Backpacking Santa Rosa, Channel Islands

The Channel Islands National Park, a group of five islands, 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.


Best Time to Visit the Channel Islands

The Channel Islands are a year-round destination due to the warm climate in Southern California. Santa Cruz, the main island, is open all year. However, other islands including Santa Rosa is only open seasonally. Backcountry camping on Santa Rosa is permitted between mid-August and December. 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 to the Channel Islands

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.


Ferry Costs

  • $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 on Santa Rosa Island


Hike Details

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

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

  • 3rd Day: 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 the Channel Islands and their backcountry camping is you can create your own unique hike. There are several trails, many of which intersect. There is no defined route so set out 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 on Santa Rosa

There are only a few water sources on Santa Rosa, so make sure all your hiking and camping spots consider when and where to get water. The main campground at Water Canyon has a water tap. The next closest is on the southern coastline along the ridgeline. There is water located up the ridge from Ford Point near the intersection of the Water Canyon Trail and San Augustine Canyon. This water is not potable. Make sure to filter all water. This is a 6-mile hike from East Point.




Skunk Point

From Southeast Anchorage, you can detour on a coastal trail to Skunk Point.  This beautiful sandbar 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 a week earlier.


Boat Crashed on short near Skunk Point

Boat Crashed on short near Skunk Point


Santa Rosa Island Map



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