noise and the potential for hearing damage, visitors are not permitted to go all the way to it, but you can get pretty close, and the geology on the southeast side of the island is worth looking at.

Anacapa is probably best during the spring, when the bright yellow giant coreopsis flowers (visible from the mainland) are in bloom, but it is worth visiting any time of year. If you are looking for a memorable, if not completely comfortable, nature experience not far from the L.A. metro area, you’ll certainly find it on Anacapa.  If you plan your trip well, you will say “Wow” and be able to tell people “Why.”

Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

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