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Beach Camp on Santa Rosa Island

Santa Barbara County, California

based on 3 reviews



19.72 miles

Elevation Gain

3097 ft

Route Type



Added by Michael Wigle

The only place in California to camp on the beach in a tent where you can experience a land of extremes close to Los Angeles.

Channel Islands National Park is California's least visited National Park. If you visit, you will see many unique plants and animals, including a rare native fox species, and Torrey Pines, only found here and in a small grove near San Diego.

This adventure is not for the inexperienced. There is a campground on each of the Channel Islands and even camping at Water Canyon on Santa Rosa Island is moderately difficult, especially in the summer. The payoff is one unlike any other on the West Coast. It is an opportunity to backcountry pack through a unique island ecosystem to spend a night on a secluded Pacific Ocean beach.

Getting There

There are only three ways to get to Santa Rosa Island safely. Island Packers is a ferry service out of Ventura CA that will take you there and back for a good price. You can also charter an airplane through Channel Island Aviation or arrive via your own or chartered boat. The bonus in choosing Island Packers is the opportunity to see both wildlife on the way out, and the world's second largest sea cave on the return home.

In order to reserve ferry service you must either reserve a campsite through Recreation.gov or contact the Channel Islands National Park Office at (805) 658-5700 to obtain permission to backcountry camp. They will need a detailed itinerary of your whereabouts because controlling the number of people in the protected areas is vital to their mission of restoring the Island's flora and fauna.

Where to Camp

Once you arrive on Santa Rosa, you can make two choices in where you want to beach camp. Backcountry camping is forbidden on the beaches between Carrington Point and East Point for ecological reasons. Camping off of a beach is forbidden for anthropological reasons, as there are many ancient Chumash People's cultural sites yet undiscovered. Beaches west of Carrington Point along the north shore are open from September 16th through December 31st, while beaches west of East Point along the south shore are open from June 1st to December 31st.

It is highly recommended to make plans early to secure a spot later in the monsoon season during cooler months when there is water to be found in the canyons. From the pier, there are only four year-round places to get water; the NPS buildings, the campground, Water Creek, and Clapp Spring. You will have to pack everything in and everything out. 1 Gallon of water per person, per day is needed to survive in this dry, windy, mostly treeless wilderness. The two closest reliable beaches are Dry Canyon 10 miles one way along the north shore, and Last Point 9 miles one way along the southern shore.

For Dry Canyon, you will begin at the pier headed west along the dirt road with signs toward Lobo Canyon. About 3 miles in at the trailhead from the road to Lobo Canyon, continue on the road as it winds around Cañada Verde until it heads south along the east-facing rim. A trail goes over the top of the hill due west about a mile and a half in toward Brockway Point. Take the trail to the end, and the beaches will be off the bluff heading west.

For Last Point, take the road headed toward the campground south of the pier. A mile and a half in, a sign directing you toward the Torrey Pines will keep you on the road. If you follow this road for another 5 miles, it will take you through the Old Ranch Pastures through a valley, and into the marshes. continue following it south as it wraps around East Point. A half mile from the point are the first small beaches. As long as the high tide is less than 4-5 feet, you can camp on the second of the two beaches. If it is higher than that, you will need to walk another mile to larger beaches. During the fall, the squid boats will light up the ocean at night, making for a bizarre light show, and interrupting the remoteness of the trek. On clear nights, only water will separate you from Antarctica looking south at a dazzling light show of stars.

Lobo Canyon, Torrey Pines, Water Canyon, Black Mountain, Skunk Point, and the rocky coast all provide excellent opportunities for day trips. Snorkeling and diving are both highly recommended as the waters around the island are very clear for the west coast. Typically, the weather is cool during the days, and cold at night with evening winds and fog. On rare days in the fall, it will be clear for days with high temperatures and spectacular viewing opportunities unlike any in coastal California.

Post Adventure

On your way back from the Island, you have a chance to check out the sea caves along Santa Cruz Island's rugged volcanic north coast. Your ferry should arrive back between 4:30 pm and 5:30 pm providing you plenty of time to get a well-deserved real meal and ice-cold drink at Barrelhouse 101. Their happy hour menu and dozens of beers on tap are sure to refresh after a very physical few days on a nearly deserted island wonderland!

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Beach Camp on Santa Rosa Island Reviews

Experience coastal California as it may have been 200 years ago. There’s plenty of wild camping at secluded coves and beaches. However, access is quite challenging. You must pack in and pack out everything, including water. Don’t be surprised if foxes come and sniff you at night, if you’re sleeping without a tent. Remember to leave not trace so the island can stay as beautiful as it is.

What beach are you camping at in the first two photos?

Wonderful write up! I am heading out to Santa Cruz next weekend and will have to schedule another trip to Santa Rosa to back pack after reading this. Love the photos as well.

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!


Water Canyon Campground

Torrey Pines Trail

Lobo Canyon Trail via Santa Rosa Campground

East Point via the Coastal Road

Black Mountain via Cherry Canyon Trail

Chinese Harbor via Prisoners Harbor