Beautiful And Remote San Miguel Island Will Reopen To The Public


San Miguel Island, closed by the Navy in 2014, will be reopened to the public on May 17. The remote island—visited by fewer than 200 people per year when open to tourists—boasts beautiful views, scenic hikes and a huge sea lion rookery.

San Miguel Island is the westernmost island of the eight Channel Islands, about 55 miles from Ventura, according to the National Park Service (NPS). It's eight miles long and four miles wide, consisting of 9,379 acres. Despite the fact that 18 million people live within 100 miles of the park, the island feels very removed from civilization, Yvonne Menard, Channel Islands National Park Chief of Interpretation & Public Information Officer, tells LAist.

"It's like taking a trip back in time to go back to California like it was many years ago," she said.

The Channel Islands are owned by a number of different agencies. San Clemente and San Nicholas are also owned by the Navy, while Catalina is managed by the Catalina Island Conservancy. The Channel Islands National Park consists of five islands: Santa Rosa, Anacapa, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and San Miguel. San Miguel, though within the Park, is also owned by the Navy and managed by NPS via an agreement. In 2014, the Navy decided to close the park over concerns of pubic safety. In particular, they were worried about possible unexploded ordnance (UXO), or any sort of explosive weapon—such as bombs, grenades, land mines and the like—that did not explode when they were used and could possibly later detonate and cause harm.

"San Miguel was an active bombing range in WWII and through to the '70s, so for the past two years, the Navy has been working to ensure public safety by conducting a risk assessment and survey of the island," Menard said. "They also established new agreements with the park service so visitors, as of May 17, can go back to the island."

As before, guests will need to be joined by a ranger beyond the ranger station. This is a policy that's been in place for several decades, Menard said. If rangers are not available, the island will be closed, though NPS works diligently to make it accessible.

Visitors will also have to sign an access permit and liability waivers, which can be found at the boat and air concession offices. Private boaters may self-register at a station at the trailhead on the beach.

Most visitors choose to come by boat. If you do so, you will land at Cuyler Harbor, which Menard described as a mile-long beach with gorgeous, blue waters. From there, guests will climb up a sand dune to the trailhead and ascend through Nidever Canyon, which Menard said is full of wildflowers.

There is a campground where 30 people can camp at a time, and while the grounds offer pit toilets and tables, you'll want to pack everything else. Menard said that people who camp out generally use the second day of their trip to hike a 14-mile loop trail to Point Bennett on the westernmost point of the island.

"It's a long hike, but not a lot of elevation gain," she said. You will also hike through the caliche forest, where sand-casting occurred around old tree trunks and the old tree system. It looks like this:

At Point Bennett, you'll find the a huge sea lion and seal rookery, used by over 100,000 animals to breed, pup and feed. You can observe the animals using a spotting scope the ranger usually brings with them as you sit behind a dune. Other animals found on the island include the island fox, a species that is currently being considering for delisting from the endangered species list, after it was added in the 90s. There are about 500 such foxes on the island. This is in addition to the marine life that surrounds the islands, which includes whales and dolphins, and the numerous plant species endemic to San Miguel Island.

You may also find the Cabrillo memorial. Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was a Portuguese explorer who decided the island belonged to the Spanish Crown in 1542, though the Chumash were already living there, as they had for 12,000 years. Some believe that Cabrillo died on the island and is buried there, but no one is sure where. Still, a memorial to him remains on the bluff overlooking Cuyler Harbor. The island is still home to 600 mostly undisturbed archeological sites, according to NPS. The oldest is believed to be 11,600 years old. After the Chumash were sent to missions and other towns, San Miguel was mostly left alone until sheep ranchers took over in 1850, remaining until the '40s.

If you want to visit the island for yourself, Menard suggests you begin by booking your campsite and boat or air concessions online first. You can find information for how to do those two things here. Then, you'll just have to prep for your time on an island. There isn't a lot of shade, so be prepared to spend time in the sun. At night, the island can get windy and cold, so be sure to dress in layers and pack accordingly. Find more information on camping and what to bring here.

Related: Day Tripping: San Miguel Island at Channel Islands National Park