Channel Islands National Park

Audio Available:

Quick Overview

This is the audio-only described version of Channel Islands National Park’s official print brochure. It includes text, images, and a map, all of which detail the history and significance of the park and information about planning your visit. Side one includes text and a full-color illustration of the park underwater and above ground. Side two focuses on information about the park and includes a large map, color photos of places within the park and text. 

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TEXT: Nowhere Else on Earth

Something draws us to the sea and its islands. Maybe it is the thrill of traveling over water to an unfamiliar land. Or maybe it is the yearning for tranquility—to walk on a deserted beach with birds, salty breezes, and the rhythmic wash of waves as our companions. You don’t have to go far to find such a place. Off the coast of southern California the Channel Islands seem to float on the horizon like ribbons of dark rock. Named for the deep troughs that separate them from the mainland, the eight islands and their encircling waters are home to over 2,000 species of animals and plants—145 are found nowhere else on Earth. Isolation over thousands of years and the mingling of warm and cold ocean currents give rise to the rich biodiversity of these islands. Today, five of the islands, their submerged lands, and the waters within one nautical mile of each island are protected as Channel Islands National Park.

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TEXT: A Safe Haven for Brown Pelicans

The islands provide essential nesting and feeding grounds for 99 percent of seabirds in southern California. Eleven seabird species nest on the islands, including the only major breeding colony of California brown pelicans in the western United States. Not long ago they faced extinction. 

In 1970 only one chick on West Anacapa survived. Scientists pinpointed DDT as the cause and listed the brown pelican as an endangered species in 1970 and banned DDT in 1972. The fight to save these birds led to a remarkable recovery and in 2009 they were removed from the endangered species list.

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TEXT: The Channel Islands from the Ice Ages to Today

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TEXT: Living alone

Lower ocean levels during the ice ages narrowed the distance across the Santa Barbara Channel and exposed some of the seafloor. The land offshore, easier to reach then, allowed some species to venture into this new territory. Mammoths swam the channel. Mice and foxes drifted over on rafts of vegetation. Plants and seeds floated. Birds flew. Later, water from melting glaciers raised the sea level. This widened the channel again and increased the isolation of animals and plants from the mainland. 

Many species evolved over time and adapted to the isolated environment. Mammoths evolved to a new species of pygmy mammoth, and gray foxes shrank to the size of house cats, becoming today’s island fox. Species of mice, scrub jays, and many plants grew larger.

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TEXT: Kinship of Islands and Sea

A powerful bond between the land and sea controls everything here, from where plants grow to when seals breed. Together, water currents, winds, and weather create an ecosystem that supports a rich diversity of life. Among the 2,000 species you will find here are northern fur seals, bright orange garibaldi (California’s state marine fish), some 28 species of whales and dolphins, intertidal dwellers like sea stars and surfgrass, and squid, a major link in the food chain as predator and prey.

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TEXT: People on the Islands

The islands attracted seafaring people long ago; 13,000-year-old remains of a human leg bone found on Santa Rosa record the earliest known human presence in North America. Over time Chumash Indians settled on the northern islands, and Gabrieliño/Tongva settled the southern islands.  Prosperous and industrious, the tribes joined in a trading network that extended up and down the coast and inland. The island Chumash used purple olivella shells to manufacture the main currency used for this commerce. The region’s temperate climate and bountiful natural resources later attracted Spanish explorers, missionaries, and ranchers.

In October 1542 Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo sailed into the Santa Barbara Channel. His expedition wintered on an island he called Isla de Posesión. On January 3, 1543, Cabrillo died from injuries and may have been buried on one of the islands, although his grave has never been found. Capt. George Vancouver gave the islands their present names in 1793. Early in the 1800s fur traders searched the coves for sea otters, seals, and sea lions, nearly hunting them to extinction.

By 1822 most Chumash had been moved to mainland missions. Fishing camps and ranching had become economic mainstays by the late 1800s. In the 1900s the military set up lookouts on Anacapa and Santa Barbara and practiced bombing raids on San Miguel. These activities had devastating effects on the island ecology, introducing alien plant and animal species that threatened to destroy the ecological dynamics of the islands. Today, ranching and other commercial and military activities have ceased and the islands are regaining some of their natural diversity.

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TEXT: Alien Invasions

Ranching and development in the late 1800s introduced animals and plants that had devastating effects on island ecology. Livestock overgrazed the hills. Bare soil blew away. Feral pigs uprooted plants. Rabbits brought for meat escaped and devoured the native plants. Iceplant, thistles, and range grasses choked out native vegetation. Alien species threatened to destroy the ecological dynamics of the islands.

