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In Your Backyard - Channel Islands National Park

Despite its beauty, Channel Islands National Park is the least visited of California's eight national parks.

In this edition of "In Your Backyard," FOX26 Sports Anchor Nick King is kayaking, hiking and camping at Channel Islands National Park. In 2017, Channel Islands was the least visited of California's eight national parks, but that is certainly not due to any lacking in natural beauty.

The most common description of the Channel Islands is "old California." This is what the Golden State's coastline looked like several hundred years ago, before millions of people lived there.

Channel Islands National Park is made up of five islands, found off the Southern California coast - Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara - plus, one mile of ocean surrounding each island. Together, the Channel Islands are home to more than 2,000 plant and animal species - 145 of which are found nowhere else in the world.

Kayak guide Chuck Graham explains, “These islands are actually known as the Galapagos Islands of the North. Not only just the topography of the islands, but all the rich, biodiversity.”

So, how do you get to these magical islands? Park concessionaire Island Packers runs cruises out of Ventura Harbor year-round. The trip out is a treat in and of itself. We saw dozens and dozens of dolphins, swimming right next to the boat, plus a basking shark. If you're lucky, you might even see migrating whales as well.

We visited Santa Cruz Island, which is a little more than an hour boat ride from the harbor. At 22 miles long and 12 miles wide, Santa Cruz is the largest of all the Channel Islands, as well as the most visitor friendly.

One of the reasons it's favored by visitors - kayaking. Channel Islands Adventure Company operates guided sea cave tours. The guides here will tell you, there aren't many places on the planet where you can find this many caves.

Graham says, “These islands, the best way to explore them is from a kayak. Because there’s so many places you can’t get to on foot. Or even in a boat. You need a kayak to get into all those little nooks and crannies.”

Indeed, some spaces in the caves surrounding Santa Cruz Island are tight enough that you have to use your hands to get through. However, there's also one of the largest sea caves on earth here - 1/4 mile long.

Park ranger Jim Gould says, “Man, if you love the ocean, and kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving, this place is super cool. The hiking is great, too.”

Those hikes, can be short and long. They can be along cliffs overlooking the ocean, up rugged mountains, and through lonely canyons populated by wildflowers in spring.

While many visitors come for a day trip, Santa Cruz offers 31 campsites, shaded by Eucalyptus trees, about a 1/2 mile from the beach. All the islands are super primitive, with spotty cell reception at best, no public access to electricity, no trash cans, no stores - but there is water.

All in all, a visit to Channel Islands National Park, and Santa Cruz in particular, is a chance to really feel like you've gotten away from everything. It's solitude, even though you're only 20 miles from the mainland. And it's a chance to see the old coastal California, that most people don't even know still exists.

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