This Skunk Doesn't Stink

Hiking to Skunk Point on Santa Rosa Island in Channel Islands National Park Southern California

On Santa Rosa Island, an all-day hiking expedition to Skunk Point unfolds like chapters of a geographic fairy tale. You’ll cross several distinct terrains on a 11-mile lollipop loop tracing the coastal crescent of Bechers Bay—from grasslands and pine woodland to coastal marsh and shipwreck-strewn beaches. Starting at the campground, head east on Coastal Road through erosive grassland and its ecotone with a hillside grove of ultra-rare Torrey pines. Your eyes will be drawn to Bechers Bay, whose white beaches and turquoise shallows could double as the Caribbean on sunny days. Just as the dirt roadway starts to wear on you, a left fork leads to a coast-hugging singletrack that merges onto a sandy beach littered with shipwreck and backed by alien, wind-whipped dunes and a marine terrace.

On the far side, you’ll come across the remains of the Jane L. Stanford, the largest wooden ship to wreck in the Channel Islands. A rocky headland rises beyond, with bizarre jutting rocks (one shaped like a human head) and tide pools harboring an eye-popping array of marine life: periwinkles, crabs and jumbo-sized sea anemones. Then the grand finale: the sprawling white sand and prolific back dunes of Skunk Point. Some days, you’ll be alone here for miles in every direction. Coveted by select surfers, the point sees large swells with powerful offshore winds spraying foam high in the air. The dunes are a seasonal breeding ground for the snowy plover, a threatened shorebird. You can continue along the beach all the way to East Point or bail out early, cutting inland near Abalone Rocks Marsh, a large wetland, to rejoin Coastal Road and head northwest back to camp.

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TIP: Be sure to hike to Skunk Point only on moderate to lightly windy days. Strong winds will kick up stinging sand.

CAMP: The island has only one established campground, located 1.5 miles south of the pier, and situated in Water Canyon, just a few hundred yards inland from the beaches of Bechers Bay. The camp has 15 sites—each with a wooden wind shelter, picnic table, and food storage locker (owing to the thievish island fox)—plus an impressive solar-powered outhouse with warm water and an outdoor sink basin. $15 per night. Reserve a site.

Book boat passage to Santa Rosa through Island Packers, the park’s only concessionaire, which will ferry passengers to the island two or three days a week until November 20. Schedule and fares on their site. No dogs.

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