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TEXT: Protection and Restoration

Protection for the islands began in 1938 when Anacapa and Santa Barbara became Channel Islands National Monument. In 1980 Congress designated San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Barbara, and the submerged lands and waters within one nautical mile of each island as Channel Islands National Park. The waters extending out six nautical miles from each island are a National Marine Sanctuary. Channel Islands National Park monitors and protects threatened and endangered species, restores ecosystems, and preserves the natural and cultural resources for you and for generations to come.

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Illustration: The Park's Rich Diversity

Illustration caption: This illustration is a composite of the park's five islands.

Overview: The color illustration spans the entire side of side one of the brochure. It is a detailed depiction of the natural and cultural features of the park’s five islands (Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara). While unrealistic in terms of how close together all of the flora, fauna, and activities are placed, this chocked-full illustration depicts the rich diversity within the park.

The left side of the illustration depicts the ocean surface and underwater ocean habitats with a variety of marine animals and plants, including ocean floor, kelp forest, and tidepools. On the horizon are the three terraced islets of Anacapa with brown pelicans flying nearby and a sailboat. The right side of the illustration transitions to the variety of land habitats and animals found on the island including coastal bluffs and cliffs, beaches, wetlands, grasslands, woodlands, and rounded mountains. Recreation activities such as hiking and kayaking are also shown along with historic buildings and prehistoric archeological sites.

Under their own titles, the description of this illustration is divided into descriptions of the left and right sides, with additional titles underneath the descriptions on the left side. These descriptions provide more detail of the environment, species, and activities that are depicted.  

Illustration credit: NPS/ Michael Hampshire

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ILLUSTRATION: The Park Under Water, on the Surface and Beyond

The left side of the illustration shows a scuba diver under water floating amid a rich variety of life in a kelp forest that eventually rises on the right side to a tide pool area. Above the kelp forest is the surface of the sea with islands on the horizon. 

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  1. The mixed sand and cobblestone sea floor hosts a wide variety of animals. What follows are the most prominent of these animals from left to right:
  2. Ochre star: Attached to a rock is an orange, five-armed sea star with white dots.
  3. Market squid: A narrow flesh colored squid floats above a pile of white cigar-shaped eggs.
  4. Giant red sea urchins: Anchored to the rocks these creatures, with spiky needles radiating outward, create a spiky reddish-purple ball resembling a pin cushion.
  5. Strawberry anemones and California sea cucumbers: Clusters of small, low-lying red creatures with white arms are attached to a rock. These creatures surround a tan and bumpy cucumber-shaped creature.
  6. Garibaldi: A school of four orange garibaldi fish, shaped like a flat beanie, with a moustache-shaped tail; one garibaldi is a juvenile as it has blue spots on its body.
  7. Spanish shawl nudibranch: A purple caterpillar-like creature with colorful fringe along its back and two antennae that look like small horns coming out of its head.
  8. Purple sea urchin: Anchored to the rocks and sand are about 20 creatures with spiky needles radiating outward, creating a spiky purple ball.
  9. Horn shark: Sitting on the sandy sea floor, is a brown and tan shark with dark brown spots. The shark has a long, flat, and pointy tail, two fins on top, and one fin shown on its side.
  10. Pink abalone: A “pink abalone” is suctioned tightly to a rock surface. Its multicolored shell is tan and sandy, with orange and white blotches. Tiny black needles stick out, creating a dark fringe around the shell.
  11. California spiny lobster: This crustacean is poking its head and part of its body out of a dark hiding place in the reef. It has beady eyes, antennae, and several skinny legs all encased in a hard shell.
  12. Giant kelp: This tall slender greenish, brown algae with rope-like stalks with rounded lasagna-like blades fills the background of the underwater scene. At the bottom of the algae, a cluster of root-like strands, called holdfasts, grip the sea floor. At the base of each blade is a hollow bubble-shaped bladder. The algae extend to the surface where it forms a canopy just below the surface. The top of the canopy is also visible on the surface of the water. 

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The tidepool area rises to the right of this ocean scene with a rich variety of barnacles, mussels, anemones, algaes, and surf grass. What follows are the most prominent animals from left to right:

  1. Acorn barnacles: This is a group of white, volcano-shaped animals. The walls of the shell are striated with a round opening at the top where the animal exits to feed. 
  2. Algae: Clumped together are pink and lacey “Coralline algae” and brown drooping strips of shiny “rockweed,” which resembles cooked lasagna noodles. 
  3. Striped shore crab: Tucked amongst the rocks and algae is a crab with two beady eyes and two yellow and black striped front claws. Blue and green stripes run from left to right across the body, starting between the eyes. The same stripes run down the length of each of the back seven legs. 
  4. Solitary green anemone: Five large, greenish-white, round creature with many tube-shaped arms or tentacles. In the middle of the circular animal, is a raised opening which is its mouth. 
  5. Surf grass: Three clumps of dark green, wavy grass with long blades is attached to the rocks in the tidepool 
  6. Mossy chiton: Sticking to a rock is a “mossy chiton.” This animal is well camouflaged, with its mottled brown oval shell and the thick, brown mossy fringe that surrounds its outer edge. 
  7. Bat stars: Two orangish-red starfish with five wide arms are attached to rocks. 

