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Santa Rosa Island


Santa Rosa Island is the second largest of the Channel Islands and lies about 26 nautical miles (nm) from Santa Barbara. The island is nearly 17 nm long, 10.75 nm wide at the widest point, and 53,000 acres or 83 square miles in total area. The island has a relatively low profile with the exception of a rugged central mountain range.

The highest peak in the range is Vail Peak, at 1589 feet.

It is a diverse island of grass-covered rolling hills, steep canyons, creeks, rocky inter-tidal areas and sandy beaches adorned with sand dunes and driftwood. The Chumash, the native peoples who inhabited the Channel Islands for well over twelve millennia called this island “wima,” the Chumash word for “driftwood.” It is thought that the island is so named for the driftwood (sometimes redwood) logs that would wash ashore here. They would use these logs to craft dugout canoes called “tomols” with which they would travel and trade from island to island and to the mainland.


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. 


Archeological and paleontological sites are abundant on the island. In 1994, the world’s most complete skeleton of a pygmy mammoth (Mammuthus exilis) had been excavated; a dwarf species related to the Columbian mammoths. In 1960 archaeologists discovered humans remains dating back 13,000 years at Arlington Springs on Santa Rosa Island. These remains are among the oldest human remains in the Americas and were discovered by Phil C. Orr, curator of anthropology and natural history at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Orr believed the remains were those of a 10,000-year old man and dubbed them the “Arlington Springs Man”.

Santa Rosa Island was originally part of a Spanish land grant. The island was used as a sheep ranch during the mid-1800s by the More family. Then during the cold war the United States Air Force maintained a radar base on the island. In the late 1970s Mobil Oil Corporation was granted exploration rights on the island. Both explosive and vibroseis exploration methods were used. Extensive surveys and geological maps were made at that time. Finally, in 1980, Santa Rosa Island was included within Channel Islands National Park.