San Miguel Island

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Cuyler Harbor on San Miguel Island is one of the most scenic beaches in all of Channel Islands National Park. Explore this beautiful, 2-mile-long white sand beach on a day trip, or camp on the island over the weekend.


San Miguel Island is the westernmost of the Channel islands (find it on the map). The island trip includes a scenic tour of both Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands, and takes 3.5 - 4 hours.

It's always windy on this island. Thirty-knot (34 mph!) winds are not unusual. Water sports are not recommended for beginners due to these high winds.

The environment on San Miguel Island makes an ideal breeding ground for as many as 30,000 seals and sea lions. Point Bennett is the only place in the world where six different pinniped species breed and pup.

There is also a huge population of sea birds that breed here. During the spring and summer, the sky is filled with birds. You may even see Peregrine falcons, which have recently been restored to the island.

Island Packers provides transportation to San Miguel Island from May - October. There are very few scheduled day trips to the island. Most visitors to this remote island plan to camp over the weekend.

In addition to viewing marine wildlife in their natural habitat, other features of this island include:

  • numerous shipwrecks
  • a monument to the island's first European explorer
  • ancient Chumash Indian archaeological sites
  • interesting sand castings of ancient vegetation, the caliche forest

Hiking

Upon arriving at Cuyler Harbor, visitors take a skiff to the beach. Day visitors have about 3 hours on the island. That's plenty of time to leisurely explore the beach and hike up to the historic Lester Ranch site. Download your hiking guide and map here.

Above Cuyler Harbor, there's a monument to Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo erected in 1937. Cabrillo was the first European explorer to arrive here in 1542.

If you want to go further inland and are in fairly good shape, three hours is just enough time for the strenuous 5-mile hike up to the caliche forest and back. You must be accompanied by a park ranger to hike beyond the Cuyler Harbor ranger station.

The 16-mile hike to Point Bennett, the pinniped breeding ground, is too long for day-users. This is a bonus reserved for campers only. The round-trip hike takes all day.

If you travel with the Island Packers, they will arrange for a park ranger to guide you on the inland trails. If you've arranged for private transportation and want to hike further inland than Lester Ranch, please call (805) 658-5711 or (805) 658-5730 to schedule a park ranger guide.

Wilderness Camping

AFTER making your transportation arrangements, you may reserve your campsite. It costs $15 per night to camp on the island. There are 9 campsites available and the minimum camping stay is 3 days (Friday - Sunday).

The campground is at the top of a steep trail 1 mile above Cuyler Harbor. There is no shade, and campsites with picnic tables are sheltered by a windbreak.

Be prepared for adverse conditions. Average wind speed on the island is 20 mph. The weather can be foggy and damp. Campers should bring supplies for an extra day, in case ocean conditions prevent boats from picking you up.

Your reward for camping is that you have time to take full advantage of the hiking trails here. The well-populated pinniped breeding ground, Point Bennett is a 16-mile, all day hike. This is a site that very few people ever get to see.

San Miguel Island History

Some of the oldest archeological evidence of human presence in North America was found on this island. Chumash Indians lived here almost continuously for 11,000 years. Pygmy mammoth fossils were also found here.

For more than 100 years, this island was used as a sheep ranch. US Military used it for a bombing range between 1948 - 1970. Occasionally the shifting sands still reveal live munitions! That must be why you can't hike inland without a ranger guide!

Trips to San Miguel are only available from May through October. Check the Island Packers schedule and boat fares to begin planning your trip. After arranging your transportation, if you want to camp, reserve your campsite. And, have fun!

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Anacapa Island | Santa Cruz Island | Santa Rosa Island | San Miguel Island | Santa Barbara Island


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