Environment & Science

San Miguel Island is open again! Here's how to get there and what to do

Point Bennett on San Miguel Island on Oct. 6, 2012.
Point Bennett on San Miguel Island on Oct. 6, 2012.
Michael Field/Flickr Creative Commons
Point Bennett on San Miguel Island on Oct. 6, 2012.
The caliche forest on central San Miguel Island on Oct. 13, 2012.
Felix's Endless Journey/Flickr Creative Commons
Point Bennett on San Miguel Island on Oct. 6, 2012.
Birds on San Miguel Island on Sept. 16, 2004.
UbeIT/Flickr Creative Commons
Point Bennett on San Miguel Island on Oct. 6, 2012.
File: Waves break on San Miguel Island, off the coast of Southern California Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009. For centuries, the Pacific Ocean has lapped at cliff sides that cradle fragile archaeological sites on a chain of eight Channel Islands.
Damian Dovarganes/AP
Point Bennett on San Miguel Island on Oct. 6, 2012.
The Cabrillo monument on San Miguel Island on Sept. 16, 2004.
UbeIT/Flickr Creative Commons
Point Bennett on San Miguel Island on Oct. 6, 2012.
Coreopsis gigantea on San Miguel Island on Sept. 16, 2004.
UbeIT/Flickr Creative Commons
Point Bennett on San Miguel Island on Oct. 6, 2012.
A group of elephant seals sleeping in the sun around a sand dune on Active Point on San Miguel Island on Jan. 15, 2010. San Miguel Island is part of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of California.
NOAA's National Ocean Service/Flickr Creative Commons
Point Bennett on San Miguel Island on Oct. 6, 2012.
File: California sea lions gather along the shore of San Miguel Island, one of the largest sea mammal rookeries in the Pacific Ocean.
Mike Nelson/AFP/Getty Images
Point Bennett on San Miguel Island on Oct. 6, 2012.
A white sand beach on San Miguel Island on Oct. 13, 2012.
Felix's Endless Journey/Flickr Creative Commons
Point Bennett on San Miguel Island on Oct. 6, 2012.
File: This aerial view shows San Miguel Island.
Mike Nelson/AFP/Getty Images
Point Bennett on San Miguel Island on Oct. 6, 2012.
Plants on San Miguel Island on Sept. 16, 2004.
UbeIT/Flickr Creative Commons
Point Bennett on San Miguel Island on Oct. 6, 2012.
A baby sea lion on San Miguel Island on June 7, 2014.
Woody Williams via Linc Spaulding/Flickr Creative Commons


San Miguel Island, one of the most remote destinations in the Channel Islands National Park, is set to reopen this month after a two-year closure. Visitors and campers can return to hike its trails and take in the wildlife.

"Your experience on the island will take you back in time to maybe what California was like over a hundred years ago," the park's Yvonne Menard tells KPCC. "It's quite a great experience to provide solitude and a change in the pace of life that occurs here on the mainland."

The island, owned by the U.S. Navy, is the westernmost outpost of the Channel Islands chain. It was closed due to concerns over possible unexploded ordnance.

No need to worry. While it was part of a bombing range during and after World War II, the Navy has surveyed the island, including all high-use areas and established trails, and declared it safe for the public to visit once again. San Miguel will reopen in time for the summer season.

What's there to see and do on San Miguel Island?

There are about 18 miles of trails on the island. Most visitors who travel there for a day hike head to the caliche forest, comprised of what are essentially sand casts of ancient forests that were once on the island, Menard says.

Those who stay overnight often hike out the second day to the western tip of the island, Point Bennett — a 15-mile round trip. There you'll find the world's largest breeding ground for seals and sea lions, according to Menard. She describes it as a "stunning, spectacular experience."

"It's an incredible island. It's 23 square miles and it's an island that gets a lot of wind and a lot of fog. You land at this incredible beach called Cuyler Harbor with beautiful tourmaline-colored water," Menard says.

There's plenty of other wildlife on the island. It's common to spot the island fox, the island's top predator. They were on the brink of extinction in the mid-1990s, but as of February, there's a proposal to take them off the endangered species list.

San Miguel is also populated by native plants, including many wildflowers, that have recovered from the sheep ranching that took place on the island generations ago, Menard says. 

How do I get there?

San Miguel island is accessible by either boat or plane. Most visitors take one of the boats offered by the park out to the island, Menard says. Once your arrive, there's no transportation — everything has to be accessed on foot or by private boat or kayak, according to the Park Service. Bicycles are not allowed.

"San Miguel is one of the most remote islands in Channel Islands National Park," Menard explains. "The travel out to the island across the marine ecosystem is a great way to start your journey."

Menard adds that people often see one or more of the 26 different marine mammal species that are in the area.

How do I reserve my spot?

You can find out how to prepare and how to reserve a campground on the National Park Service website. The campground can accommodate 30 people per night but is primitive.

Due to winds, each campsite has wind shelters to protect tents. Campers are allowed to stay for up to seven days.

So book your California time travel trip — but be prepared to rough it.

See video and photos of the island from photographer Brett Higgins:

San Miguel Island video