Channel Islands National Park – Santa Rosa Island – November 2019

Hannah – Age 6 – National Park #7

Since my dad had accompanied us on a National Park trip a few years earlier, we decided to invite my mom along on a vacation.  I knew my mom would like to have the trip planned out a little more than I typically do, which ended up working out great.  It forced me to look ahead at hotels which ended up being a very good decision on this trip, in hindsight.  We planned to visit three National Parks – Channel Islands, Death Valley, and Joshua Tree.  This trip involved a lot of driving, so it was nice to have another adult along in the car! 

I researched the different islands that make up Channel Islands National Park and the various options that were available for ferries to the islands.  We decided to go with Island Packers, which is located right in Ventura Harbor.  In November, they are not as busy and only offered a ferry out to one island (Santa Rosa Island) on the day we were booking.  I booked our tickets about two months in advance, which totaled $221.00 for one senior, one adult, and one child.

Channel Islands National Park

The Hotel

We flew in around 7pm on a Saturday night, took a bus to the car rental, and then drove about an hour and a half to Ventura, CA.  We stopped for some basic groceries on the way, as I had read that there is not any food or drink on the island.  I had booked two nights at the Holiday Inn in Ventura Harbor that was walking distance (one mile) to the ferry we were taking the next day out to Santa Rosa Island, one of the islands that makes up Channel Islands National Park. 

View of Ventura Harbor from our Holiday Inn hotel room

A Late Night Trip for Medicine

A few hours after our heads hit the pillow, Hannah woke up with a severe ear ache.  She was crying and in a lot of pain.  She had some ear pain during the flight, so I believe this was just some after affects.  However, I was concerned this could go into the next day and I did not want to be away from the mainland for an entire day if she was still hurting. 

My mom cuddled with her while I spoke to the front desk.  Unfortunately they did not have any Children’s Tylenol on hand and they even called the hotel next door, but no luck.  I ended up driving a few miles down the road to a grocery store that was open late.  Although I know I could have handled the situation on my own, I was very grateful to have my mom there to help and to not have to drag Hannah out of bed in the middle of the night when she was not feeling well. 

Thankfully, the medicine kicked in and she slept the rest of the night.  She was back to her bouncing-off-the-wall energy level self by morning!

The Walk to the Ferry

We had to leave the hotel before breakfast was put out, so we had some coffee and granola bars that we purchased the night before, and made some PB&Js to take with us.  We packed up our daypacks, which included the PB&Js, apples, snacks, water, hats, mittens, sunscreen, and a lot of layers of clothes/jackets.  It was pretty cool in the morning and we had a one mile walk to the ferry.  The weather was forecasted to hit the mid-70s, but I was not sure how that would feel out on the boat or island.  We walked along a harbor with all kinds of sail boats and fishing boats.  We finally arrived at the ferry, checked in, and spent at least 15 minutes perusing the gift shop.  Hannah had her eye on several items that we said she could consider and pick one out at the end of the trip.

The Ferry Ride to Santa Rosa Island

It was a three hour ferry ride out to the island.  I wasn’t sure how Hannah would handle that long of a trip.  We started sitting at the top back of the two-tiered ferry but we soon got cold and went underneath to warm up.  We brought a deck of cards and started playing a card game at a table, but within five minutes of playing, there was an announcement that dolphins were spotted.  Hannah and I immediately went to the front of the boat. 

The captain had spotted a large pod of dolphins and turned the boat around to circle them.  The dolphins played and jumped alongside the front of the boat for at least ten minutes.  This happened several more times on the ride out to the island.  I ended up hanging out near the front of the boat most of the rest of the trip, talking with a number of people – a local man from Ventura who has been to several of the other islands, a family on break who were camping on Santa Rosa for a few days, and a very friendly Island Packers employee named Sam who was great at spotting wildlife. 

A dolphin playing with our ferry

Hannah split her time between me in the front and my mom in the cabin – running out every time they announced more dolphins.  She was ecstatic at how close they were and how fast they could swim.  We also saw two seals playing in the water not far off the coast of one of the islands we passed. 

Santa Rosa Island

As the boat slowed down to dock at the pier on Santa Rosa Island, I could tell the temperature had heated up.  We got off the boat and assembled for some basic instructions such as where the bathrooms were located and what time to be back on the ferry to leave.  Our plan was to hike the three mile round trip to Water Canyon Beach and back.  After taking off our layers and applying sunscreen, we set out on our hike.  Unfortunately we took one wrong turn which added about a half mile to our expedition. 

Map of Santa Rosa Island

The Coastal Road was an open dirt road along an old cattle ranch and airstrip, overlooking the ocean on one side, and a large foothill on the other side.  There were trails and dirt roads all over the island, a camping area, and only two locations that I knew of that had potable water – near the bathrooms and at the campground.  There was no shade as we walked along the road, and the sun was beating down on us.  We were all getting warm.  Hannah was also tired from the travel and late night ear ache the night before.  And as most any tired six year old might do, she was complaining about how hot she was, how hungry she was, and how long the hike was.  These can be tough moments. 

