Anacapa Island, 12 miles southwest of Port Hueneme, is the most accessible Channel Island. It offers the hiker a sampling of the charms of the larger islands to the west. Below the tall wind-and-wave-cut cliffs, sea lions bark at the crashing breakers. Gulls, owls, and pelicans call the cliffs home.

Anacapa: 3 islands in one.
Anacapa: 3 islands in one.

Anacapa is really three islets chained together with reefs that rise above the surface during low tide. West Anacapa is the largest segment, featuring great caves where the Chumash are said to have collected water dripping from the ceiling. The middle isle hosts a wind-battered eucalyptus grove.

The east isle, where the national park has a visitor center, is the light of the Channel Islands; a Coast Guard lighthouse and foghorn warn ships of the dangerous channel. It’s a romantic approach to East Anacapa as you sail past Arch Rock.

Coreopsis blankets the island in early spring. (Derek Lohuis, NPS)
Coreopsis blankets the island in early spring. (Derek Lohuis, NPS)

What you find on top depends on the time of year. In February and March, you may enjoy the sight of 30-ton gray whales passing south on their way to calving and mating waters off Baja California. In early spring, the giant coreopsis, one of the island’s featured attractions, is something to behold. It is called the tree sun- flower, an awkward thick-trunked perennial that grows as tall as 10 feet.

Anacapa is small (a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide), but perfect-sized for the usual visit (2 to 3 hours). By the time you tour the lighthouse and visitor center, hike the self-guided trail and have lunch, it’s time to board the boat for home.

Directions:Boat over to the island with Island Packers (805) 658-5730, the Channel Islands National Park primary concessionaire. Island Packers offers plenty of free parking, a gift shop and restrooms.

For more information contact Channel Islands National Park or stop in at the visitor center

 (805) 658-5730 in Ventura Harbor at 1901 Spinnaker Drive


The hike: The nature trail leaves from the visitor center, where you can learn about island life, past and present.

Along the trail, a campground and several inspiring cliff-edge nooks invite you to picnic. The trail loops in a figure-eight through the coreopsis and returns to the visitor center.