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ILLUSTRATION: The Water Column

This area, which is featured right above the sea floor underwater, hosts a wide variety of animals. What follows are the most prominent of these animals from left to right:

  1. California sea lion: Swimming in the foreground is a large banana-shaped mammal, with wide side flippers and flat hind flippers, and a dog-like head. It is the largest creature featured in the water. For a sense of its size, males can reach up to 850 pounds and females can weigh approximately 220 pounds. 
  2. Blacksmith fish: A school of small dark gray fish floats near the kelp. 
  3. California sheepshead: A rectangular-shaped fish with a tall, curved, upright tail. It is black with a white lower jaw and a red band around its body that turns white on its underbelly. 
  4. Kelp rockfish: A round brown fish is well-camouflaged in the surrounding kelp, helping to keep it from being found and eaten by predators.
  5. Senorita fish: A school of six yellowish-orange, cigar-shaped fish float near the kelp forest. 
  6. Scuba diver: A scuba diver is swimming in the water column wearing a black wetsuit, gray vest, and air tank with hoses extending to the regulator or breather. The diver is also wearing a gray mask and black fins. 
  7. Opaleye fish: A school of 11 dark gray fish with white spots on their back float near the kelp forest. 
  8. Bat ray: A kite-shaped creature with a long pointed tail is in the background kelp forest. 

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ILLUSTRATION: The Ocean's Surface

In the upper left of the illustration is the surface of the ocean, which hosts a wide variety of animals. What follows are the most prominent of these animals from foreground to background:

  1. Giant kelp: This tall slender greenish, brown algae with rounded lasagna-like blades extends from underwater to lay on top of the surface of the ocean. 
  2. Western gull: A seagull with a white head and breast and a gray back sits on the layer of surface kelp. 
  3. Common dolphin: A pod of about 10 dolphins swims at the surface offshore. Their heads and tails are submerged in the water. Above the water are their curved backs, each with a fin in the middle. 
  4. California brown pelican: About 24 pelicans with wide wings soar overhead. The pelicans are brown with orange heads and long pointed beaks. The closest one has raised its wings. Its neck is arched into an "S" shape.  
  5. Anacapa Island: The three islets of Anacapa Island are on the horizon. On the far left is the famous arched rock. The two left islets are brown and flat like a table top. The islet to the far right is conical in shape and rises much higher than the other two. A gray sailboat, with two large white sails, passes by this far right islet. 

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ILLUSTRATION: The Habitats on the Water’s Edge and on the Land

The right half of the illustration transitions to the variety of land habitats and animals found on the island, including coastal bluffs and cliffs, beaches, wetlands, grasslands, woodlands, and rounded mountains. Recreation activities, such as hiking and kayaking, are also shown along with historic buildings and prehistoric archaeological sites. What follows are the most prominent of these from foreground to background:

  1. Snowy plover: A small shorebird stands on a small patch of sand. This bird is tannish-grey with a white breast, collar, and brow. It has black eyes and a straight black beak. 
  2. Northern island morning glory: This low-lying plant has heart-shaped green leaves and white flowers with pink-tinted edges and yellow centers. 
  3. Red Indian paintbrush: Three red clusters of multiple oblong petals are at the top of dark green-leaved stems. 
  4. Allen’s hummingbird: In the air, this small bird with a long beak feeds upon the paintbrush. Its wings are upright as if it is in the middle of flapping them. The vibrant orange-red breast leads to a vibrant green head and back. 
  5. Island deer mouse: A tiny brown mouse with large ears climbs over a stick. 
  6. Seaside daisy and green sweat bee: This plant has a clump of green-leaved stems with three circular flowers composed of numerous light purple petals and a yellow center. One of the flowers hosts a bee with a green body and translucent wings. 
  7. Island gopher snake: The head of this snake emerges from the green vegetation. Its forked tongue sticks out. Tan scales with dark blotches appear on its body. 
  8. Live-forever and eastern tailed blue butterfly: The leaves of this succulent stick out from a central point, almost like a single rose flower with thick, fleshy, grey-green petals. Red stems rise up from the plant, topped by actual flowers that are yellow.  A white butterfly with yellowish-orange spots gathers nectar from the flower. 
  9. Beach sand verbena: This plant has green oval leaves and, on fuzzy red stems, rounded purple flower heads made up of dozens of miniature flowers. 
  10. Island Chumash midden site: This is an archaeological site composed of used abalone and mussel shells, fished hooks shaped from shells, a thick, rounded bowl that is broken in half called a mortar and a cucumber-shaped stone called a pestle. 
  11. Black oystercatcher: Two black birds stand in a tidepool. Their beaks are long, straight, and bright orange. Their eyes are bright yellow. 
  12. Western gull: A seagull is standing on a rock. The gull is white with gray wings and a yellow beak. 
  13. Silver lupine: This plant has a cluster of 20 or so tube-like, purple flowers sticking out from a single stalk, like an oversized pipe cleaner. The lupine’s leaves are shaped more like flowers than leaves, with eight or so lobes radiating out, like daisy petals, from a central point at the end of a single stalk. 
  14. Orange-crowned warbler: A yellow bird with a dark gray back and black beak is perched on a twig. 
  15. Island scrub-jay: A blue jay bird sits on a fence post with a grasshopper in its beak. It is a vibrant blue, with a white breast and neck. A thin mantle of blue feathers wraps across its chest, like a blue “V-neck” collar. 
  16. Island poppy: Numerous poppies are flowering amongst the brownish green grass. The poppy has four flat light orange petals around a dark orange center. 
  17. Island spotted skunk: This skunk has a black body with white spots and a fluffy black tail except for the end which is white. Its tail is so fluffy it is wider that its body! 
  18. Side-blotched lizard: This lizard is standing on a log. It is mottled white and brown, with a black spot next to its front leg. 
  19. Island fox: An adult island fox stands in tall green grass, looking towards us. Its tall ears point upward, and its fluffy tail is stretched outward. Its fur is gray, with flecks of white and brown. Its neck has an orange hue. 
  20. Where the sea meets the land, a group of six greenish black-backed cormorants stands on the water’s edge. Some stretch their wings as if shrugging their shoulders. Their necks are gracefully curved like a duck’s. They have yellow beaks, and above their eyes are tufts of feathers—like bushy eyebrows.
  21. California sea lion: Alongside the cormorants are several tan colored sea lions on rocks with their heads reaching upwards. Their bodies are slug shaped, with long front flippers, and their heads are like those of puppies, but without ears. Their necks range from thick to slender, and their color ranges from tan to black, all with dark eyes and snouts. 
  22. Elephant seals: To the right of the sea lions are one large bull elephant seal with its head and neck raised, two smaller female elephant seals, and an even smaller elephant seal pup. They lay on a sandy beach enclosed by rocks. The seals are shaped like enormous brown slugs and can be bigger and weigh more than Elephant seals.  
  23. Coastal prickly pear: This is a low scratchy scrub brush and a broad cactus with pancake-shaped leaves covered with thorny spines and, when in season, spiny pear-shaped red fruit. New pancake-shaped leaves grow out of the top edge of older leaves. 
  24. Coastal cholla: Several tall spiky cactus plants are scattered along a grassy slope. The plants are covered in needle-like spines. They have single stalks topped with bunches of stubby branches. 
  25. Peregrine falcon and Scripps’s murrelet: Flying above the cactus is a peregrine falcon. This bird has a mottled white and black body with a gray head and yellow feet. The falcon is holding a Scripp’s Murrelet seabird in its talons. The murrelet has a white breast and a dark gray back with black beak and eyes. 
  26. Santa Cruz Island ironwood: This bushy tree has a gray trunk and long green leaves with serrated edges. 
  27. Giant coreopsis: A cluster of four-to-five-feet tall Coreopsis dots the slope and hillside. Each plant has a single stalk about as thick as an arm, with a shaggy top of feathery leaves. In spring, the leaves are green with yellow flowers. The rest of the year, the leaves turn brown and the plants appear dead. 
  28. Common raven: A black crow-like bird sits on a coreopsis branch with its beak open as if it was making a call. 
  29. Historic ranch house: A white two-story building with a slanted shed-styled roof sits on the bluff in the distance, about mid-way back and on the far right within the illustration. 
  30. Kayakers: Where the sea meets the lands about mid-way back within the illustration, three kayakers land and approach a cobblestone beach with a wetland area behind it. The kayaks are green and yellow. The kayakers are wearing orange life jackets. 
  31. Red-tailed hawk: Above the kayakers, a red-tailed hawk is soaring with its wings outstretched. The hawk has tan and white mottled wings and head. Its tail is rust brown. 
  32. Santa Rosa Island Torrey pine: Rising above the wetland and kayakers, is a gentle mountain range with a grove of Torrey pine trees that are on a tan grassy hillside. This pine has branches with bunches of long, thin needle-like leaves, ending in either a tight green cone or an open brown cone. 
  33. Island oak: Also on the hillside, are darker green island oaks. These trees with large branching arms fill the canyon that runs up one of the hillsides. 
  34. Bald eagle: Above the mountain range soars a bald eagle. It is dark brown, with a white head, neck, and tail. Its beak and feet are yellow. The tips of its broad wings curl upward slightly, with the feathers separated, as if it were stretching its fingers apart. 

