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A Channel Islands Camping Packing List (+ Tips!)

April 25, 2024

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Channel Islands National Park is a magical place home to miniature foxes, enchanting sea caves, lush greenery and stunning trails. It’s located off the coast of Southern California and comprises five separate islands. Each island is home to unique plants and animals. In fact, there are 145 different species on the Channel Islands that are found nowhere else in the world!

While a day trip is great, camping on one of the Channel Islands gives you the opportunity to spend more time exploring, and enjoy the peace of the island when the day-trippers leave. It’s a great escape to sleep under the stars several miles off of the mainland.

This Channel Islands camping packing list will help you decide what to bring, and share tips and things you need to know before camping here.

What to Know Before Camping on the Channel Islands

A line of kayaks heading into a sea cave
A kayaking tour from Santa Cruz Island
A miniature fox on Santa Cruz Island
A miniature fox at the Scorpion Canyon Campground
  • Reservations are needed for all campsites in Channel Islands National Park. You will make your reservation on

  • You can only reach the Channel Islands by ferry. Check out the Island Packers schedule and be sure to book ahead of time. You’ll need to select that you’ll be camping when you make your reservation.

  • You’ll have to walk a short distance to reach the campgrounds after disembarking the ferry. Make sure your bags are consolidated and easy to carry. I recommend a large backpack. Plus, all campers have to help unload all gear when you arrive. During my visit, we unloaded the bags in a “bucket brigade.” I understand that this is an efficient way to unload the gear, but personally, I didn’t love lifting other people’s heavy and smelly bags. Be considerate to others by making sure your bags are not too heavy.

  • There are miniature foxes on the islands! And they love hanging out in the Scorpion Campground in the evening. They will try to get into your food (and can even open tent zippers). Luckily, each campsite has a locker. Make sure to store all of your food in the locker and do not feed the foxes.

  • No fires are allowed on the islands. You can also use enclosed camp stoves to cook.

  • Other than service animals, no dogs are allowed on the Channel Islands.

  • Each campground is equipped with pit toilets and picnic tables. They are primitive campsites.

  • It’s possible you could be stranded on the island for extra time if the ferries are unable to travel due to weather. Pack extra food and be prepared just in case.

  • If you’re camping, you’ll need to arrive earlier for the ferry to load your gear. Water and fuel will need to be stored separately from the rest of your gear.

  • There is no trash service on the islands - you must pack everything out!

Where to Camp on the Channel Islands

A campground with large trees on Santa Cruz Island
Scorpion Canyon Campground

Channel Islands National Park is made up of five islands: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Barbara. Each island has one established campground and they all require a short walk to reach them. Check the national park website for exact details on each site.

If it’s your first visit to the Channel Islands, I recommend camping at the Scorpion Canyon Campground on Santa Cruz Island. Santa Cruz Island has a lot to do - including multiple epic day hike options and amazing sea kayaking tours.

To reach the Scorpion Canyon Campground, it’s about a half mile walk (exact distance depends on which campsite you book). The Scorpion Canyon Campground has a lot of shady trees and is peaceful. The campsites are relatively close together, but the trees offer a bit of seclusion.

What to Pack for Camping on the Channel Islands

Two tents at the Scopion Canyon Campground
The Kelty Grand Mesa Tent
A campsite at Scorpion Canyon. There is a picnic table with a tall tree above it.
Scorpion Canyon Campground

If you’re camping on one of the islands in Channel Islands National Park, use this packing checklist to make it easy!

This list is specifically for those who are camping close to the docks, not backpacking. However, there may be a lot of overlap!

  • A tent. I’ve been using this small Kelty Grand Mesa tent for years and love how versatile it is.

  • Sleeping pad. I use the REI AirRail sleeping pad and find it to be comfortable.

  • Camp pillow. This is optional, but I certainly always use a pillow when camping. An inflatable pillow will save you a lot of space.

  • Food. There will is food available to purchase on the islands! I like to bring backpacking meals for breakfast and dinner, and a sandwich for lunch. Plus, lots of snacks. As a vegetarian, a few meals I like include the Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai, the Backpacker’s Pantry Summit Breakfast Scramble and the Good To-Go Mushroom Risotto.

  • Water. Of the 5 campgrounds on each of the Channel islands, two have potable water, and the other 3 do not. If you’re staying on Anacapa Island, San Miguel Island or Santa Barbara Island, make sure to pack in all the water you will need for your stay. Keep in mind that water will need to be stored separately from luggage during the ferry ride.

  • A cooking system. I have the Jetboil MiniMo and it works great.

  • Utensils. Don’t forget to pack along some reusable utensils to eat your food! A long handled spoon is helpful if you’re eating from the bags that backpacking meals come in.

  • Paper towels or washcloths to help clean any messes.

  • Fuel. Don’t forget your fuel for your cooking system, but keep in mind that it will need to be stored separately on the ferry ride over to the island.

  • Clothing and extra layers. Bring enough clothing for your trip, along with additional layers to keep you warm. This will vary by time of year, but I recommend a raincoat and bringing all synthetic clothing.

  • Hiking gear. You’ll probably be hiking during your visit to the Channel Islands! A few things you should bring include a first aid kit, a headlamp, water, snacks, extra layers and sun protection. Check out my day hike packing list for more information.

  • Sun protection. I recommend bringing sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.

  • Headlamp or flashlight. You’ll definitely want a light source for hanging out at camp!

  • Portable phone battery. This is great to have so you can keep your phone charged! Cell service is mostly non-existent, but you may still want to take photos and use offline maps for hiking navigation.

  • Map. If you’re hiking on the island, it’s great to have a paper map to bring along. There are some available on the islands, but it’s best to bring one just in case.

  • Toiletries. Bring any necessary toiletries you’ll want for camping, such as a toothbrush, contact lenses, a hairbrush, etc.

  • A trash bag. You’ll need to pack out all of your trash and carry it back on the ferry.

  • Dry bag. If you’re kayaking from the Channel Islands, it’s nice to have a dry bag to store some of your things.

  • Coffee. This is certainly optional, but I always like my morning coffee, even while camping. To keep it simple, I typically bring instant coffee for camping.

  • A small mug if you’ll be drinking coffee.

  • A GoPro or camera. This is optional of course, but a GoPro is great to have for kayaking. And if you have a camera, you may want to capture the beauty of the island. I love my GoPro Hero 12 and my Sony A7 III mirrorless camera.

  • A book. If you have some downtime at camp, this is a great opportunity to read a book!

  • Body wipes. You won’t have access to a shower while camping in the Channel Islands. I love to carry body wipes so I can freshen up!

  • Satellite Communicator. You’ll be staying on a remote island with no service, so an emergency satellite communicator is a great safety to have in case of emergency. I love my Garmin InReach Messenger - it gives me a lot of peace of mind.

Looking for more information on visiting the Channel Islands? Read my 2-day itinerary and full guide!

Looking down at a harbor shaped like a large potato
Potato Harbor, Santa Cruz Island

Final Thoughts

I hope this camp packing list helps you plan an epic camping trip to the Channel Islands! This magical place deserves a spot on your USA bucket list. It’s one of my favorite US national parks.

Whether you’re interested in hiking, kayaking or just escaping from it all, the Channel Islands make for an incredible getaway.

For more California National Park Guides, check out these blogs:

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