Santa Rosa Island Day Trip To Channel Islands (2024)

Discovering Hidden Gems Affiliate Link Disclosure

Want to know how to have the best day trip to Santa Rosa Island? We’ve got you covered with everything we know from our one day itinerary!

Santa Rosa Island is one of the islands that make up Channel Islands National Park, just off the coast of Ventura, California.

Shockingly, it’s one of the least visited national parks in the US even though over 15 million people live within just a few hour’s drive.

There are 4 islands that you can regularly visit throughout the year on day trips or overnight camping trips – Santa Rosa Island, Santa Cruz Island, Anacapa Island, and San Miguel Island.

There’s also a 5th island – Santa Barbara Island – that’s open to the public, but there currently isn’t any infrastructure for transportation.

But this day trip is all about Santa Rosa Island, where we were graciously treated to a round trip day excursion by Island Packers, the company that operates trips out to the Channel Islands.

You can watch our full one day itinerary in this video on our YouTube Channel.

Santa Rosa Island - Channel Islands National Park welcome sign

Planning A Trip? Use Our Favorite Resources Below!

?? Accommodations
?? Tours/Experiences
?? Flights
?? Car Rentals

Santa Rosa Island Day Trip Itinerary

The day starts in Ventura Harbor Village where Island Packers has their own area in the harbor that they run their excursions out of.

Our excursion departed at 8 am, so we had to arrive by 7:15 am to check-in.

Island Packers recommends arriving at least 45 minutes before departure to ensure you have time to get checked in and boarded before the boat departs.

Island Packers check in building at Ventura Harbor Village

When you book your excursion, your confirmation email will explain all the important details that you’ll need to know before departure.

As a side note, not every excursion leaves from Ventura Harbor.

Ventura Harbor

Some excursions depart from Oxnard, so be sure to check what you’re booking so that you arrive at the right harbor.

The 2 harbors are only about 15 minutes from each other, but if you end up at the wrong one, you’ll be late and miss your tour.

Island Packers boat at Ventura Harbor Village

The Boat Ride From Ventura Harbor Village to Santa Cruz Island

As we headed out on our excursion, the first stop was a drop-off at Santa Cruz Island.

Since it’s along the way to Santa Rosa Island, anyone that booked a ticket out to Santa Cruz went on our boat with us.

docking at Santa Cruz Island

Along the way we saw Anacapa Island and a cargo ship passing by.

Typically you’ll see dolphins while you’re heading out this way and occasionally whales depending on the time of year.

cargo ship passing Anacapa Island

We also kept going from sunny to cloudy weather and it made for great photos!

This first part of the trip is about an hour and a half.

The Boat Ride From Santa Cruz Island to Santa Rosa Island

After everyone got off at Santa Cruz Island that needed to get off, we continued making our way to Santa Rosa Island.

This part was about another hour and a half – for a total of a 3 hour one way trip from Ventura Harbor Village to Santa Rosa Island.

Along the way we saw a lot of whales, which you can check out in this video on our YouTube Channel.

We also had a variety of cloudy weather, with a little bit of sunshine that made for some great photos.

One of the benefits of it being cloudy is that sunlight isn’t reflecting off of the top of the water, so it’s easier to spot dolphins and whales.

Disembarking at Santa Rosa Island

When we arrived at Santa Rosa Island, everyone that was just visiting for the day got off the boat first and we met up on the pier for a briefing.

We got a short run down of some of the rules of the island, when to be back, and suggestions for things to check out while we were there.

pier at Santa Rosa Island

Just beyond the pier are restrooms, so we started off our day there after spending 3 hours on the boat.

They also have lockers where you can store items that you don’t want to carry around with you all day.

restrooms on Santa Rosa Island at Channel Islands National Park

Since the lockers are centrally located, we left our bag there and just carried our jackets, snacks, and water with us.

We came back a little early at the end to grab our stuff and eat the lunch we brought with us.

There is no food on the island, so you have to bring whatever you need for the day with you from Ventura.

administrative offices at Santa Rosa Island

We were expected to arrive around 11 am, but it was closer to 11:30 am due to the detour to watch the whales!

So by the time we were ready to begin exploring the island it was about noon.

