Only one square mile in area, Santa Barbara is the smallest Channel Island. It’s located some 38 miles west of San Pedro—or quite a bit south of the other islands in the national park.

You can fashion 2- to 5-mile loops around the island with about 500 feet in elevation gain.

Geologically speaking, Santa Barbara arose a bit differently from the other isles. The island is a volcano, leftover from Miocene times, some 25 million years ago, and shares characteristics with Mexico’s Guadalupe Islands.

From a distance, the triangular-shaped island looks barren—not a tree in sight. The tallest plant is the coreopsis, the giant sunflowers that can grow ten-feet high.

"I am a rock, I am an island." The old Paul Simon tune could have been composed for Santa Barbara Island. (courtesy NPS)
“I am a rock, I am an island.” The old Paul Simon tune could have been composed for Santa Barbara Island. (courtesy NPS)

To bird-watchers, Santa Barbara means seabirds, lots of them—gulls, cormorants, pelicans and black-oyster catchers. And the island boasts some rare birds, too: the black storm-petrel and the Xantus murrelet. Land birds commonly sighted include burrowing and barn owls, hummingbirds, horned larks and finches.

Besides the birds, another reason to bring binoculars to the island is to view sea lions and elephant seals. Webster Point on the western end of the isle is a favorite haul-out area for the pinnipeds.

Rich kelp beds surround the islands, habitat for a wide variety of fish. The subtidal waters harbor crabs, lobster, sea urchin and abalone, particularly the somewhat rare pink abalone.

Explorer Sebastian Vizcaino sailed by on December 4, 1602. That day happened to be the day of remembrance for Saint Barbara, so the island was named for her. During the 1700s, the Spanish used the isle as a kind of navy base, from which they could set sail after the pirates plaguing their galleons.

Early in this century, the isle’s native flora was all-but destroyed by burning, clearing, and planting nonnative grasses, followed by sheep grazing. Besides the grasses, iceplant, a South African import, began to spread over the island. Even when the hardy iceplant dies, it hurts the native plant community because it releases its salt-laden tissues into the soil, thus worsening the odds for the natives.

Park service policy is to re-introduce native plants and eliminate non-natives.

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

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The hike: Six miles of trail crisscross the island. A good place to start your exploration is Canyon View Nature Trail. Request an interpretive brochure from the resident ranger and enjoy learning about island ecology.