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Channel Islands National Park – America’s Galapagos

By October 9, 2017No Comments

Story and Photography by Jerry Ginsberg


Camping on Anacapa will allow you to capture a great sunrise from spectacular Inspiration Point at the island’s east end.  © Jerry Ginsberg

We are accustomed to driving to our national parks. This is definitely not the case with Channel Islands National Park. This little archipelago of a half-dozen rocks jutting out of the Pacific Ocean a few miles off the coast of central California is reachable only by a short boat ride. This rather contradictory blend of remoteness and accessibility offers some unique opportunities for us photographers.

The Channel Islands are called America’s Galapagos – and for good reason. A wide variety of birds and pinnipeds are in plentiful supply. Western gulls find safety here.

With no natural predators, they feel secure enough to build their nests right on the ground. If you approach too closely to get a glimpse of their pale blue eggs, these raucous creatures will let you know in no uncertain terms that you are trespassing on their turf. The waters surrounding these rocky islands are populated by an assortment of curious fur seals, elephant seals and playful California sea lions.  Mid-winter and mid-summer can offer great whale watching as the leviathans of the seas commute between their Alaskan feeding grounds and their tropical breeding grounds.

East Anacapa is perhaps the most photogenic of the Channel Islands. Fortunately it is also the closest to shore and the most easily reached. Approaching Anacapa you will have a brief, but great view of imposing Arch Rock. Visitors arrive at tiny Landing Cove must climb a vertical steel ladder to the island’s otherwise flat surface.  All of your gear must be carried up that ladder. From the top, it’s an easy stroll to iconic Inspiration Point and the rest of Anacapa. Stay for a couple of hours or camp overnight to shoot sunset and sunrise.

Another great destination in this exotic park is Santa Cruz Island. Not only will you find lots of scenic and easy hiking here, but a few hours spent kayaking through the many sea caves is a lot of fun and offers the opportunity to capture some great images. However, you must arrange to bring your own (or rented) kayak, paddles, life vest and accessories. These are generally available at mainland departure points.


Volcanic sea caves honeycomb the shoreline of Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, CA..Green Room inside Scorpion Rock.  © Jerry Ginsberg


Volcanic sea caves honeycomb the shoreline of Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, CA..From within the Dogleg cave. © Jerry Ginsberg


Kayakers prepare to enter one of the many volcanic sea caves that honeycomb the shoreline of Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, CA.  © Jerry Ginsberg

While waters are generally calm, damaging saltwater spray can be present at any time. When shooting from a kayak, it’s always a good idea to have a weather-sealed camera body and lenses, a UV or clear filter to protect your lens’ front element and a dry bag.

To be even safer, avoid changing lenses while on the water.

These islands offer no water or facilities. You must bring your own food, water, gear and supplies.

Traveling to the Channel Islands is not difficult. National Park concessionaires operate from marinas in Ventura, Santa Barbara and Oxnard. The areas near these marinas are chock full of lodging choices ranging from economy motels to 5 star resorts. Restaurants and supermarkets are in plentiful supply as well.
Island Packers (Ventura and Oxnard) offers the most extensive schedule. Truth Aquatics (Santa Barbara) specializes in an array of water sports. Trips to Anacapa and Santa Cruz take about an hour each way; those to the more distant islands a bit longer. Schedules vary seasonally with spring and summer months offering the greatest choices.
For detailed info on getting to the Channel Islands, see and 

Famed Santa Catalina, nominally one of the Channel Islands, is far outside the national park boundary.

© Jerry Ginsberg

In the March, 2016 edition of eNews I wrote in this space about the two great National Parks of South Dakota, Badlands and Wind Cave. It is now my good fortune to be chosen by the NPS as Artist in Residence in Badlands National Park for the autumn season.  I anticipate that this month-long residency will provide a very different experience from that offered by a relatively short photo trip. While I have never repeated a featured National Park here, I expect that once returning home, I will have a far more detailed insight on Badlands to share with you. Look for it in the near future.

Jerry Ginsberg is a freelance photographer whose landscape and travel images have graced the pages and covers of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs. He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s National Parks with medium format cameras. Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America.
More of Jerry’s images are on display at  Or e-mail him at