Santa Rosa Island harbor and boat dock

Things To Do On Santa Rosa Island

On the day of our visit, we had 3 hours total to explore Santa Rosa Island before needing to meet back at the harbor for the boat ride back to Ventura Harbor.

1. Cherry Canyon Hike

I recommend starting off your day hiking the Cherry Canyon Trail.

Cherry Canyon Trail sign

It’ll connect to other trails that are easy to do on day visits, so logistically it makes the most sense if you want to see as much as possible.

beginning of Cherry Canyon Hike on Santa Rosa Island

During our visit, we had a Naturalist volunteer lead a hike.

I had already planned out what I wanted to do on the island and his hike followed exactly what I had planned out so this worked perfectly!

Cherry Canyon Hike at Santa Rosa Island

It’s nice hiking with the volunteers because they know the trails really well and can help you keep pace so you don’t miss the boat ride home.

Cherry Canyon Trail hike at Santa Rosa Island

They also know the history of the island and all the plants and animals on the island, so you’ll get to learn fun stuff along the way!

blooming flower on Cherry Canyon Hike at Santa Rosa Island

But if you’re hiking on your own, no worries!

It’s pretty easy to navigate these trails because of the signage along the way and the distinct dirt path that leads you where you need to go.

Cherry Canyon Hike trail on Santa Rosa Island

We began our hike exactly at 12 pm and finished walking through the canyon at 12:35 pm.

For reference, we didn’t really make any stops along the way and we weren’t walking fast enough to make you lose your breath.

2. Trail Connecting Cherry Canyon to Water Canyon

At this point, we had made it through Cherry Canyon.

The next part of our itinerary was to hike this trail back up and then down to Water Canyon.

trail that connects Cherry Canyon to Water Canyon

While that sounds tedious, the part of the trail taking you up and out of the canyon only takes about 5-10 minutes.

view atop the trail that connects Cherry Canyon and Water Canyon

We stopped here for a water break, so for us it was closer to 10 minutes.

When you reach the top there are amazing views of the ocean and the other islands.

ocean view atop the trail connecting Cherry Canyon to Water Canyon

There’s even a picnic table if you’re ready to stop for lunch.

picnic bench on the trail that leads from Cherry Canyon to Water Canyon

After enjoying the views from the top, we continued on the trail all the way down to Water Canyon Beach.

This portion took about 45 minutes.

trail connecting Cherry Canyon to Water Canyon

It was 1:30 pm by the time we completed this portion of our hike.

We passed by the campground along the way and saw that it is set up to block the wind as much as possible since it gets very windy around the island.

campground at Santa Rosa Island

It would be super fun to do an overnight trip some time, but remember there are no amenities on the island!

So you’ll have to bring everything you might need onto the boat and lug it over to the campground.

Below are a few more photos highlighting this portion of our day trip to Santa Rosa Island.

You can see how there’s a variety of plant life and flowers, while the trails are a distinct lighter brown color so you can’t get lost!

3. Water Canyon Beach Hike

The next part of this day trip itinerary is that once you reach Water Canyon, you’ll head down to the beach.

There is a distinct opening in the cliff side where you can hike down to the beach.

It’s somewhat steep, but really the main issue I had with it was all the lose dirt and rocks that made it harder to try to not slip and fall on your way down.

Water Canyon Beach hiking trail

A fun fact about this portion of the hike is that the area just before you start to head downhill was actually an active airstrip up until a couple years ago.

A private company used to fly people and supplies out to the island since it is much quicker than the 3 hour boat ride.

I believe the owner retired, but maybe one day there will be planes here again!

view of the Water Canyon Beach trail from the beach

Anyway, this hike is super quick.

Just a couple minutes each way.

We spent about 15 minutes here since we walked along the beach too.

There wasn’t a single other person on the beach, so we had it all to ourselves and got some great photos on videos that are in the YouTube video linked at the top of this post.

Water Canyon Beach Hike

When the weather is warmer you can actually spend your whole visit down on the beach if you wanted to.

You’re able to get in the water if you want.

It’s pretty popular for snorkeling and kayaking.

4. Trail Connecting Water Canyon to the Ranch

After this, if we had more time we could have gone left toward the Torrey Pines Trail, but since we were a little late arriving, we cut that part out.

To get to the beginning of that trail and back is about 5 miles roundtrip, which is about what we hiked while we were there.

