Beach Camp on Santa Rosa Island

Ventura Harbor, Ventura, California, United States

  • Activities:

    Camping, Fishing, Photography, Kayaking, Swimming, Backpacking, Hiking, Diving

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Spring, Autumn, Winter

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    16 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    50 Feet


You can also do this as a 4 mile hike from the Twelvemile Beach Parking Lot but this will take you 2-3 days. 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. This is California's least visited National Park and 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.

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, 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.

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 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 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 on 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 from 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 Antartica 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.

On your way back from the Island, you have a chance to checkout the sea caves along Santa Cruz Island's rugged volcanic north coast. Your ferry should arrive back between 4:30pm and 5:30pm 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 beer on tap are sure refresh after a very physical few days on a nearly deserted island wonderland!

Pack List

  • 60-75L Backpack
  • 2+ Gallons of Water
  • Wide brimmed sun hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Nemo Hornet 2p tent
  • TETON Sports Trailhead 20F+ sleeping bag
  • Freeze-dried camp meals
  • Snow Peak Giga Power stove
  • Sawyer inline water purifier
  • Compass
  • Topographic or National Geographic Map
  • Lightweight, waterproof camera
  • Mask, snorkel, and fins
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What beach are you camping at in the first two photos?

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

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.

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

Michael Wigle Explorer

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