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TEXT: Visiting Channel Islands National Park

When was the last time you gazed at the ocean? Did you see the islands?  Feel them call you? Savor the sea—its gulls, barking sea lions, and tiny creatures. Take time for a visit.

The eight Channel Islands span 160 miles off the coast of southern California
(see map at left). There are four northern islands—San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and Anacapa, and four southern islands—San Nicolas,
Santa Barbara, Santa Catalina, and San Clemente.

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TEXT: Visitor Centers

The visitor center in Ventura has information, a film, an indoor marine life display, exhibits about the natural and cultural features of the islands, a native plant garden, and a bookstore. A small visitor center in Santa Barbara has information and exhibits. Both visitor centers are open daily, except Thanksgiving and December 25.

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TEXT: Planning Your Visit? Use the Park Newspaper

Whether you go to the islands on your own boat or with a park concessioner, you should use the park website ( and the free park newspaper, The Island Guide, to plan your visit. They describe the many tour options that are available and include information about boat and airplane concessioners that can take you to the islands. They have detailed information about activities on the islands and in the water, boating safety, weather, park regulations, and more. Park staff can also help you plan your visit. Contact a visitor center for information.

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OVERVIEW: Accessibility

We strive to make our facilities, services, and programs accessible to all. For information go to a visitor center, ask a ranger, call, or check our website. The Ventura visitor center is accessible for visitors with special needs, but getting onto the islands can be difficult; ask for details. Service animals are welcome in the mainland visitor center. On the islands they are allowed only by permit from the superintendent.

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TEXT: Things to See and Do

Visitors to the islands may swim, snorkel, hike, camp, watch wildlife, kayak, sail, and explore tidepools, beaches, and rugged canyons. Naturalists lead hikes. The kelp forests, caves, clear water, and rich diversity of animals and plants make this one of the top scuba diving sites in the world.

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TEXT: Protecting the Islands

The islands’ natural and cultural resources, including all seabirds, marine mammals and other wildlife, plants and wildflowers, artifacts, structures, rocks, fossils, shells, and shipwrecks are protected by federal law—all collecting is illegal.  Keep at least 100 yards away from marine mammals and seabirds. Fish and wildlife laws are strictly enforced.  Staying on trails helps prevent erosion and protects fragile vegetation.

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TEXT: for Your Safety

Please read the following eleven listed points in their entirety to ensure your visit is safe.

  1. Be sure to check the park website and newspaper for details about safety and regulations.
  2. Weather conditions change rapidly; dress in layers. 
  3. There are no supplies on the islands. Take water, food, and other necessities. 
  4. Watch your step—ladders, railings, and stairs may be wet. 
  5. Stay back from cliff edges; they may be crumbly or undercut—a fall could be fatal. 
  6. Do not approach marine mammals like whales, seals, and sea lions. 
  7. Pets are prohibited on the islands.
  8.  Check yourself for ticks and watch out for poison oak. 
  9.  For firearms regulations ask a park ranger or check the park website.
  10. WARNING: Deer mice on the islands may carry diseases, including deadly hantavirus.  Avoid all contact with mice and other wild animals. Keep food in rodent-proof containers.
  11. In an emergency: On the islands contact a ranger. On the water use marine radio VHF channel 16.

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TEXT: Commercial Service to the Islands

  1. Channel Islands Aviation: 305 Durley Avenue; Camarillo, CA 93010; phone: 805-987-1301;
  2. Island Packers, Inc.: 1691 Spinnaker Drive, Suite 105 B; Ventura, CA 93001; phone: 805-642-1393;

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OVERVIEW: More Information

  1. Channel Islands National Park: 1901 Spinnaker Drive; Ventura, CA 93001-4354; phone: 805-658-5730:
  2. Outdoors Santa Barbara Visitor Center: 113 Harbor Way, 4th floor; Santa Barbara, CA 93109; phone: 805-884-1475
  3. Channel Islands is one of over 400 parks in the National Park System. Visit to learn more about parks and National Park Service programs.

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Map: Channel Islands National Park

Map description overview: On side two of the brochure, the map image shows the coastline of California curving like a cap above the islands. The mainland coast stretches 60 miles west of Santa Barbara to Point Arguello to Point Mugu 10 miles south of Oxnard. Included on the mainland is the location of the park’s visitor center in Ventura and the Outdoor Santa Barbara visitor center in Santa Barbara.