But we would’ve had to cut out Cherry Canyon to do it.

If you have more time, you can do the full Torrey Pines loop which is a little over 7 miles.

It’s one of only 2 places in the world that Torrey Pines grow – the other being San Diego.

I hear it’s really scenic and I hope to check it out in the future.

Instead, we made our way back toward the ranch.

There are 2 ways to go about this.

There’s the Coastal Trail, which is exactly how it sounds.

It follows the coastline back to the ranch and pier area.

Or, you can take the main road (dirt path) back.

They basically run parallel to each other, so it doesn’t matter a whole lot which route you take.

Trail connecting Water Canyon to The Ranch

5. The Ranch at Santa Rosa Island

Back in the day, there was a lot of ranching going on on this island.

Many buildings are still standing, some have been recently renovated.

The Ranch at Santa Rosa Island

Back at the ranch is an old one-room schoolhouse that has been renovated.

This is where you can sign the guest book and get your National Park stamp.

one room schoolhouse on Santa Rosa Island at the ranch

The little picnic table out front is where we had lunch.

Our favorite food to pack on days like this where we need something that won’t spoil is the tuna and cracker kits.

It comes with a packet of tuna, mayo, relish, crackers, a spoon, and napkins.

It’s the perfect lunch when hiking and it’s cheap!

Starkist tuna lunch to go kits

We also had other snacks with us like honey roasted peanuts, cheez-its, oreos, and a vegan brownie bar.

Before we left for our trip we stopped at Target to see what individually packed snacks they had and those are the ones we decided on!

We like the individual snacks for the portion control and the ease of transporting them.

old boat on Santa Rosa Island

Departing Santa Rosa Island

Our boat was scheduled to head back to Ventura at 3 pm, so we had to be back at the pier by 2:45 pm at the latest.

The ranch is literally right by the pier, so we didn’t have far to go.

the pier at Santa Rosa Island

If you end up with extra time at the end, there is an easily accessible beach below the pier that you can hang out on if you choose (and if the tide allows).

steps down to the beach at Santa Rosa Island

The steps are somewhat steep and then you have to climb down a ladder the rest of the way, but it’s a nice little spot if you have the time.

Santa Rosa Island boat dock and harbor

Sea Caves at Santa Cruz Island

The trip back to Ventura is also about 3 hours, but it included a pleasant surprise!

We got to explore one of the largest sea caves in the world!

They are part of Santa Cruz Island, which is the island we passed on our way out to Santa Rosa.

Santa Cruz Island sea cave

On the way back, we went by the other side of the island that has a hidden sea cave.

The YouTube video linked at the top of this post has some great videos showing this little detour.

entrance to the sea cave at Santa Cruz Island

With the sun and the clouds shifting around so much, we were able to see so many different colors in the water and the rocks.

Sea Caves at Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island Prisoner’s Harbor (Pick-Up)

Also on Santa Cruz Island is another pick-up and drop-off point.

Prisoner's Harbor pick up stop at Santa Cruz Island

On the way out we stopped at Scorpion’s Cove, but on the way back we stopped at Prisoner’s Harbor.

We picked up a few people and continued on our way back to Ventura.

Santa Cruz Island

At some points along our trip the clouds started to go away and we got to see a bit more of the sky and some sunlight before it set.

views of Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island to Ventura Harbor Village

Since we visited at the beginning of November, sunset was around 6 pm.

So we got to enjoy the sunset the whole way back!

sunset at the Channel Islands National Park

At the time of our visit, masks were mandatory on all transportation vessels (masks were not required on the islands themselves though) unless actively eating or drinking.

on the boat from Santa Rosa Island back to Ventura Harbor Village

On our way back we saw THOUSANDS of dolphins!

They were on the smaller side, but in the video linked at the top of this post you can see how it looked like the entire population were migrating right along with our boat!

sunset leaving Santa Cruz Island

We finally made our way back to Ventura Harbor Village before it got completely dark outside.

Where to Eat in Ventura Harbor Village: Boatyard Pub

Since we arrived back at Ventura Harbor Village around 6 pm, it was definitely dinner time.

Conveniently, the harbor has tons of restaurants right across the parking lot from where the boat docks.

We came across Boatyard Pub and decided to give it a try!

