SANTA BARBARA ISLAND, CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA
Explore a deserted island off the Southern California coast; savor solitude on the Nebraska prairie; and be one of the first to check out a new trail in New Hampshire.
The wind is blowing 40 mph across the rocky seafront as I trek to my camp, which overlooks the Pacific. But even the whistling gusts can’t drown out the barks and bellows of the hundreds of California sea lions sunbathing on the beach below. Santa Barbara may be the smallest of the Channel Islands at 1 square mile, but that just means you can see it all in one go. The isle’s 5.9-mile loop crosses grassy meadows smeared with yellow tickseed flowers, skirts jagged bluffs abutting the water, and, of course, offers nearconstant views of the glittering sea. Add the seldom-visited campsites and the raucous wildlife, and the island is proof that, as they say, size doesn’t matter.
TURN-BY-TURN FROM LANDING COVE 1)
Climb .2 mile to the Landing Cove Campground. Drop off your overnight gear and load a daypack.
2) Hike north on the Arch Point Loop, passing spurs to Arch Point (mile .7), Elephant Seal Cove (2.2), and Webster Point (2.3) to a junction near mile 3.4.
3) Pick up the Signal Peak Loop, heading 2.3 miles south over the mountain and past the sea lion rookery back to camp.
4) Retrace your steps to the landing.
CAMPSITE LANDING COVE (MILE .2)
There’s one designated campground on the island with 10 sites (reservation required), but it’s a good one: Every spot offers views over the east side of Santa Barbara. There are no trees (anywhere on the island, actually), so batten down the hatches, and bring earplugs if you need to drown out the sea lions’ chorus or burrowing owls’ coos. Note: There’s no fresh water on Santa Barbara; pack your own.
Sea lions bark right near camp, brown boobies and black-vented shearwaters soar overhead, and endemic island night lizards and deer mice skitter across the terrain. If you’re kayaking or snorkeling, see northern elephant seals bobbing in the surf and black oystercatchers and pelagic cormorants near the surface.
A storm washed out the pier in 2016. It hasn’t been replaced yet, but the NPS built a trail to a flat, rocky slab nearby that private boaters and kayakers can access. (It’s a 40 miles from Long Beach and just 24 from Catalina Island.) That’s the only way to get to Santa Barbara currently, but the ferry service Island Packers plans on skiffing visitors to shore as soon as this spring. Head to islandpackers.com for updates.
Sea lions off the coast of Santa Barbara Island