Mount Orizaba

Channel Islands of California

The Channel Islands of California are a chain of eight islands located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California along the Santa Barbara Channel in the United States of America. Five of the islands are part of the Channel Islands National Park.

The eight Channel Islands of California, off the west coast of North America
Island Area
Census 2000
County Highest peak
feet (m)
Northern islands
Anacapa 1.14 2.95 3 Ventura Summit Peak 2, 930 (283)
San Miguel 14.57 37.74 - Santa Barbara San Miguel Hill, 831 (253)
Santa Cruz 96.51 249.95 2 Santa Barbara Devils Peak, 2450+ (747+)
Santa Rosa 83.12 215.27 2 Santa Barbara Soledad Peak, 1589 (484)
Southern islands
San Clemente 56.81 147.13 3001) Los Angeles Vista Point, 1965 (599)
San Nicolas 22.75 58.93 2001) Ventura unnamed, 907 (276)
Santa Barbara 1.02 2.63 - Santa Barbara Signal Hill, 634 (193)
Santa Catalina 74.98 194.19 3696 Los Angeles Mount Orizaba, 2123 (648)
Channel Islands 350.89 908.79 3703   Devils Peak, 2450+ (747+)
1) Navy installations, itinerant military and civilian population

The eight islands are split among the jurisdictions of three separate California counties: Santa Barbara County (four), Ventura County (two) and Los Angeles County (two). The islands are divided into two groups — the Northern Channel Islands and the Southern Channel Islands. The four Northern Islands used to be a single landmass known as Santa Rosae.

The archipelago extends for 160 miles (257.5 kilometers) between San Miguel Island in the north and San Clemente Island in the south. Together, the islands’ land area totals 221,331 acres, or about 346 square miles.

Five of the islands (San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara) were made into the Channel Islands National Park in 1980. The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary encompasses the waters six nautical miles (11 kilometers) off Anacapa, Santa Cruz, San Miguel and Santa Barbara Islands.

Santa Catalina Island is the only one of the eight islands with a significant permanent civilian settlement—the resort city of Avalon, California, and the unincorporated town of Two Harbors.

The Channel Islands at low elevations are virtually frost-free and constitute one of the few such areas in the 48 contiguous US states. It never snows except rarely on higher tops of mountains.

Military use

The United States Navy completely controls San Nicolas Island and San Clemente Island and has installations elsewhere in the chain. During World War II all of Southern California’s Channel Islands were put under complete military control—including the civilian-populated Santa Catalina where tourism was halted and established residents needed permits to travel to and from the mainland.San Miguel Island was used as a bombing range and Santa Barbara Island as an early warning outpost under the presumed threat of a Japanese attack on California.

Legislation is now being proposed in the United States House of Representatives that would make Santa Rosa Island a military resort and training facility. Under the proposal the island would keep its National Park status though public access would be limited.


Separated from the California mainland throughout recent geological history, the Channel Islands provide the earliest evidence for human seafaring in the Americas. It is also the site of the discovery of the earliest paleontological evidence of humans in North America The Northern Channel Islands are now known to have been settled by maritime Paleoindian peoples at least 13,000 years ago. Archaeological sites on the island provide a unique and invaluable record of human interaction with Channel Island marine and terrestrial ecosystems from the late Pleistocene to historic times. Historically, the northern islands were occupied by the Island Chumash, while the southern islands were occupied by the Tongva. The Chumash and Tongva were removed from the islands in the early 1800s, taken to Spanish missions and pueblos on the adjacent mainland. For a century, the Channel Islands were used primarily for ranching and fishing activities, which had significant impacts on island ecosystems, including the local extinction of sea otters, bald eagles, and other species. With most of the Channel Islands now managed by federal agencies or conservation groups, the restoration of the island ecosystems has made significant progress.

In 1972, the Brown Berets, a group of Chicano activists seized and claimed the islands for Mexico, citing the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty, a treaty between Mexico and the USA by which Mexico sold more than half of its territory, and arguing that the treaty does not specifically mention the Channel Islands. The U.S. had occupied them since 1852, and it had been speculated that Mexico could claim the islands and seek their return through litigation before the International Court of Justice. However, a detailed analysis of its situation puts in doubt the likelihood of Mexico winning the case at the International Court of Justice.


The Channel Islands are part of one of the richest marine biospheres of the world. Many unique species of plants and animals are endemic to the Channel Islands, including fauna such as the Island Fox, Channel Islands Spotted Skunk, Island Scrub Jay, Ashy Storm-petrel, Island Night Lizard, Channel Island Slender Salamander, San Clemente Goat, Santa Cruz sheep, San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike and flora including a unique subspecies of Torrey Pine and Oak and the Island Tree mallow.

Wildlife gallery

See also


External links

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