Island Hopping

Article excerpt

CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK Five islands come under the park's jurisdiction. Begin at the mainland visitor center at 1901 Spinnaker Drive in Ventura; (805) 658-5730. Next door is Island Packers (for recorded information, call 642-7688; for reservations, 642-1393), which can get you out to the islands by boat (Island Packers also sails out of Oxnard). Prices run from $21 for a 3 1/2-hour round-trip excursion to Anacapa (with no landing) to $65 for the 4 1/2-hour round-trip chung out to San Miguel (a day trip from Santa Barbara Harbor). Camarillo-based Channel Islands Aviation (987-1301) has the park concession for air travel; round trips start at $85.

Anacapa Island. Best bet for day trips, Anacapa is just 11 miles from Oxnard, a bit less than an hour by boat. East Anacapa Island has trails, the famous Arch Rock, and a historic lighthouse. West Anacapa Island is a pelican preserve and is closed to the public. Ask Island Packers about camping and sea-kayaking packages. In summer, Island Packers conducts trips to Frenchy's Cove for swimming and snorkeling.

Santa Cruz Island-East End. Part of the island's east end is privately owned. Merino sheep and feral pigs (hunted on certain summer weekends and in winter) still range through the hills. Though the east end is beautiful and has good hiking trails and numerous Chumash sites, the area is more like an old ranch than a nature preserve.

Horizons West (800/430-2544) operates one of only two noncamping lodgings in the park, at historic Smuggler's Ranch. Stay in the 1889 adobe ranch or in a beach cabin (no private baths). A three-day, twonight package includes airfare and meals for $375 per person.

Even more rustic is nearby Scorpion Ranch. During "bring your own gear" weekends, bedrooms run $45 to $65 per person, and the boat ride costs $55 round trip; you cook in the communal kitchen. During full-service weekends, the staff will take care of you (the food is delicious); the threeday, two-night minimum stay, with meals and boat transportation, costs $325 per person.

Kayaking around the island's rugged coast and into its sea caves makes a great day. For information on kayak trips to the islands, call OAARS (805/646-6929), Paddle Sports (899-4925), or Aquasports (800/926-1140). Day trips run from $50 to $159 per person.

Santa Cruz Island-West End. The bulk of the island is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy as a preserve and is open on a limited basis (day trips only) in conjunction with Island Packers. One trip explores the island's north shore, where you hike about 2 miles from Prisoners' Harbor to Pelican Bay. The second goes into the Central Valley, a 3mile hike from Prisoners' Harbor. Trips cost about $49 per person.

Santa Rosa Island. Channel Islands Aviation makes frequent day trips from Camarillo ($85 round trip) to Santa Rosa, where a ranger takes you by car and then foot to see one of only two natural stands of Torrey pines in the world, and to tidepool and beach areas. You can bring camping gear and make arrangements for a later pickup. Island Packers also sails to Santa Rosa.

San Miguel Island. This is the park's backcountry. The going is far from posh, and the sometimes rough boat crossing takes four to five hours.

Island Packers offers two-day excursions ($235, including meals and sleeping berths) that leave in the middle of the night and stop at Santa Rosa on the return trip. On day trips, you can head for the Caliche Forest (5 miles round trip) or Cardwell Point (6 miles round trip).

Camping is available by reservation with the park service (no fees; $90 for the roundtrip boat ride). …