Paddle the Parks: Channel Islands National Park

Experience isolation 40 miles south of Santa Barbara, California

Channel Islands National Park. Photo: Chuck Graham

Channel Islands National Park. Photo: Chuck Graham

Isle of the Forgotten

Channel Islands National Park, California
By Chuck Graham

It's a lonely square-mile in the Pacific, 40 miles south of Santa Cruz Island and 26 miles northwest of Santa Catalina Island. A mere speck on the map, Santa Barbara Island is the forgotten volcanic slab in the Channel Islands National Park.

It's a hard place to get to, and sometimes to escape from. I once spent 10 days windbound on the treeless island. On another occasion, while kayaking from Santa Cruz Island, I nearly missed its windswept terrace cloaked in dewy fog. The saving grace was Sutil Island, a colossal sea stack 200 yards southwest of Santa Barbara Island, which was free of fog and silhouetted in moonlight.

Blessed with toothy sea grottos, medieval, craggy archways, spewing blowholes and towering sea stacks caked in frost-colored seabird guano, kayaking around Santa Barbara Island's crowded shore is bliss. That's right—this 'uninhabited' islet is absolutely packed with life. Squadrons of hardy seabirds fill the sky, legions of raucous California sea lions torpedo through the water, and herds of rotund northern elephant seals wallow on the island's only wet patch of sand. So in essence you're never really alone on Santa Barbara Island. It only feels that way when the wind howls.

Click the links below to read about paddling adventures in a few of our favorite parks around the country:

Grand Canyon National Park

Experience America’s 2 billion-year-old river canyon in Arizona


Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks

Follow in the footsteps—paddle strokes—of great American explorers in Washington and Oregon


Big Bend National Park

Float through an isolated wilderness on the edge of Texas and Mexico


The Missouri National Recreational River

A journey through time in South Dakota and Nebraska


Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Paddle over the horizon line of waterfalls in Tennessee and North Carolina


Wrangell St. Elias National Park

Paddle through a seascape of water and ice in southeast Alaska


Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Explore Lake Superior’s panoramic coastline in Michigan


Ozark Scenic Riverways

A secret worth sharing in Missouri


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The complete list of our favorite national parks for paddling


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