An Epic 4 Day Voyage Through the Northern Channel Islands
Cruise through the Northern Channel Islands on an unforgettable adventure where you will dive, kayak, hike, and experience wild, rugged nature. Land on remote white sand beaches, explore the less-visited trails, and kayak through the world’s largest sea caves, watch playful pinnipeds, and dive or snorkel in an underwater wilderness in one of the most biologically diverse marine ecosystems on the planet.
Live-aboard on one of our custom-built dive boats designed specifically for expeditions!
- Departure Harbor: Santa Barbara Harbor, Sea Landing
- Destination: San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz Islands
- Explore Channel Islands National Park on a unique multi-sport adventure that offers world-class diving, kayaking, hiking, wildlife, and much more
Trip Specific Information
- Season: May to October
- Experience Level: Beginner and up
- Minimum Age: 12 years old
- Minimum Number of Guests: 12
- Maximum Number of Guests:24
- Check In: 7:30 pm
- Briefing: 9:00 pm
- Departure: 10:00 pm
- Duration: 4 nights and 4 days
- Return to Santa Barbara: by 5:00 pm on the fourth day
- Bunk room accommodations with linens, blankets, and pillows.
- Free O2 and Nitrox tank refills
- Divemaster on deck for diving/snorkeling
- Guides and naturalists for kayaking and hiking
- Tandem or single person kayak w/ backrest, seat, and adjustable paddle
- 3mm farmer john wetsuit for kayaking
- Lifejacket (PFD)
- Cave Helmet
- Mask, snorkel, fins
- All meals, snacks, and beverages
How do we calculate ticket prices?
Meet your crew at the Sea Landing in the Santa Barbara Harbor (at 301 West Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara, CA).
You will board the Vision at 7:30 pm to load gear and check in with our crew. A mandatory briefing will occur at 9:00 pm, and all loading of personal items should be completed before then. All guests must be present for the briefing. After the briefing, and once the manifest has been signed, passengers are not allowed to leave the vessel. Weather permitting, we plan on departing right after the briefing at 9:30 pm.
Check-in at 7:30 pm. Mandatory briefing at 9:00 pm. Departure at 9:30 pm.
Once the mandatory briefing has occurred, passengers are not permitted to leave the boat.
Over the course of our 4-day adventure, we will visit San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and Anacapa Islands as conditions allow, spending the entire time inside the Channel Islands National Park and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Regardless of our itinerary, this is guaranteed to be an epic trip! Highlights of this trip can include:
- San Miguel Island
- Hike: Land on the crystal white sand beach of Cuyler Harbor, then hike to Point Bennet where up to 30,000 pinnipeds of five different species can be seen.
- Kayak: Paddle around Harris Point and into Cuyler Harbor, then circumnavigate Prince Island in the middle of this tranquil and protected bay.
- Dive and snorkel: Get in the water at Tyler Bight, one of the most remote anchorages of all the Channel Islands, to experience the kelp forests and abundant underwater life.
- Santa Rosa Island
- Hike: Land at Bechers Bay and hike through the Torrey Pines grove, one of only two in the world! Visit native Chumash village sites and middens. Keep an eye out for island fox, spotted skunk, and munchkin dudleya (Dudleya gnoma)!
- Kayak: Explore rugged Carrington Point with the wind at your back as you float over extensive kelp forests.
- Santa Cruz Island:
- Kayak: Paddle around Gull Island, a seabird hotspot, and one of the more remote offshore rocks in Channel Islands National Park.
- Kayak: Explore and paddle through sea caves, including Painted Cave, the longest sea cave in the world!
- Dive and snorkel: Investigate the underwater volcanic walls and kelp beds at the various anchorages we often visit.
- Kayak: Paddle through spectacular caves and arches along this dramatic volcanic coast, including Arch Rock – symbol of the Channel Islands National Park.
- Dive and snorkel: Cathedral Cove, Landing Cove, and Cat Rock offer beautiful dives with often warmer waters.
