Backpacking Santa Rosa, Channel Islands

The Channel Islands National Park, a group of five island, located 12-70 miles off the California coast. With only 300,000 visitors annually, this park is one of the least visited national parks in the U.S. The main island for day visits is Santa Cruz and Anacapa. We were looking for more of an adventure and decided to visit Santa Rosa.


When to Go

Santa Rosa open seasonally for backcountry camping from mid-August until December. Santa Cruz is open annually. The best time to visit is between September and October, when there are warm days and the wind is not as strong.


How to Get There

Island Packers Cruises is the public ferry to several of the islands. Reserve tickets at It is a one hour ferry to the island of Santa Cruz, and 2 hours 30 minutes to the island of Santa Rosa.



  • $59 per person to Santa Cruz and Anacapa for day trips

  • $79 per person to Santa Cruz and Anacapa for overnight trips

  • $114 per person to Santa Rosa for overnight trips

Next to the pier

Next to the pier

Backpacking Santa Rosa Island

Hike Details

  • Day 1: 9.5 miles, 594 feet gain, 4 hours 38 minutes

  • Day 2: 11.9 miles, 2667 ft gain, 6 hours 13 minutes

  • Day 3: 12.8 miles, 1,289 ft gain, 6 hours 46 minutes

  • Total Hike: 34.2 miles, 4550 ft gain, 17 hours 37 minutes


The Hike

The beauty of Channel Islands and their backcountry camping is you can create you own unique hike. There are several trails, many of which intersect. There is no defined route s set out your own route, and say goodbye to all the people at the main campground. From the boat, it is 1.5 miles from the pier to the Water Canyon Campground. Most will stop here as this is the only campground on the island. Backcountry hikers should stock up on water here. The closest beach for backcountry camping is 9 miles.  Several areas of the island are off-limits for camping due to seals and birds. Head past East Point and to the southern coastline of the island, where there are endless camping opportunities.


Trail near East Point

Water Sources

The main campground at Water Canyon has a water tap. The next closest is on the southern coastline along the ridge line. Located up the ridge from Ford Point, it is near the intersection of Water Canyon Trail and San Augustine Canyon. This water is not potable. Make sure to filter your water. This is a 6 mile hike from East Point. We made the mistake of not having enough water and having to hike 6 miles to get some.  Be better prepared than us.


Skunk Point

From Southeast Anchorage, you can detour on a coastal trail to Skunk Point.  This beautiful sand bar and dunes at the end of the island are off-limits for camping, but well worth a stop. We luckily also were able to see a recent shipwreck that occurred just week earlier.

Boat Crashed on short near Skunk Point

Boat Crashed on short near Skunk Point


Santa Rosa Island Map


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