Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park, created in 1980, protects five islands off the coast of California. Each of the five have unique features and histories.

  • Anacapa Island is one of the two islands included in the establishment of Channel Islands National Monument in 1938. First opening to the public in 1959, it is the second smallest island at around 5 miles in length. It remains the most visited island due to its proximity to the mainland and is well known for the Anacapa Island Lighthouse.
  • Santa Cruz is the largest and most diverse of the Channel Islands. This island contains the highest peak in the Channel Islands, Diablo Peak, and the largest sea cave, Painted Cave.
  • Santa Rosa became part of Channel Islands National Park in 1983. Santa Rosa is the second largest island in California at 84 square miles. Interestingly, this island only provides a home to three native terrestrial mammals: the island fox, island spotted skunk, and island deer mouse.  
  • Santa Barbara is the other island that was part of Channel Islands National Monument. It is a small island, encompassing only one square mile. Despite the absence of freshwater, this island provides nesting habitat for a rare species of birds, Scripps murrelets.
  • San Miguel contains one of the oldest known American Indian archeological sites (over 11,000 years old). It is also an important location for the area’s seabirds, as it supports ⅓ of the local breeding seabirds.
Can you see the island on the horizon?

Dog Friendly Activities

Due to the unique ecosystems that can develop on Islands, this is one of the handful of national parks that flat out prohibits pets from traveling past the visitors center. Specifically, there are concerns about domestic dogs carrying diseases to the island foxes.

Since dogs are prohibited on the islands, the only dog-friendly area at Channel Islands is the Visitor Center beach on the mainland. So know that if you want to actually step foot onto the Channel Islands, you will have to find a boarding facility or other pet care arrangements for your canine companion.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop by the Visitor Center and walk along the beach to catch a glimpse of the islands sitting several miles off the coast of California. It was a foggy day when we arrived, so you can’t see the islands in most of the pictures. But in person, you could just make them out along the horizon.

Our visit to Channel Islands was the first time either dog had been to an ocean beach and they really enjoyed it. Frolicking in the sand and dipping their paws in the ocean was a blast. Please be aware that this is an on-leash beach.

Find out more about the dog policy at Channel Islands National Park’s official website.


Camping is available on all five islands in Channnel Islands National Park. Currently, there is one established campground on each island. Limited backcountry camping is available on Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands. Find out more about camping at Channel Islands on the national park’s camping page

As we were traveling with the dogs, we did not travel out to the islands themselves. Instead, we camped along the California coast. There are many campgrounds in the area. And the visitors center will happily provide you with a list of nearby camping locations.

At the recommendation of a volunteer at the visitor center, we found a roadside parking area to spend our first night along the ocean. This frontage road was just north of Emma Wood State Beach (which also provides a campground).

To be honest, the signs on this frontage road were a little confusing and it was difficult to determine exactly where overnight parking was allowed. But there were several other RVs parked along this road. So we ended up just choosing a location on the side of the road that offered beautiful views of the ocean right from our RV windows.

In the morning, we were able to take the dogs for another lovely walk on the beach. It was misty and rainy, but the magic of the ocean still called to us.

Activities in the Surrounding Areas

Personally, we just enjoyed the beaches. They are amazing. And ask at the Channel Islands visitor center for recommendations for on or off leash areas to enjoy the beach with your dog. The day we visited there was a very knowledgeable volunteer who gave us lots of suggestions.

And when you are finished exploring this area of the west coast, consider a trip to Joshua Tree or Pinnacles National Parks.

Final Thoughts

Channel Islands is one of the few national parks that truly prohibits dogs. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still stop at the visitors center and learn all about the islands and the history of the region. And there really are some lovely beaches in this area. If you are a Midwestern girl like me, make sure to take lots of advantage of the amazing beaches. It may be awhile before you can greet the ocean again.


Kate is the writer of Pawsitively Intrepid. She has spent the last 9 years working full-time as a veterinarian, treating dogs and cats. But as of June 2023, she is taking a year to travel with her dog, volunteer, and work on some passion projects.

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