Coastal Road to the beach

Water Canyon Beach

I knew she would perk up as soon as we hit the beach and she was able to feel the ocean at her feet.  I just needed to motivate her for one more mile.  We talked about how excited we were to eat our PB&Js we made, and that Grandma had packed some extra yummy snacks.  We talked about how warm (or cold) we thought the ocean would be.  At one point, I walked faster ahead of them to see how close we were to the hill leading down to the ocean (and let’s be honest, to escape the whining for a minute).  We finally arrived at the beach and it was just as I had expected.  Hannah RAN to the ocean, which was colder than she thought it would be.  She went in up to her shorts.  I told her she could go all the way in, but she decided it was a little too chilly.

Hannah loving the ocean

Upon seeing the sand dunes that had built up along the coast, she of course decided she was no longer hungry at all and she just wanted to go play on the dunes instead.  We left Grandma with the snacks in the shade to rest and set off on our way to the top of the dunes.  Hannah rolled down, ran down, skipped down, and worked her way back up countless times as I sat at the top, enjoying the view and snapping some photos of her.  This was probably my favorite moment of the entire trip.  She got to see firsthand how the hard work of the hike in the hot sun paid off with a gorgeous view and nature’s best playground.

Playing on the Sand Dunes at Water Canyon Beach – Santa Rosa Island

More Exploring

We made our way back to Grandma and finished our lunches.  I am happy to report that the hike back to the pier was much more pleasant.  We arrived at the pier a little early, so Hannah and I trekked down an old rusty ladder to the beach below to explore more before leaving.  At low tide, this beach will connect to the beach we were at earlier in the day.  There were a lot of fun tide pools, caves, and big rocks formations that Hannah enjoyed discovering on this part of the beach. 

One of the many caves along the shore

The Ferry Ride Back to Ventura

On our ferry ride back to Ventura, we took a route closer to Santa Cruz Island.  Sam, the ferry employee I mentioned earlier, made sure Hannah and all the other small kids were up front when the captain drove the ferry into Painted Cave that was used in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  We continued to find dolphin pods the entire way home, and the captain never hesitated to slow down or even circle them to get them playing.  The object was not to get us back to Ventura as quickly as possible, it was to give us the most enjoyable experience on the water they could, and they definitely did just that.

Humpback Whales!

Over the loud speaker we heard the captain say, “Folks, Sam just thought he saw some calm water up ahead which can sometimes mean humpback whales are nearby.  If you don’t mind, I am going to shut down the motor and we are just going to sit here for ten minutes to see if we can get them to surface.”  Sure enough, not five minutes later, we had two humpbacks within 50 feet of our boat.  They breached the surface several times and then swam under the boat and off into the sunset.  It was an incredible experience.  Everyone on the boat got to see and experience these two enormous animals in their natural habitat, all thanks to Sam’s incredible eyes and the captain’s patience. 

Humpback Whales at Sunset – Photo Credit: Chris Brown, fellow National Park enthusiast

After the sunset, it was getting cold.  Hannah and my mom stayed in the cabin.  I, of course, loving the water and the ferry experience, ended up at the front of the boat again, talking with the local guy from Ventura and getting some restaurant recommendations for dinner that night.  He introduced me to another guy who was a fellow National Park enthusiast.  We enjoyed comparing notes on parks we’ve visited and where we plan to go from here.


We arrived pretty late at night back at the harbor and as promised, allowed Hannah to quickly make her gift shop purchase of a seal magnet and dolphin stuffed animal.  Being a Sunday, it was relatively quiet, but I could tell the harbor shops and restaurants looked like a pretty great place to be on a warmer weekend night.  We were very hungry and the restaurant suggestion – Brophy Bros. Seafood Restaurant & Clam Barwas hitting the spot!  My mom and I shared the seabass and it was amazing! 

Lessons Learned

One, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.  The Island Packers ferry crew did such an amazing job at slowing down our journey both to and from the island to give us the best experience possible.  The ferry ride, which I was initially concerned about the length of it, was one of the best parts of our adventure to Channel Islands National Park. 

Two, it might be about the journey, but the destination sure would be nice when you have a whining kid!  Kids are kids… they are going to whine sometimes.  It’s inevitable.  Take a deep breath and try to pass the time talking about things that interest your kid.  My husband Jim used to do this with me on really long backpack trips.  I recall a specific day we backpacked 20 miles.  We were both tired and exhausted at mile 13, but we knew we had to go another 7 miles before setting up camp for the night.  We happened to recently get engaged, so on that last 7 miles, Jim and I went back and forth discussing various wedding ideas – some realistic, some crazy wild ones that we knew would never actually happen.  I am not sure if he was quite as interested in that topic as I was, but it sure made those 7 miles go a lot faster than the previous ones!

Three, always seek the advice of a local when determining your restaurant selection!

