San Miguel is the last of California’s Channel Islands. It was used to test bombs for much of the 20th Century, but is reopening to the public this month.


San Miguel 2
Via Creative Commons

California’s Channel Islands are among the more exotic National Parks in the U.S.; though the closest of the group, Anacapa, is just 12 miles off the coast of Southern California, they feel remote and remain surprisingly off the radar of many travelers.

On May 17, however, San Miguel — the western most of the islands, which lies 55 miles off the coast —will reopen to visitors.

channel islands map
Via Creative Commons

San Miguel — which is owned by the Navy but managed by the National Parks Service — closed in April 2014 over safety concerns. The problem was bombs; beginning in World War II and continuing through the 1970s, the U.S. military blasted the island during ammunition tests. Though the tests eventually stopped, concerns remained that there were still dangerous, unexploded bombs lying around. (They ultimately combed the island but didn’t find any.)

In any case, the reopening is good news for anyone who wants to visit a remote park. Yvonne Menard, who works for the park, told KPCC that visiting “will take you back in time to maybe what California was like over a hundred years ago.”

San Miguel forest
A caliche forest on San Miguel. The forest is formed when prehistoric vegetation calcifies. Via the National Park Service.

The island is now home to plentiful wildlife. It has the world’s largest seal and sea lion breeding ground, Menard said, and its top predator is the once-endangered island fox.

San Miguel Shipwreck
San Miguel is also the site of numerous shipwrecks. Via the National Parks Service.

If you go: A public boat stops at other channel islands, but as of right now will not immediately be visiting San Miguel upon its reopening. (The company that ferries people to the island suggests that trips could resume in the fall.)

That means there are two ways to get there: on a private boat, or a plane. Neither option is cheap, and they’ll both require some individual planning. A ranger also must be present, and visitors will have to sign an access permit and a liability waiver (more info on where to find those is available here.)

If you do get to the island, there are nine camp sites and they cost $15 to reserve. You can make reservations by calling (877) 444-6777 or through

To find out more, see this list of things to do or check out this video on San Miguel:

Related reading:

The ultimate half-day, Southern California desert tour

Greetings from the apocalyptic ruins of Bombay Beach

— Jim Dalrymple II

* Featured image by Todd Clark via Creative Commons.


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.

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