Boatyard Pub at Ventura Harbor Village

Since the weather was on the chillier side, clam chowder sounded perfect.

clam chowder at Boatyard Pub in Ventura Harbor Village

We also weren’t starving and didn’t want too heavy of a meal, so we shared a bowl of the clam chowder and we shared our entree which was Teriyaki Glazed Halibut with rice pilaf, garlic bread, and a side salad.

teriyaki glazed halibut with rice pilaf, garlic bread, and a side salad from Boatyard Pub at Ventura Harbor Village

Shops were closed by the time we finished dinner, but we roamed around the village just to check it out anyway.

There’s so many options here, so I recommend trying out new places each time you visit a different island!

Or make visiting Ventura Harbor Village your day trip!

Stay Local: Hampton Inn & Suites Channel Islands Harbor

Since our boat left so early in the morning, we didn’t want to have to drive all the way from Anaheim in rush hour traffic.

So we found a nearby hotel for the night.

For one night stays, we usually check with Hilton first since we get a friends and family discount.

This one wasn’t the absolute cheapest option, it was about $20 more than the others, but it was less than 15 minutes from Ventura Harbor Village (rather than 30+ minutes like the others), so we figured we’d pay extra to be closer.

When I went to choose our room, I noticed one room seemed noticeably larger than the others, so of course that’s the one I chose.

It’s labeled as a “King Larger Room” on the website, as opposed to just a standard king room, which is what we had booked.

You can see a full walk-through tour of the King Larger Room at Hampton Inn in this video on our YouTube Channel.

Side note – even though the name of this Hampton Inn is “Channel Islands Harbor”, it is located in the Oxnard Harbor, not the Ventura Harbor.

Some Island Packers excursions leave from Oxnard, while others leave from Ventura.

? Click Here To Book Your Stay At Hampton Inn Channel Islands Harbor Today!

More National Park Itineraries In California

California is home to many national parks all over the state.

We’ve visited all but 2 so far and some of them we’ve visited several times now.

Below are our recommended itineraries for visiting more national parks in California.

? Santa Cruz Island at Channel Islands National Park

If you’re able to swing it, I recommend visiting as many of the islands as you can.

Each one is such a different experience and this one is particular is much closer, so you can spend more time on the island instead of the boat.

views from Santa Cruz Island at Channel Islands National Park

? Death Valley National Park One Day Itinerary

Death Valley is home to the lowest elevation in the US, which is actually below sea level.

It’s also famously one of the hottest places on earth.

But if you visit in a shoulder season like we did, the weather and crowds will be much more tolerable.

Devils Golf Course at Death Valley National Park

? Joshua Tree National Park Itinerary

Joshua Tree is just outside of Palm Springs and is the perfect desert getaway.

February is an amazing time to visit as long as it’s not raining.

Joshua Tree National Park

? Lassen Volcanic National Park One Day Itinerary

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a relatively unknown and severely underrated national park in Northern California.

We paired our trip here with visits to Lake Tahoe and Reno.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

? Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks One Day Itinerary

Sequoia and Kings Canyon are like 2 national parks in one.

It’s only about 4 hours northeast of the LA and Orange County areas, so it’s an easy weekend getaway from that area.

Sequoia National Park

? Yosemite National Park One Day Itinerary

You can do a surprising amount of things in Yosemite in just one day.

There’s a bus that runs through the entire valley taking you to all the highlights, so you can hop on and off throughout the day as much as you’d like.

Lower Yosemite Falls at Yosemite National Park

? Pinnacles National Park One Day Itinerary

Pinnacles is in Central California and it’s known for it’s caves that you can hike through during certain times of the year.

It’s all dependent on not disturbing the bats!

Pinnacles National Park in California

? Redwood National Park One Day Itinerary

The Redwoods are along the Northern California coast and are home to some of the largest and tallest trees in the world.

This park is also made up of a bunch of state parks, so there is so much to explore.

Redwoods National Park

Conclusion: Santa Rosa Island Day Trip Itinerary

Santa Rosa Island in Channel Islands National Park is the perfect day trip in Southern California.

Stay for the weekend and explore Ventura Harbor Village while you’re in town or take an excursion out to another one of the islands.

Pin This For Later!

Santa Rosa Island Day Trip - Channel Islands National Park