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Kayaking (excluding personal watercraft-see Laws and Policies for more information) is a unique and rewarding way to experience the pristine marine environment of Channel Islands National Park. You will find solitude and splendor. Here you will also face new challenges and may encounter unexpected dangers. This section is designed to help in planning a safe, enjoyable, and environmentally sound kayaking trip in the park.

Visit Kayaking Eastern Santa Cruz Island for more information on kayaking on Eastern Santa Cruz Island inclucding Scorpion Anchorage.


Planning Your Trip
Sea kayaking is a high risk activity that has caused the death of park visitors and annually numerous near fatal incidents with sea kayakers occur in the park. The challenging and quickly changing weather and at times extreme sea conditions and dangerous sea caves greatly add to the risks of sea kayaking in the park. Sea kayaking on your own in any area of the park should not be attempted by novice or first time kayakers or anyone who is not properly experienced, trained, conditioned and equipped.

Visitors may kayak on their own or with a park authorized guide/outiftter. The National Park Service strongly recommends for your safety that sea kayaking be done with one of the park's authorized guide/outfitters. The guided trips are moderate to strenuous in nature, but some do not require previous kayaking experience.

For the authorized kayak guide and outfitting concession in the Scorpion Anchorage area on Santa Cruz Island visit: Channel Islands Adventure Company. They operate guided sea kayak tours (there are NO kayak rentals on the island), limited convenience item sales (no food items), snorkel equipment rentals, and guided snorkel tours at Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island only. For kayak guide and outfitting services in other areas of the park (excluding Scorpion area), visit the Visitor Services List.

Visitors with their own kayaks who would like to explore the park may contact the park concessioners, who will transport kayaks on their public trips for an extra fee. The concessionaires offer year-round transportation to the islands for day visits and camping trips.

Sea kayaking opportunities are available throughout the park. To help you decide which island to visit, specific island information is available at Places To Go or from the visitor center through publications, exhibits, and the park movie.

The area of the park that is most popular for sea kayaking is centered around Scorpion Beach on East Santa Cruz Island. This location is a world class destination for sea kayaking because of easy beach access, clear ocean waters, nearby camping, readily available concessionaire boat transportation service and a spectacular shoreline with beautiful sea cave and cliffs to explore.

Sea kayaking at San Miguel and Santa Rosa Islands is recommended to only the most highly experienced (expert), skilled, conditioned kayakers with all necessary safety equipment due to the consistently extreme weather and sea conditions that regularly dominate these areas.

Due to the many hazards of crossing the channel from or to the mainland to the park islands the National Park Service does not recommend this be attempted by sea kayakers.

Detailed kayaking information about the channel and islands may be obtained from the U.S. Coast Guard's (USCG) "Local Notice to Mariners" publication by contacting the Coast Guard at (510) 437-2981. Kayaking guides and nautical charts to the Channel Islands are available from local marine stores and online bookstores. Refer to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Ocean Survey charts 18720, 18721, 18725, 18727, 18728, 18729, and 18756.

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Conditions in the Santa Barbara Channel and around the islands are variable and the ocean is unforgiving. Only experienced kayakers with vessels capable of withstanding severe weather are advised to make the cross-channel passage.

Kayakers should obtain the latest weather broadcast provided by the NOAA Weather Service by calling (805) 988-6610, visiting Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary's Internet Weather Kiosk and by monitoring weather radio on VHF-FM 162.475 MHz (weather station 3) for marine forecasts and VHF-FM 162.55 MHz (weather station 1) and VHF-FM 162.40 MHz (weather station 2) for land-based observations.

Weather conditions vary considerably in the channel. Extreme weather conditions may be encountered at any time and the sea conditions may become dangerous without warning. The calmest winds and sea conditions often occur August through October. The other months are subject to a much greater chance for adverse wind and seas with sudden unexpected changes. High winds may occur regardless of the forecast. Forty-knot winds are not unusual for Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands. Anacapa and Santa Barbara Islands have more moderate winds.

Winds are often calm in the early morning and increase during the afternoon. Generally the wind comes from the northwest, but kayakers must be also be prepared for strong east or Santa Ana winds at anytime, especially from September through April.

Dense fog is common during the summer months, but may occur at any time, making chart and compass navigation mandatory. Ocean currents of considerable strength may be encountered both near and offshore from the islands. Ocean water temperatures range from the lower 50s (°F) in the winter to the upper 60s (°F) in the fall.

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Due to challenging weather conditions, kayaking should not be attempted by the novice or anyone who is not properly trained, conditioned, and equipped. Safety requires good planning and common sense. Sea kayaking is potentially hazardous, even for experienced kayakers. Please follow these saftey recommendations:

Use the buddy system.
There are no lifeguards on duty. Kayaking is at your own risk. Stay together and paddle within the skills of the least experienced paddler in the group.

Obtain current weather and sea conditions.
The conditions around the islands are considered "open ocean." Extreme weather conditions may be encountered at any time and sea conditions may become dangerous without warning.There is no place where visitors will be kayaking in a protected cove. Always observe and evaluate sea conditions before entering the water. Be alert to wind, wave, and currents at all times.

Do not travel down wind (with the wind) as you will have to return into a headwind.
Wind and waves typically come out of the northwest or west. Winds tend to increase in the afternoon. Morning hours can be a better time for kayaking, and other watersports. Challengin Santa Ana or east winds may occur at anytime, but are most common from September through April.

Do not exceed your skill level.
If you are new to sea kayaking or other watersports, stay close to your launch area and paddle with an experienced kayaker. Ask National Park Service personnel or kayak guides if you have questions concerning weather, safety, etc. Be capable of re-entering your kayak from the water.

Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.
Kayakers should always file a float plan with family and/or friends and inform them of your departure and return. The float plan should include: 1) the number of boats and boaters on the trip as well as the color, size, and type of craft used; 2) names and addresses for the boaters , as well as emergency phone numbers; 3) any survival and special emergency equipment should be listed (EPIRB, VHF, food rations, flares, etc.); and 4) the place, date, and time of departure and return should be logged as well as destination(s). This information can be invaluable for a search operation if something goes wrong. Remember to be flexible with your plans. Weather should always determine your course of action.

If you are kayaking across the channel, kayakers should also file a formal float plan with the harbormaster before departing and contact island rangers at the beginning and end of the paddle.

Carefully select and equip your paddlecraft.
Craft should be of a sea kayak design and kayakers must have the following items:

  • Lifejackets-all paddlers must have lifejackets.
  • Helmets-always wear a helmet when paddling below cliffs and in sea caves.
  • VHF radio, tow line, compass, throw bag, first aid kit, signaling device (airhorn, whistle, or signal mirror). Carry these items with you and know how to use them.
  • Wetsuits are highly recommended. Water temperatures remain cold throughout the year.

Sea Caves
Sea caves can be very dangerous-large waves or swells can fill a cave unexpectedly. Even on calm days, the wake from large ships in the channel can pose a danger to kayakers in caves. Be extremely careful and wear a helmet at all times when exploring sea caves. Always observe and evaluate sea conditions before entering any sea cave.

Shipping Lanes
Major shipping lanes lie between the islands and the mainland. Kayakers should be aware of their location and use caution when crossing them. All kayakers should listen to the USCG notice to mariners broadcast on VHF channel 22 since the waters in and surrounding the park are sometimes closed for military operations.

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In addition to the regulations listed below please see Laws and Policies and Limiting Your Impact for additional information.

  • You may not exit your kayak while in the sea caves.

  • Do not disturb wildlife within caves. It is illegal to feed, touch, tease, frighten, or intentionally disturb wildlife.

  • Please avoid use of artificial lights in caves.

  • Stay off rocks. Scorpion Rock on Santa Cruz Island and all other off shore islets in the park are off limits.

  • The Santa Cruz Island shoreline between Arch Point (northwest of Scorpion Anchorage) and the east boundary of Potato Harbor is closed to landing to protect nesting seabirds.

  • Other island shorelines and beaches may be closed to landing to protect pinnipeds and seabirds. Check with island ranger before departure.

  • Marine Reserves are closed to fishing. Please visit Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas for more information on marine reserves.

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Landing Permits and Procedures
There are no landing permits required for the islands administered by the National Park Service (NPS). However, a landing permit is required to land on The Nature Conservancy (TNC) property on Santa Cruz Island.

There are closed and restricted areas on each island. Please note that rocks or islets on or near any of the islands are closed year-round to any landing and pets are not allowed in the park. Please refer to Laws and Policies and Limiting Your Impact for more information on regulations and guidelines.

Kayakers may land according to the following procedures:

Santa Barbara Island: A permit is not required to land or hike on Santa Barbara Island. Access to the island is permitted only at the landing cove. The landing dock is available for unloading purposes only. No craft, including kayaks and inflatables, should be left moored to the dock.

Anacapa Island: A permit is not required to land or hike on East Anacapa Island or at Frenchys Cove. West Anacapa (except Frenchys Cove) is a protected research natural area and is closed to visitors. Visitors are allowed on Middle Anacapa by permit only and when accompanied by a park ranger.

The landing dock is available for unloading purposes only. No craft, including kayaks and inflatables, should be left moored to the dock.

Santa Cruz Island: Boaters may land and hike on the eastern 24% of Santa Cruz Island without a permit. This area is owned by the NPS and is east of the property line between Prisoners Harbor and Valley Anchorage. Due to surf and swell conditions, boaters should use extreme caution when making surf-landings at any beach, especially Smugglers Cove and those beaches facing south and southeast between San Pedro Point and Sandstone Point.

A permit to land on the other 76% of Santa Cruz Island is required from TNC. A fee is charged and no overnight island use is permitted. Contact (805) 642-0345 x510 or www.nature.org/ for a permit; allow 10-12 days for processing.

Santa Rosa Island: Boaters may land along coastline and on beaches without a permit for day-use only. From March 1 to September 15, the back beaches and sand dunes between and including Skunk Point to just north of East Point are closed to hiking to protect the nesting area for the snowy plover, a federally listed, threatened shorebird. Please remain on the wet sand (below mean high tide) or the road throughout this area. The beaches around Sandy Point are closed year-round. A pier is available at Bechers Bay.

San Miguel Island: Kayakers may land only on the beach at Cuyler Harbor. San Miguel Island is owned by the U. S. Navy and open for landing only when National Park Service personnel are on the island. The island was a former bombing range and there are possible unexploded ordnance.

If kayakers are not traveling to San Miguel Island with Island Packers, it is the responsibility of the kayakers to contact the park to ensure the island is open before coming ashore. A permit (including liability waiver) is required to visit the island. Kayakers can obtain these forms at a self-registration station at the Nidever Canyon trail head entry on San Miguel Island. If you are traveling to San Miguel Island with Island Packers they will provide the forms to you upon your reservation.

Visitors are required to be escorted beyond the ranger station. Visitors may explore Cuyler Harbor beach, Nidever Canyon, the Cabrillo Monument, and the Lester Ranch site unescorted. No off-trail hiking is permitted.

If you are traveling to San Miguel Island with Island Packers for the day or to camp, park staff will already be scheduled on the island and usually available to provided escorted hikes. Kayakers traveling on their own are required to e-mail us prior to their mainland departure to arrange for an escorted hike by a ranger. Provide your name, phone number, vessel name, and dates of requested escorted hike. Park staff will then reply with available dates and instructions.

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Last updated: June 20, 2024

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