There are four northern islands labeled left to right (or west to east). They are San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and Anacapa Islands. There is one southern island labeled Santa Barbara Island. Each Island is surrounded, one nautical mile from their shorelines, by a green line indicating that it is part of Channel Islands National Park. Six nautical miles from the shores, a blue line circles the islands indicating this area as part of Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

The greenish, tan islands and mainland contrast with the blue surface of the ocean floor. Unlike most maps, which show water as a flat surface, this map dips all the way down to the ocean floor, as if all the water had drained out of the ocean to reveal the ocean floor's elevation in different areas. 

A small inset map at the very top left side of the brochure shows the defined area of the larger map described above. This inset map includes the coast of California from Santa Maria in the north to Long Beach in the south. In addition, to the islands noted above, the map also shows three other southern islands all located below Santa Barbara Island, which are: San Nicolas, below and to the left; San Clemente, directly below; and Santa Catalina, below and to the right. For additional description, go to “Map Legend” and “Map Details.” Additional text about the park is also available under “Marine Protected Areas” and “Islands on the Edge.”

Map credit: NPS

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Map Legend

In the lower left corner is the map legend. North is pointing up. The legend includes text which states:

  1. Do not use this map for navigation.
  2. For safe boating, National Ocean Survey charts are indispensable. 
  3. Authorized park boundary: The Channel Islands National Park Boundary extends 1.8km (1 nautical mile) from the shore of each island. 
  4. Authorized marine sanctuary boundary: The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary boundary extends 10.8 km (6 nautical miles) from the shore of each island. 
  5. Data sources: Depth tints and terrestrial relief derive from Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) produced by NOAA and the USGS. Bathymetric relief shading was manually produced. 

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Map Details

The map is displayed so that one is facing toward the coast of California where visitors disembark. The coast of California runs along the entire top edge of the map. The Santa Ynez Mountains run along most of this coastline. As you continue to move right or east, the map indicates a flat area where the Visitor Center is located, on a low-lying part of Ventura County, close to sea level. Just above that is a flat indented area, which is the rest of Ventura County. Continuing to the southeast is the Santa Monica Mountains and the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The following description details each of the park’s five islands.