After exploring Painted Cave and having lunch, we will prepare the boat for the return trip to Santa Barbara, approximately 2.5 hours. We will keep our eyes peeled for whales and dolphins in the channel. You are welcome to enjoy an adult beverage or two on the sundeck as we cross back to the mainland and close out our epic multi-day expedition!
Estimated arrival time in Santa Barbara Harbor is 5:00pm
We are currently building our locally inspired menu but here is an example of what you may expect from your galley crew onboard the Vision.
- Fresh fruit
- Granola and yogurt w/ fixings and local jams
- Hot breakfast sandwich or burrito (made to order)
- Local grass-fed beef burgers OR locally made veggie patty
- Chicken salad wraps
- Island coleslaw & salads
- Sushi rolls (veggie and fish)
- Homemade hummus and veggies
- Buffalo chicken wings
- Chips and homemade guacamole
- Sushi rolls
- Tri-Tip w/ grilled veggies
- Local fish tacos & ceviche
- Garlic cheesy potatoes
- Locally sourced salad bar
- Freshly made desert
Return Trip Snack
- Fresh baked cookies
Beverages Served All Day
- Hot tea and coffee
- Soda bar (soda, juice, water, seltzer)
- Ginger iced tea
You may bring alcoholic beverages to enjoy after all activities for the day are complete. There is absolutely no drinking before participating in a night dive.
San Miguel has some of the most spectacular scuba diving found anywhere off the coast of California. On any given day the water can be 10 to 15 degrees colder at San Miguel so proper equipment (7 mm wetsuit minimum or drysuit) is needed to enjoy this remote dive location. The topography at its offshore pinnacles makes a diver feel small. Mountainous pinnacles can go from 20 feet of water to 200 on some walls. More varieties of seals and sea lions can be viewed here than any other Channel Island. Protected coves, banks, offshore rocks and pinnacles make this a sought-after destination for scuba divers. Weather protects this island from too much human visitation. A nice day at San Miguel is about as good as it gets.
Weather, weather, weather. Anyone who sets out to enjoy a day of kayaking around San Miguel Island needs to understand that the weather at this remote island can change in a minute. Generally the weather makes San Miguel it a more advanced area to kayak, but good weather periods do happen. The remoteness and wildlife at this island make kayaking here incredibly unique. Large seal and sea lion colonies are spread out along the shores. Many varieties of seabirds call this home and dolphins and whales are commonly sighted near shore.
There are several trails that traverse San Miguel Island, providing a variety of hikes. Many parts of the island are closed to protect wildlife, fragile plants, and geological features, so hikes outside of the Cuyler Harbor beach, Cabrillo Monument, and Lester Ranch site are done with a qualified naturalist or Park Ranger. Longer hikes are available on Channel Islands Expeditions multi-day live-aboard excursions to San Miguel. A vigorous 16-mile hike to Point Bennett will take you to see one of the most spectacular wildlife events on our planet: over 30,000 seals and sea lions sunning themselves on the point, depending on the season. There is no pier on San Miguel Island so all landings are done by inflatable skiff at Cuyler Harbor. Landing on the island can be an exciting experience as the surf can make the landing challenging. Channel Islands Expeditions has developed a “launch line” procedure that has made this operation much safer for our passengers.
Being the most westerly of the Channel Islands, San Miguel Island is more prone to receive the brunt of any weather systems that move through the area. Most of the time a strong northwest wind blows across the island and these winds typically exceed 25 mph and can surpass 50 mph. When strong high pressure is over the mainland, the winds often cease creating a surreal environment. On warmer days the fog will burn off only to have the strong northwest wind blow in additional fog from the open ocean. On foggy days the temperature will rarely exceed 55°F.
The National Park Service maintains two airstrips, a ranger station and a research station on the island. San Miguel is normally staffed by a ranger who enforces park laws, while also sometimes providing interpretive services for public visitors. The island also hosts scientists that study pinnipeds and manage the Island fox (Urocyon littoralis) captive breeding program that is conducted on the island. Volunteer interpretive rangers often fill in for regularly paid rangers due to budget deficits within the park. Park employees and researchers are flown to the island by Channel Islands Aviation. Public visitors are not permitted to fly in.
