Kayaking (excluding personal watercraft-see Laws and Policies for more information) is a unique and rewarding way to experience the pristine marine environment of Channel Islands National Park. You will find solitude and splendor. Here you will also face new challenges and may encounter unexpected dangers. This section is designed to help in planning a safe, enjoyable, and environmentally sound kayaking trip in the park.
Planning Your Trip
Visitors may kayak on their own or with a park authorized guide/outiftter. The National Park Service strongly recommends for your safety that sea kayaking be done with one of the park’s authorized guide/outfitters. The guided trips are moderate to strenuous in nature, but some do not require previous kayaking experience.
For the authorized kayak guide and outfitting concession in the Scorpion Anchorage area on Santa Cruz Island visit: Channel Islands Adventure Company. For kayak guide and outfitting services in other areas of the park (excluding Scorpion area), visit the Visitor Services List.
Visitors with their own kayaks who would like to explore the park may contact the park concessioners, who will transport kayaks on their public trips for an extra fee. The concessionaires offer year-round transportation to the islands for day visits and camping trips.
Sea kayaking opportunities are available throughout the park. To help you decide which island to visit, specific island information is available at Places To Go or from the visitor center through publications, exhibits, and the park movie.
The area of the park that is most popular for sea kayaking is centered around Scorpion Beach on East Santa Cruz Island. This location is a world class destination for sea kayaking because of easy beach access, clear ocean waters, nearby camping, readily available concessionaire boat transportation service and a spectacular shoreline with beautiful sea cave and cliffs to explore.
Sea kayaking at San Miguel and Santa Rosa Islands is recommended to only the most highly experienced (expert), skilled, conditioned kayakers with all necessary safety equipment due to the consistently extreme weather and sea conditions that regularly dominate these areas.
Due to the many hazards of crossing the channel from or to the mainland to the park islands the National Park Service does not recommend this be attempted by sea kayakers.
Detailed kayaking information about the channel and islands may be obtained from the U.S. Coast Guard’s (USCG) “Local Notice to Mariners” publication by contacting the Coast Guard at (510) 437-2981. Kayaking guides and nautical charts to the Channel Islands are available from local marine stores and online bookstores. Refer to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Ocean Survey charts 18720, 18721, 18725, 18727, 18728, 18729, and 18756.
Kayakers should obtain the latest weather broadcast provided by the NOAA Weather Service by calling (805) 988-6610, visiting Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary’s Internet Weather Kiosk and by monitoring weather radio on VHF-FM 162.475 MHz (weather station 3) for marine forecasts and VHF-FM 162.55 MHz (weather station 1) and VHF-FM 162.40 MHz (weather station 2) for land-based observations.
Weather conditions vary considerably in the channel. Extreme weather conditions may be encountered at any time and the sea conditions may become dangerous without warning. The calmest winds and sea conditions often occur August through October. The other months are subject to a much greater chance for adverse wind and seas with sudden unexpected changes. High winds may occur regardless of the forecast. Forty-knot winds are not unusual for Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands. Anacapa and Santa Barbara Islands have more moderate winds.
Winds are often calm in the early morning and increase during the afternoon. Generally the wind comes from the northwest, but kayakers must be also be prepared for strong east or Santa Ana winds at anytime, especially from September through April.
Dense fog is common during the summer months, but may occur at any time, making chart and compass navigation mandatory. Ocean currents of considerable strength may be encountered both near and offshore from the islands. Ocean water temperatures range from the lower 50s (°F) in the winter to the upper 60s (°F) in the fall.
Use the buddy system.
Obtain current weather and sea conditions.
Do not travel down wind (with the wind) as you will have to return into a headwind.
Do not exceed your skill level.
Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.
If you are kayaking across the channel, kayakers should also file a formal float plan with the harbormaster before departing and contact island rangers at the beginning and end of the paddle.
Carefully select and equip your paddlecraft.
Landing Permits and Procedures
There are closed and restricted areas on each island. Please note that rocks or islets on or near any of the islands are closed year-round to any landing and pets are not allowed in the park. Please refer to Laws and Policies and Limiting Your Impact for more information on regulations and guidelines.
Kayakers may land according to the following procedures:
Santa Barbara Island: A permit is not required to land or hike on Santa Barbara Island. Access to the island is permitted only at the landing cove. The landing dock is available for unloading purposes only. No craft, including kayaks and inflatables, should be left moored to the dock.
Anacapa Island: A permit is not required to land or hike on East Anacapa Island or at Frenchys Cove. West Anacapa (except Frenchys Cove) is a protected research natural area and is closed to visitors. Visitors are allowed on Middle Anacapa by permit only and when accompanied by a park ranger.
The landing dock is available for unloading purposes only. No craft, including kayaks and inflatables, should be left moored to the dock.
Santa Cruz Island: Boaters may land and hike on the eastern 24% of Santa Cruz Island without a permit. This area is owned by the NPS and is east of the property line between Prisoners Harbor and Valley Anchorage. Due to surf and swell conditions, boaters should use extreme caution when making surf-landings at any beach, especially Smugglers Cove and those beaches facing south and southeast between San Pedro Point and Sandstone Point.
A permit to land on the other 76% of Santa Cruz Island is required from TNC. A fee is charged and no overnight island use is permitted. Contact (805) 642-0345 x510 or www.nature.org/ for a permit; allow 10-12 days for processing.
Santa Rosa Island: Boaters may land along coastline and on beaches without a permit for day-use only. From March 1 to September 15, the back beaches and sand dunes between and including Skunk Point to just north of East Point are closed to hiking to protect the nesting area for the snowy plover, a federally listed, threatened shorebird. Please remain on the wet sand (below mean high tide) or the road throughout this area. The beaches around Sandy Point are closed year-round. A pier is available at Bechers Bay.
San Miguel Island: Kayakers may land only on the beach at Cuyler Harbor. San Miguel Island is owned by the U. S. Navy and open for landing only when National Park Service personnel are on the island. The island was a former bombing range and there are possible unexploded ordnance.
If kayakers are not traveling to San Miguel Island with Island Packers, it is the responsibility of the kayakers to contact the park to ensure the island is open before coming ashore. A permit (including liability waiver) is required to visit the island. Kayakers can obtain these forms at a self-registration station at the Nidever Canyon trail head entry on San Miguel Island. If you are traveling to San Miguel Island with Island Packers they will provide the forms to you upon your reservation.
Visitors are required to be escorted beyond the ranger station. Visitors may explore Cuyler Harbor beach, Nidever Canyon, the Cabrillo Monument, and the Lester Ranch site unescorted. No off-trail hiking is permitted.
If you are traveling to San Miguel Island with Island Packers for the day or to camp, park staff will already be scheduled on the island and usually available to provided escorted hikes. Kayakers traveling on their own are required to e-mail us prior to their mainland departure to arrange for an escorted hike by a ranger. Provide your name, phone number, vessel name, and dates of requested escorted hike. Park staff will then reply with available dates and instructions.