Sunday, May 11, 2014

See migrating whales, tide pools, wildflower displays at Channel Islands National Park

Santa Cruz Island coast
Among the best ways to see Channel Islands National Park’s major sights is via a day hike. Though the park covers several islands, four short trails allow visitors to enjoy the park’s major highlights – migrating blue whales, fascinating tide pools, impressive wildflower displays, and the rare Torrey pine tree.

Migrating gray whales
A number of whales – blue, gray, Humpback and Killer – as well as dolphins and sea lions, can be spotted from the islands. A solid bet for a sighting is the 1.5-mile round trip from the visitor center to Inspiration Point on East Anacapa Island, as the migrating whales pass through the narrowest section of the Santa Barbara Channel each January and February.

Tide pools
As the tide retreats, pools of ocean water often are left behind on the beach; these tide pools are perfect opportunities to observe up close sea stars, anemones, chitons, barnacles, limpets, mussels, periwinkles, urchins, as well as many other species. Among the best place to find tide pools is Smuggler’s Cove on Santa Cruz Island. A 7.5-mile round trip by following the Smugglers Road to that cove’s beach gets you there. Be sure to carry water for the hike.

More than 775 species of plants – most of them flowering – can be found in the national park. A great time to visit is February and March when yellow coreopsis bloom is at its peak on San Miguel Island, especially on the 2-mile round trip from the Palm Trees to the Lester Ranch Site.

Rare Torrey pines
There are few places in the world other than Santa Rosa Island to see the beautiful Torrey pine. Enjoy the pines by taking the Coastal Road from the pier to the Torrey Pine Loop Trail in a 5-mile round trip.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.