Day Tripping: San Miguel Island at Channel Islands National Park

Yosemite, Sequoia, Joshua Tree. They all win the popularity contests with folks around here. There's good reason for that, but the closest traditional National Park to Los Angeles goes without much notice. That's too bad considering the striking beauty found in Channel Islands National Park.

That said, it's understandable the popularity isn't up there. Islands, after all, are not that easy to get to. And once your there, will the weather and Pacific Ocean work to your benefit? Of the five islands that make up the park, one is rarely visited (for what it's worth, the folks at Wikipedia say about 200 people a year). That island is San Miguel, a one-way 60-mile 3-hour journey from Ventura by boat.

This past Saturday was this year's last trip with the park's concessionaire, Island Packers (trips will start up again in Spring 2010). With the winter season coming, trips to the the three outer islands—that includes Santa Rosa and Santa Barbara—close (however, if you have your own boat and skiff, there are options). Trips will begin next Spring, but we had to check it out in preparation for next year.

The island is 14 square miles, making it the third smallest island in the chain. Despite its size, its western end is the largest North American rookery for sea lions and elephant and harbor seals with a population of 30,000 at the height of birthing season. That area is off limits to the public, who land at Cuyler Harbor on the eastern end of the island. A 7-mile hike from there to Point Bennet offers a view of the rookery. At about two and one half miles into that hike, a small detour to the unique caliche forest is a must see. A couple other hikes offer views of the ocean, coves and beaches, but due to the sensitive nature of the island, any hike into the interior must be ranger led.

One of the most appealing aspects of the island is the white sand beach at Cuyler Harbor. On a nice sunny day, the water is crystal clear and bright blue. Swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving are all available to do, provided you make arrangements for equipment. To the east are some land caves (bring a flashlight) and to the west are a few out-of-place palm trees, supposedly planted by the Santa Barbara Lunch Club in the 1920s.

Because San Miguel is the most western island in the park, those beautiful days are not common place. The best times to visit is in August and September, but there are never guarantees. Sometimes, boat trips are canceled or detoured to other islands because visibility or roughs seas make travel too dangerous. But if you catch San Miguel on a beautiful day, the trip to this rare and seldom visited island is well worth anyone's time.

Previously on LAist
- Day Tripping: Anacapa Island at Channel Islands National Park
- Day Tripping: A Quick Jaunt to Catalina Island (it's a Channel Island, but not part of the National Park)
- Outer Island Season Closing at Channel Islands National Park
- New Visitor Center Opens at Channel Islands National Park on Scorpion Ranch
- Like Sea Kayaking? Channel Islands National Park is the Way to Go
- Exploring the Sea Caves of the Channel Islands Further