  1. Santa Barbara Island: In the lower right corner, is Santa Barbara Island—the smallest island in Channel Islands National Park. Santa Barbara Island is shaped a bit like a dog’s face, lying on its side. Two pointy landforms at the left or west side are almost like two ears pointing left. Its nose points right, or East. The top ear points north. On top, at the base of the “top ear” is the Landing Cove, where boats will dock. Nearby, map symbols indicate the ranger station, bathrooms, and a campground. On the tip of the top ear is Arch Point and the light beacon. Between the “ears” is the sheltered Elephant Seal Cove, where visitors can observe animals from higher ground. On the bottom is a small offshore islet labeled Sutil Island. About six inches to the north above Santa Barbara Island, are four more islands, which are part of Channel Islands National Park. There are four northern islands labeled left to right (or west to east) as San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and Anacapa Islands. 
  2. San Miguel Island: On the left side of the map, about three and a half inches from that edge, and about one inch in length is San Miguel Island. The actual island is eight miles long, four miles wide, and 9,325 acres. It is shaped a bit like a bird with outstretched wings reaching east and west and a head pointing north. On the right, at the tip of one “wing,” is Cardwell Point, the eastern tip of the Island. Moving left, we encounter the curve of Cuyler Harbor – at the “shoulder” of the bird with Prince Island offshore. A dot near this area is labeled with “Cabrillo Monument” (the first European to have landed here and rumored to be buried on the island); and, “Lester Ranch site.” Symbols also indicate there is a ranger station, bathrooms, and a campground. To the left is Harris Point—the “head” of the bird—pointing roughly north. At the center of the island is San Miguel Hill, 831 feet high. At the farthest left end (the thinner tip of the other wing) is Point Bennett—with a flat beach that is home to huge colonies of breeding seals and sea lions. 
  3. Santa Rosa Island: Just to the right, or east, is Santa Rosa Island. Santa Rosa is the second largest of the Channel Islands, at 15 miles long, 10 miles wide and 53,760 acres. On the map, the island is three inches wide and one inch high. It is shaped a bit like a fish, lying on its side. Its flat, thin tail stretches out to the right or east with one point labeled Skunk Point and the other labeled East Point. To the left is large, “C”-shaped Bechers Bay. Within this bay, the dot furthest right marks a grove of Torrey pines, one of the rarest pines in the world. The next dot to the left marks the campground with a tent symbol in this location. The next dot to the left is labeled “Vail and Vickers Ranch” and two symbols mark the ranger station and bathrooms. At the left side of the Bay (at the top fin of the “fish”) is Carrington Point. Moving left at the far end of the island map is Sandy Point. The bottom of the island is labeled South Point. In the middle of the island, a dot marks the island’s high point Soledad Peak at 1,574 feet. 
  4. Santa Cruz Island: The next island to the right is Santa Cruz Island, the largest island in Channel Islands National Park. On the map, the island is about three inches wide by one inch high. The actual island is 22 miles long, six miles wide and 61,400 acres. It is shaped a bit like an enormous chicken, laying on its side, with its two-foot wide “head” on the right and its tail on the far left. The island is thinner—about one-quarter inch wide—where the “neck” of the chicken would be. On the far upper right, where the “eyes” would be, is a canyon ending in a small harbor, Scorpion Anchorage, where a Visitor Center, ranger station, bathroom, and campground are located and indicated with symbols. On the lower right, just below the “beak,” is Smuggler’s Cove, a popular anchorage and hiking destination. A bathroom symbol is located here. Near the base of the neck, on the top or north side, is Prisoner’s Harbor. From this point to the left, the entire remaining island is owned by the Nature Conservancy. Moving left around the “body of the chicken” the central valley, created by the Santa Cruz Island fault, is labeled and runs throughout the Nature Conservancy property. The island on the top or north side of the valley is steeper, formed from hard volcanic rock. Slopes on the lower, or south, side are gentler, made up of softer sedimentary rock. On the far left is the “tail” of the chicken, a peninsula reaching westward. Just above the base of that tail, on the north side, is the site of Painted Cave, one of the world’s largest sea caves. It is named for the colorful plants and minerals on its walls. The very tip ends in a steep bluff are called “West Point.” 
  5. Anacapa Island: Just to the right is Anacapa, the island closest to the mainland, which runs along the top of the map about two and a half inches away. Anacapa Island is actually a string of three islets—West, Middle, and East Anacapa Islands. Together, they are shaped a bit like a snake, with its head on the left or west side. It widens in the middle as if it has just eaten something! Anacapa is 704 acres, five miles long and a half of a mile wide. It is 11 miles from Oxnard Harbor. The highest point on West Anacapa is the 936 feet tall Summit Peak. East Anacapa, on the right side of the “snake”, offers several public destinations. A dot on this far right end is labeled “Light Station and museum.” A ranger station, bathroom, and campground are noted with symbols. Built in 1932, the 40-foot tall lighthouse shines a bright light to help direct ships away from East Anacapa’s treacherous rocky shores. Arch Rock, a famous iconic landmark for the park, is just offshore to the right of the lighthouse. On the upper right side of East Anacapa is the Landing Cove.  

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TEXT: Marine Protected Areas

Within the park and sanctuary is a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that provide a refuge for sea life and opportunities for recreation, education, and science. In 11 Marine Reserves, recreational fishing and commercial harvest are prohibited; limited fishing and harvest are allowed in two Marine Conservation Areas. The MPAs total 318 square miles, the largest such network off the continental United States. For more information visit

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TEXT: Islands on the Edge

The Channel Islands lie in a region between the mainland coast and the deep ocean called the Continental Shelf. The sea floor is composed of canyons, banks (underwater plateaus), escarpments, sea mounts, and deep basins (Santa Cruz Basin is deeper than Arizona’s Grand Canyon). This topography—shallow and deep, smooth and rugged, sunlit and dark—creates habitats for a diversity of species.

The islands rose from the ocean millions of years ago and were born of plate tectonics, volcanic activity, and fluctuating sea levels. These islands on the edge of the continent were never connected to the mainland. During the ice ages ocean levels dropped as the polar caps expanded. What are now San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and Anacapa islands were once joined as a single island called Santarosae. When the sea rose again it created the four islands we see today.

Ocean currents also play a big role in the biodiversity of the islands. A cold current traveling south along the North Pacific coast meets at the Channel Islands with a warm current moving up from the tropics. Upwelling nutrients from the ocean floor mingle with these currents, mixing fish and other sea life into a rich living soup. Giant kelp forests encircle the islands and host a wealth of ocean visitors, from tiny plankton and sponges to giant blue whales.

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TEXT: The National Park Islands at a Glance

A color photograph and text about each of the five islands of Channel Islands is presented under its own heading. All five photos are credited to Tim Hauf Photography.

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Photo with text: San Miguel Island

Photo caption: Each year over 100,000 seals and sea lions breed and haul out on San Miguel.

