We woke up before the sun even considered rising to get ready and prep all of our gear for the day. We had been planning and anticipating our adventure to the Channel Islands for months, only for me to come down with the world’s most terrible, inconvenient cold the day before. Krystal had suffered through the same cold the first half of our trip (and then passed it on to me… thanks sis). My backpack was stuffed with lots of water, snacks, medicine, binoculars, an outfit change, tissues, tissues and also more tissues.
Island Packers runs frequent trips to the multiple islands that make up Channel Islands National Park. We chose Santa Cruz Island, because the views looked incredible and the ferry times worked out perfect for our hectic schedule (our flights were out of LAX that same night)! We drove about an hour north of Los Angeles to our ferry in Ventura Harbor, which would take us over to paradise for the insanely low cost of $59 a person. The sun was just starting to rise when we arrived at the ferry after a short blustery drizzle on the drive over- almost worrying us we were going to be rained out. Our departure time was 8am, but in order to get checked in, we had to be there by 7:15. We were given our boarding passes, and then we headed out to see our chariot, the Islander!
The hour long ferry ride to the island was the most epic part of our trip, and was worth the price of the ticket alone. We got giddy as the boat slowly pulled out of Ventura Harbor and started gaining speed. Leaving civilization behind, we watched as the California mainland got smaller in the distance, basked in the sun, and felt the cool ocean breeze on our faces. We could see Santa Cruz Island on the horizon!
About thirty minutes into the ride, the boat stopped because someone had spotted a whale. We all jumped up from our seats to peer over the edge and see if we could spot it. It took a few minutes and a lot of head turning, but finally the whale breached and it was spectacular! We had to have seen about 4 or 5 whales that day, and each time it became more surreal. We also saw schools of dolphins which would chase our boat as we passed and jump out of the water- it was so cute!
Krystal was having the time of her life on the boat and suggested we move closer to the front to get a better view of the island. We took a couple photos, and then I started to get seasick (NOT FUN). Meanwhile Krystal was giggling like a little girl watching the dolphins swim by, taking photos and struggling to hold on (thank goodness for that camera strap)!
I kept my eyes on the horizon and it was more than a blessing when we made it to the dock at Scorpion Anchorage. If you have a tendency to get motion sickness, I highly recommend getting a prescription for meds or a patch beforehand. Dramamine just didn’t cut it for me.
Our day trip would have us back by 5pm that day, but there were several people on our boat who were lucky enough to be staying to camp on the island overnight! After our quick briefing from the park ranger (who told us to do our best not to have an emergency, since there are no emergency services on the island), we started exploring down the path and found a shady log to eat our much needed lunch on. It was only about 10am, but we had woken up so early that we were already starving. With replenished bellies, we then set out for Potato Harbor, which was the most grueling hiking experience of my life (rated easy on alltrails.com). On a better health day, I probably would have breezed through, but I was so sick with a stopped up nose, sore throat, and constant cough that I could barely make it. Luckily, we put a bunch of cough drops and Advil in my backpack, and I ended up making it in one piece.
The views made everything worth it. I felt like our short boat ride had practically taken us back in time. The only signs of human inhabitance were the boat dock, a small visitor center, a few pathways, and scattered signs letting us know we were headed in the right direction. The air smelled so clean and fresh- fresher than anywhere I’d ever been before. It was really hard to believe that this beautiful untouched place was right under our noses, just a quick boat ride from the mainland, waiting to be explored.
The island was full of wildlife, and this little bird greeted us on our way up one of the big hills! Just kidding, it flew away as soon as Krystal’s shutter made a sound. We kept our eyes peeled for the endangered Channel Islands Fox, which we were hoping to spot by the end of the day.
At the top of the hill, and about halfway to our destination, we made it to this gorgeous cliff overlook! We took a little break here to shoot photos, double up on cold meds, and enjoy the view of the California mainland in the distance.
With Potato Harbor still about a mile away, we set out down the remainder of the trail. Santa Cruz Island is like a miniature version of California, with two mountain ranges, a fault system, streams, cliffs and beaches. Under the cliffs there are even sea caves that you can kayak in. We enjoyed the sight of the mountains as our anticipation grew – we were almost to the harbor!
“Are we done yet?”- My Feet
We finally made it to Potato Harbor, and the payoff was incredible! I could’ve sat there and watched the sea lap against cliffs for the rest of the day. We could hear sea lions in the distance, and decided to keep going to get a better view of where the noise was coming from. The pathway we had been taking ended, and a new (less traveled) pathway led down toward the shoreline. Krystal decided to earn her daredevil badge and took the path to get the shot she’d been dreaming of for weeks. I stayed behind, too sick to safely make it down the steep hill and back in one piece, watching her red hair get farther and farther away.
When I finally saw Krystal’s red hair peek from behind the tall grass on her way back up, I sighed with relief- our mom wasn’t going to kill me! She showed me her epic shots, and had me get out our binoculars so we could look at the sea lions she had spotted on a small island just off the coast. It was amazing how many of them were gathered together out there sunning themselves, making adorably funny noises.
The daredevil badge shot.
After saying our farewells to the sparkling harbor, we started making our way back to the ferry, the sounds of the sea lions still in the distance.
Getting to enjoy the sights on the downward leg of our hike had me like.
We stopped along the way to look at the sights we missed making the hike up, and eventually settled back down on that same log from earlier to have another snack before boarding. We’d just finished eating when all of a sudden, we heard a rustling behind us. It was a Channel Islands Fox!! Our day was made. These little fluffers once almost went extinct, but conservation efforts have worked wonders and now the species is not nearly as threatened. Still, they can only be found on the Channel Islands. Krystal got the sweetest photo (below).
Soon after our magical encounter with the fox, we heard another noise in the trees near us, then a cracking noise began. The cracking grew louder and louder until the birds flew the scene (literally) and so did we, for only a couple of seconds until CRASH. We turned around to see part of a tree had fallen (thankfully away from us). We picked our hearts up off the ground, laughed, and were just glad we weren’t about to die.
After a moment had passed, we decided it was safe to go back for our packs. We then made our way to the visitor center, reading the history behind the island and looking at the pictures and noticing its subtle changes. When we left the visitors center, we sat at one of the few picnic benches and spotted several more foxes! In hindsight, we realized that the foxes are concentrated close to where people might leave food, so if you’re trying to spot one, stick to the visitor center area.
Eventually we had to say goodbye and board our ferry back to the mainland. Boarding was a breeze, and the view of the beach at Scorpion Anchorage didn’t hurt either.
I made sure to take the maximum dosage of the motion sickness medicine this time, and we stayed towards the back of the boat for extra stability. Our ride back was more magical than our ride there. We got to watch the sun set over the Island, and had whales and dolphins come to say goodbye. Our adventure was over… for now.