Playing on the beach. Behind us is the pier on the left and the ferry on the right.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park – June 2019

Hannah – 6 years old – Backpacking Trip #4

For our 2019 summer trip to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, we decided to try out a new cabin, the Whitetail Cabin.  Since Whitetail was larger than our other cabin, we decided to invite more friends to join us!  This year Katie brought along her daughter in addition to her son who has been with us the past two years.  Allie, who was pregnant the year before, joined us again with her son.  And we decided to introduce backpacking to our friend Karin, who brought her two sons.  Karin, of course, had MANY questions for me leading up to the trip, which helped inspire me to start this blog.  So four moms and six kids later, we were on our way to an adventure.  Map of Porkies

Hiking In

The hike in was only one mile.  Each kid carried their own pack, but I also knew that we had two moms carrying food, etc. for two kids, in addition to one of those moms being brand new to backpacking.  Keeping the hike short helped us all feel more confident in the trip.  We could handle carrying heavy weight for one mile or we could double back and make multiple trips if needed, which we didn’t end up needing to do.

Hiking in

The kids did a great job of hiking and staying on the trail.  They enjoyed the cross road we hit and they had to read the signs to find the way to the cabin.  When we arrived at the cabin, we unloaded our packs and figured out sleeping arrangements. 

Safety First

The kids then wanted to all go down to Lake Superior to play.  The wind was strong that day and the waves were crashing up on the rocks, making them pretty slippery.  All of us adults quickly agreed to a “no kids by the water without an adult” rule.  Lake Superior is pretty cold still in early June, and the waves are strong.  We made sure to discuss this with the kids so they understood how important it was to be careful and to be sure they had an adult in sight.

Playing on the rocks by Lake Superior

First Aid Kit and Lake Superior to the Rescue

A few of us started gathering wood to make a fire.  One of kids came up from the shore and reached into the fire pit to grab the poker.  The fire appeared to be out and was all old ashes.  However, the people before us must have had a fire that morning, so the ashes were still hot, meaning the fire poker was still BURNING hot.  And thus, the first use of our first aid kit.  We happened to have some burn cream in there, along with a very cold lake nearby!  We filled a bucket from the cabin with ice cold Lake Superior water and throughout the rest of the night, we had the child occasionally hold his hand in the cold water bucket.  Thankfully by morning, his hand was feeling much better. 

Up and Down… Up and Down

Day 2: After delicious breakfast burritos made over the fire, we day-hiked back out to our cars and drove a few miles up the road to the Lake of the Clouds overlook.  We unloaded the kids and then a few moms went to park a car 4.5 miles down the road to our end destination and brought one car back up. 

I had done this hike years ago with Jim.  Unfortunately I completely forgot how many times the trail goes up to the top of the escarpment overlooking Lake of the Clouds and Lake Superior and back down to the base.  As soon as you got to the top, it seemed the trail brought you right back down.  About one mile in, I was worried.  Karin was already carrying her youngest son up the steeper parts, and many of us were using bandanas, hats, or headbands to try to keep the flys off of our heads.  And the temperature was much warmer than we expected it to be.

How to Keep Kids Entertained on a Long, Hard Hike

I was starting to feel nervous about the hike I had planned and if the kids were capable of making it to the car!  This is when the snacks we packed came in handy!  We started to dish them out occasionally, saying “At the top of this hill we all get 2 more gummy worms!”  Finally reaching a gorgeous overlook of Lake of the Clouds where the gentle wind was keeping the bugs away, we decided this would be a great lunch spot.  It was roughly halfway from our destination, which meant there really isn’t any turning back at this point.

Eating lunch overlooking Lake of the Clouds

After lunch, the kids seemed a little happier and there was less complaining going on.  We taught the kids the game “20 Questions” which kept them preoccupied for at least one of the miles.  We finally made it back to the car when we realized we still had to hike another mile back into our cabin.  However, the short break in the car must have fueled the kids, because they were bounding back to the cabin faster than we could keep up. 

Wine and Sunsets

That night, after dinner and more playing on the rocks by the water, we put the kids to bed, which wasn’t hard after all of the hiking we did that day.  Each adult grabbed a glass of wine – well, a small plastic bottle of wine poured into a camp cup – and brought it down to the lake while watching a beautiful sunset over the water.  The Porcupine Mountains has never disappointed me with its sunsets. 

Sunset over Lake Superior

We sat that night, drinking our cheap wine, watching the sunset, and talking about how amazing it was that not one kid asked us for an iPad or any electronic.  There is no electricity so it isn’t really an option anyway, but they never were bored enough to even consider wanting one.  And we talked about how much we connect with our kids while out in the woods and without the distractions of daily life.  It’s so amazing to show our kids this big beautiful world, and it’s even more fun to do it with friends who share my love for nature.

Lessons Learned

Never trust that ashes are not hot just because you cannot see them glow.  And I feel like a broken record on this one, but kids can do more than you think… hike longer, harder, steeper hills than you ever thought they could… all for the promise of two gummy worms.