Santa Rosa Island, Trailmaster John McKinney

Imagine a lovely island where you can hike into dramatic canyons, through quiet pine groves, and along pristine beaches.

Now imagine how far you would need to travel to have such a magnificent island adventure.

If you’re thinking you need to travel through several time zones to find a rarely visited island with terrific hiking trails, think again.

Santa Rosa Island is just a 25-minute flight away from Camarillo Airport. For adventurers prone to seasickness, who cringe at the thought of boating to the islands, this is a great way to go.

Channel Islands Aviation, the official Channel Islands National Park airplane concessionaire, flies visitors to Santa Rosa Island year-around, with departures from Camarillo Airport and (occasionally by arrangement from Santa Barbara Airport). Typically, the flights leave at 12:30 p.m. on weekend days and return about 5 in the afternoon.

Getting there is lots of fun. Just after takeoff from Camarillo Airport, the ten-passenger, twin-engine Britten-Norma Islander soars for a couple minutes over the mainland and soon zooms out over the Santa Barbara Channel. First we flew over Anacapa Island, then mountainous Santa Cruz, largest of the Channel Islands. Santa Rosa comes into view next, with San Miguel Island farther out on the horizon.

Fellow passengers, including my son Daniel and an outdoorsy bunch from around SoCal, were duly impressed by the bird-s eye perspective of the islands—so different than the view from the mainland. (On a previous CIA flight a few years ago our pilot even circled the channel so we could observe more than a dozen spouting blue whales. The submarine-sized creatures, the largest animals on the planet, even look gigantic from high in the sky.)

The plane lands on a dirt airstrip on the low bluffs just above Bechers Bay. Usually a national park ranger (staff or volunteer) meets island visitors.

We were fortunate to be accompanied by veteran Channel Islands National Park volunteer Inge Rose, who provided a great introduction to the island’s fascinating ranching history and extensive archeological record. “Arlington Woman,” discovered in the isle’s Arlington Canyon, is believed to be one of the oldest human remains ever found in North America.

I would definitely recommend that visitors, particularly first-time visitors, explore Santa Rosa Island with a ranger. Rose packed us into a park service four-wheel drive and gave us a tour of the historic Vail and Vickers Ranch. A cattle company owned Sana Rosa until 1986 when the isle became part of Channel Islands National Park.

Rose also took us on a 2-mile loop hike. She pointed out the unique flora and wildlife including the curious ironwood and the Torrey pine, which survives only on Santa Rosa Island and in Torrey Pines State Reserve north of San Diego.

Declining the offer of a ride, Daniel and I instead hiked from the Torrey pines back to the airstrip via a dramatic beach backed with sand dunes. We passed the isle’s campground in secluded Water Canyon and resolved to come back to the isle for a longer stay.

The idea of camping is particularly appealing because the campground is located only a quarter-mile walk from the airstrip and boasts picnic tables, flush toilets, hot showers and windbreaks. As it turns out, we aren’t the first ones to think of this. Channel Islands Aviation has special flights for campers, who are each allowed to bring 60 pounds of baggage per person and can stay up to 14 days.

We loved our afternoon on Santa Rosa and can’t wait to return to wander the deserted beaches, take my favorite hike on the island through Lobo Canyon, and explore more of the second largest island off the coast of California.

For more information:
Channel Islands Aviation (805) 987-1301
Flights to Santa Rosa Island cost $159.95 for adults and $134.95 for children 12 and under.
Channel Islands National Park (805) 658-5730