In the 1970’s and 80’s scuba divers flocked to Santa Rosa to take advantage of the many species of game fish available. Talcott Shoals, which lies off the northwest section of the island, is a large plateau that offers various terrains for divers. The western section of Talcott becomes more dramatic in its topography and offers not only hunting opportunities for game-divers, but great underwater photography opportunities as well. The shipwreck of the Aggie, which lays in 25 to 50 feet of water along a ridge, is readily accessible to divers at Talcott. The east end of Santa Rosa has a wonderful assortment of pinnacles that are covered in corynactis (strawberry anemone) and large schools of fish. Santa Rosa Island lies at an intersection of warm-water and cold, nutrient-rich currents. A diverse web of marine life can be found and enjoyed in these pristine waters.
Kayaking at Santa Rosa Island is a fascinating way to experience a wild California seascape. The sandy beaches and cliffs are breeding and resting areas for sea birds and seals and sea lions. Kayaking will often give you views and access to wildlife that you might not get in any other way. However, being a wild place means that we are at the mercy of the wind and waves. There may be times when the conditions are not favorable for kayaking, or when kayaking at particular location may require you and your group to be experienced paddlers.
Hiking with Channel Islands Expeditions on Santa Rosa Island will lead you down some of the several trails and roads traverse the island, providing plenty of opportunities to enjoy the spectacular scenery Santa Rosa provides. These trails and roads range from the relatively flat route to Water Canyon Beach to the rugged, mountainous path to Black Mountain.
A variety of Torrey Pine (Pinus torreyana var. insularis) grows on the island. The population of this endangered species is estimated at approximately 1000 trees. This ancient grove is just a remnant of a much larger forest of Torrey pines that once existed in the Pleistocene era, some 12,000 years ago. A trail that leads to this exceedingly rare species of pine tree can be accessed from Becher’s Bay, the island’s main landing.
Keep a sharp eye out for the Island fox, Spotted skunk, and Munchkin dudleya (Dudleya gnoma); one of the six endemic plant species on the island.
Diving at Santa Cruz Island is probably the most diverse of all eight Channel Islands. Being on the break of the warm southerly and colder northern currents creates marine habitat for many different species. Being the largest of California’s Channel Islands, there is a wide variety of different dive spots to explore around Santa Cruz Island, each with its own unique characteristics.
The northwest section of the island is volcanic with steep faces and hosts some of the world’s largest sea caves. The southeast section is more sedimentary with large plateaus and thick kelp beds. Santa Cruz offers more places to find good diving during rough weather periods than any other island due to its size and many coves. Seals, sea lions, bat rays, and many schools of fish are common sights while scuba diving with Channel Islands Expeditions along this island’s shores.
Given it’s ample 77-mile coastline, Santa Cruz Island has vast number of kayaking destinations that you are able to visit with Channel Islands Expeditions. In fact, traveling with CIX is the only way to see a vast majority of the island’s scenic shoreline, as most of the island itself is closed to conventional tourism.
Santa Cruz Island has huge variety of flora and fauna that live on and around it’s craggy cliff lines and giant sea caves. The west end of Santa Cruz Island is where you’ll find one of the world’s biggest sea caves, Painted Cave – so named for the vibrant lichen growth on the cave walls. Measured at a towering 160 ft at its entrance, Painted Cave stretches back into the basalt cliff for over a quarter-mile before you reach its terminus. Expect to see plenty of playful sea lions and seals as well as a host of bird life here or anywhere else you paddle on Santa Cruz Island.
There are several hiking trails and roads that traverse the eastern portion of Santa Cruz Island that is part of the Channel Islands National Park. While visitors may explore this section, no hiking is allowed beyond the national park boundary onto The Nature Conservancy property to the west without first obtaining a permit. Landings onto Santa Cruz are either by pier or by skiff. Potential landing areas include Prisoners Harbor and Smugglers Cove.