Photo description: In the foreground, a seagull, with a white breast and gray back, is perched on a rock overlooking a white sandy beach flanked with blue-green water and filled with hundreds of pinnipeds, which are either seals or sea lions, both of which are shaped like enormous brown slugs. The beach extends to two large rocks in the background.

Text: This westernmost island receives the brunt of the northwesterly winds, fog, and severe weather from the open ocean. The cold, nutrient-rich water surrounding the 9,491-acre, eight-mile-long and four-mile-wide island is home for a diversity of sea life. Submerged rocks make the nearly 28-mile coastline a mariner’s nightmare. Rough seas and risky landings did not daunt the Chumash who lived here, nor did they deter the first European explorer, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, in 1542. Ranchers raised sheep from 1850 to 1948. Later the Navy used the island for a bombing range. Today, native species are making a recovery in this sanctuary. Island Features: Chumash sites; Cabrillo Monument; caliche forest; seabird, seal, and sea lion rookeries.

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Photo with text: Santa Rosa Island

Photo caption: Rare Torrey pines grow only near San Diego and at Bechers Bay.

Photo description: Looking out from under a canopy of pine trees on a hill, a stretch of coastline is seen, curving gently toward the horizon. Low, green grass-covered hills flank the bay.

Text: The second-largest island, with 53,051 acres—15 miles long and 10 miles wide—beckons you with rolling hills, deep canyons, a coastal lagoon, and beaches adorned with sand dunes and driftwood. The Chumash called it Wima or “driftwood” because channel currents brought ashore logs from which they built tomols, plank canoes. For thousands of years unusual  animals and plants made the island their home. Flightless geese, giant mice, and pygmy mammoths are extinct, while the island fox, spotted skunk, and munchkin dudleya (one of six plant species found only on this island) still live here. Island Features: Chumash and ranching history; Torrey pines; snowy plover; Lobo Canyon; sand dunes; beaches. 

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Photo with text: Santa Cruz Island

Photo caption: From the hills above Smuggler’s Ranch you can see Anacapa in the distance.

Photo description: From low rolling, green grass-covered hills the view extends across a shallow bay with a small conical island on the horizon. Large trees fill the small canyon in the middle of the photo while a historic olive tree orchard extends up the hillside.

Text: Here are pristine beaches, rugged mountains, lonely canyons, grass-covered hills, and some animals and plants that you have never seen before. This paradise is Santa Cruz Island, a miniature of what southern California  looked like over 100 years ago. The largest island in the national park, with 61,972 acres, Santa Cruz is 22 miles long and from two to six miles wide. A central valley splits the island along the Santa Cruz Island fault, with volcanic rock on the north and older sedimentary rock on the south. The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service preserve and protect the island. Island Features: historic ranches; island fox; island scrub jay; Painted Cave, one of the world’s largest sea caves. 

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Photo with text: Anacapa Island

Photo caption: Sunrise lights up Inspiration Point and Middle and West Anacapa.

Photo description: From a high ridge with green-leaved and flowering yellow daisy-like Coreopsis, a long string of smaller islands curves away in the distance, surrounded by ocean.

Text: Twelve miles from the mainland a five-mile-long spine of rock emerges from the ocean, breaks into three islets, and offers itself as home to 265 species of plants and a bevy of seabirds—with the largest brown pelican rookery in the United States. On charts the island of 737 acres appears as East, Middle, and West Anacapa. The Chumash called it Anyapakh or “mirage.” It was anything but a mirage on the night of December 2, 1853, when the sidewheel steamer Winfield Scott running at full speed crashed into rocks off Middle Anacapa and sank. The Coast Guard built a light beacon in 1912 and a light station in 1932. Island Features: bird rookeries; Chumash middens; giant coreopsis; tidepools; kelp forests; sea caves; arches. 

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Photo with text: Santa Barbara Island

Photo caption: Giant coreopsis (tree sunflowers) make a showy display at Arch Point.

Photo description: Mounds of coreopsis—with green leaves and bright yellow, daisy-like flowers—cover a hill high above the ocean. In the distance, it looks as if a “window” has been cut through the bluff that stretches out to sea, creating a “bridge” across the top.

Text: Steep cliffs of this smallest island—644 acres or about one square mile—rise above rocky shores to a grassy mesa flanked with twin peaks. Gabrieliño/Tongva Indians fished here. Explorers, seal and abalone hunters, ranchers, and the military took their toll. Today, after years of species and habitat loss, animals and native vegetation are making a remarkable recovery. Among those found here are Scripps’s murrelet, a seabird that nests in crevices in the cliffs, and the Santa Barbara Island live-forever, a rare plant found only on this island. Island Features: seabird, seal, and sea lion rookeries; island night lizard; wildflowers; kelp forests.

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