I don’t think it’s wrong to assume that, when most people think about California, the first thing that comes to mind is not biodiversity.

No, most of us associate California with busy beaches backed by palm trees, the glamor of Los Angeles and Hollywood, maybe even the cutting-edge technology of Silicon Valley.

Behind those stereotypes, however, lies a state that’s truly enormous and among the most biodiverse in the world. In fact, the so-called California Floristic Province is one of the 36 official World Biodiversity Hotspots because of its sheer abundance of plant species, from giant sequoias to desert flowers. One of the best examples of California’s abundant animal and plant life is Channel Islands National Park, sometimes called the “Galapagos of North America”.

A Beautifully Unique Archipelago

As the Channel Island National Park photos in this post will show, this is a downright extraordinary place. The national park protects five of the eight Channel Islands that lie off the coast of southern California, as well as their surrounding waters. (Yes, there’s more to southern California than just desert parks!)

Its combination of unique wildlife, endemic plants and archaeological sites is exceptional and not found anywhere else on the planet.

This post is mainly meant to offer you an impression of what the California Channel Islands have to offer through a selection of Channel Islands National Park photos. If you’d like to learn more, I encourage you to get this awesome American national parks book or visit the official national park website

Channel Islands National Park Photos

Sometimes, it’s not necessary to dedicate hundreds of words just to describe a place. Whenever beautiful pictures can tell the story, it’s good to let them do just that. Most travel ideas, at least for me, are created when looking at photographs, not when reading about a destination. That’s exactly why I love travel photography so much and why I think it’s so valuable.

So, here we go. These are my favorite Channel Islands National Park photos. They’re all from Santa Cruz Island, which is the largest of the California Channel Islands and which I visited during our road trip to fifteen U.S. national parks earlier this year.

May they inspire you to visit this extraordinary Californian island chain! It truly is as gorgeous as these photos depict.

Wildflowers and Coastal Cliffs

Beautiful coastline of Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, California

Yellow wildflowers top Santa Cruz Island’s imposing coastal cliffs. Because of its isolation from the mainland, the California Channel Islands are home to many endemic plant species, adding to the amazing biodiversity of this relatively small area.

Resting Raven

Raven on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, California

A raven rests on a left-behind wooden post. These curious and intelligent birds are found all over North America. From the fjords of Alaska to the depths of the Grand Canyon, their skill and cleverness has helped them thrive in the most diverse of regions.

Scenic Scorpion Anchorage

Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park Photos, California

One of my favorite views on Santa Cruz Island was this one of Scorpion Anchorage. You can reach it via a short but steep climb to the south of the harbor.

Curious Dolphins

Pod of dolphins near Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, California

Countless dolphins came to investigate our boat on the way back to the California mainland. Other marine animals you might spot include harbor seals and sea lions, porpoises and whales.

Scenic Trails Abound

Hiking trail on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, California

A network of scenic hiking trails offers you the chance to explore this stunning island. This is the pleasant two-mile Cavern Point Loop, which starts at Scorpion Anchorage, your boat’s landing point, and runs back via the campground.

Testimony to Bygone Days

Old farm shed on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, California

Before it was a national park, the Channel Islands was home to a thriving and peaceful farming community. A number of old wooden buildings and sheds remain on Santa Cruz Island, a testimony to a time long gone.

Scorpion Rock

Scorpion Rock, Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park Photos, California

Another great viewpoint to the south of Scorpion Anchorage, this one overlooks Scorpion Rock. It’s reached via the zigzagging trail that starts just south of the harbor’s beach and climbs up a cliff.

Cute Island Fox

Island fox on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, California

Arguably the best and most visible example of the uniqueness of the Channel Islands is the island fox. This endemic fox lives on six of the eight islands and is found nowhere else on earth. Moreover, each island population is a different subspecies as well. You’ll see these little canines scooting about near campgrounds and picnic areas. Make sure to use the provided food storage boxes!

Potato Harbor

Potato Harbor, Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park

Named after its potato-like shape, Potato Harbor is the destination of a five-mile loop hike that starts and ends in Scorpion Anchorage. The views are spectacular, but there’s no beach access.

Nature Versus Man

Humpback whale and oil rig near Channel Islands National Park, California

Whales, such as this diving humpback whale, are a common sight during the roundtrip to the Channel Islands. I particularly love this photo because of the undeniable contrast between this huge yet vulnerable animal and the oil rig in the background.

Island Exploration

Hiker overlooking Scorpion Rock on Santa Cruz Island, California

Most people visit the Channel Islands on a day trip. To make the most of that brief visit, make sure to head out on one of the many scenic trails. It’s the best, if not only, way to explore these magnificent islands.

Lush Landscape

Scorpion Anchorage, Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, California

This lush scene in Scorpion Anchorage gives you somewhat of an impression of how peaceful farming life must have been on Santa Cruz Island. Nowadays, this is the location of a kiosk with information boards and a museum.

A Look Into the Past

Museum at Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island, California Channel Islands National Park

That small but interesting museum includes restored farm buildings, offering an insight into the daily comings and goings on Santa Cruz Island many decades ago.

Getting There and Away

Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, California

Scorpion Anchorage is the arrival and departure point for boat trips from and to Ventura. It’s also a popular starting point for sea kayaking excursions, which, besides hiking, is one of the greatest things to do on this tranquil island.

How to Get to Channel Islands National Park

The beauty of this national park not only lies in its actual natural beauty, but also in its accessibility. It may be an archipelago, but the park is only a scenic boat ride away from Ventura, a coastal town just northwest of Los Angeles.

There’s only one company that offers boat trips to and from the Channel Islands and that’s Island Packers. They’re essentially your only option if you don’t have your own boat or want to spend money on a plane ride.

Tickets are definitely affordable and, more importantly, the boat ride offers you a totally different perspective of the islands and the southern California coast.

If you’re lucky, you might even spot some marine animals on the way. On my trip to the islands, we didn’t come across any animals at all. On the way back, however, we ran into an enormous pod of dolphins—literally more than a thousand of them according to the guide—and saw a couple of humpback whales. The Channel Islands National Park photos above clearly show what you can expect from a return boat trip.

Channel Islands National Park Map

This Channel Islands National Park map shows all five islands that make up the national park. It also includes the location of Island Packers Cruises and a number of places of interest on Santa Cruz Island that are featured in this photo essay.

Like These Channel Islands National Park Photos? Pin It!

Which One of These Channel Islands National Park Photos Is Your Favorite? Have You Ever Visited the California Channel Islands?

Bram Reusen

Bram Reusen is a Belgian travel photographer, writer and the founder of Travel. Experience. Live. He now lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA. From backpacking and adventuring to slow travel and cycling trips, Bram focuses on nature and adventure travel. His passions are hiking in national parks and sampling craft beers.


Agness of Fit Travelling · August 8, 2017 at 14:35

Stunning pictures! I would love to hike Potato Harbor! Do you have any tips I should consider before hiking that trail?

    Bram Reusen · August 10, 2017 at 18:03

    Hi Agness, Potato Harbor is beautiful! You don’t to know much in terms of preparation; the hike is pretty easy and not that long. It’s basically a hike through meadows and along the coastal cliffs.

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