Once on the Santa Cruz, a well-marked trail system will take you to several scenic overlooks of the island’s coastline, as well as to areas of natural and historical significance. Consult your Channel Islands Expeditions trip leaders as to what may be possible on your expedition, as there is such a vast array of options to explore on this island. Wherever you go, be sure to keep a sharp eye out for some of the island’s many endemic species found here and no where else in the world, including the Island scrub jay and the Island fox.
Anacapa Island is a small volcanic island located 14 miles off the coast of Ventura County. The smallest of the northern Channel Islands, Anacapa was used intermittently by the indigenous Chumash people for thousands of years. Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was the first European to discover Anacapa in 1542, calling it “Vela Falsa” or false sail. In 1793, Captain George Vancouver christened the island Anacapa, a name derived from the Chumash word, “’ Anyapax,” which translates to ‘illusion’ or ‘mirage.’ Anacapa is the only Channel Island to maintain its original Chumash name. Anacapa’s dramatic sea cliffs are often shrouded by marine haze or fog, giving the island an air of mystery.
Anacapa is composed of three islets: East, Middle, and West. Altogether, the islets make up a narrow island that is 5 miles long and only a ¼ mile wide. Ocean waves have eroded the perimeter of the island, creating steep sea cliffs towering hundreds of feet in height and exposing the volcanic air pockets, lava tubes, and sea caves. At the east end of the island, a natural bridge has formed in the ocean. This forty-foot-high arch is a trademark of Anacapa and is the symbol of Channel Islands National Park. The highest peak is on West Anacapa, rising to 930 feet.
Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park encompasses five remarkable islands and their ocean environment, preserving and protecting a wealth of natural and cultural resources. Isolation over thousands of years has created unique animals, plants, and archeological resources found nowhere else on Earth and helped preserve a place where visitors can experience coastal southern California as it once was. – From the National Park
Pre Trip Planning
What to Bring with you?
This expedition includes multiple sports and activities over the 4-day trip – you’ll want to plan accordingly for the activities that you’ll be participating in. We suggest bringing the following items, for each activity.
- Kayak clothing – bathing suits and sun tops. You will be given a Farmer John style wetsuit (like overalls).
- Mask, snorkel, and fins
- Dive Certification Card
- 7mm wetsuit or drysuit with hood, gloves, and booties (water temperatures are typically mid 60’s in summer and mid 50’s in winter).
- Tank and BCD
- Weight belt and weights
- Regulator with gauges
- Dive computer
- U/W light and chemical light (Cyalume) if you plan to make night dives
- Save-A-Dive kit may be helpful (extra fin strap, mask strap, o-rings, silicon, tools, etc.)
- Small daypack
- Appropriate trail footwear
- Dry bags for San Miguel and Santa Rosa beach landings
- Reusable water bottle
- Binoculars, if desired
- Warm and cold-weather clothing and layers
- Sleeping bag or additional blanket – the bunkroom is air-conditioned, we recommend bringing a sleeping bag or extra blanket
- Gratuity for guides and crew
- Alcoholic beverages (if desired)
- Personal medications and motion sickness medication
- Personal Toiletries
- Sunglasses, hat, and other sun protection
- Sunscreen-We prefer reef-safe sunscreen. Learn what makes sunscreen reef safe here
Frequently Asked Questions
Each person is assigned a bunk, you may reserve an oversized bunk for $100 additional. Each bunk has a privacy curtain. Our nightwatch crew is there for the safety of passengers and the vessel.
The minimum age for this trip is 12 years old.
YES! There is no way around this. You don’t need to be excellent at swimming laps, but you need to be comfortable treading water and being in deep water.
We don’t allow reservations of single kayaks ahead of time, but we have single kayaks available for those of you traveling solo or in odd-numbered groups.
Generally, the level of difficulty of kayaking on this trip is beginner to intermediate. Since we are vessel-supported, all of the paddling will be downwind. However, you may have to paddle in a range of conditions so we recommend that participants be in reasonable physical shape and comfortable on the ocean.
Currently, we only have landing permits for Santa Rosa & San Miguel, so we are unable to land on Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands.
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