Backpacker - - Contents - By Chuck Gra­ham

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.


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.


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

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