We backpacked for 3 nights on santa rosa island. the boat ride was a little choppy but once we arrived the weather was fantastic. it was so isolated, not many people are allowed to camp per night and once you are there, you are stuck for a few days. it was amazing and peaceful, I would love to go back. make sure to utilize thet til bear boxes, the fox like to eat your food as well as the crows. so if you leave anything in your tent, it will be damaged and broken into.
If you like the feeling of having an entire island to yourself and don't mind hiking in a bit this is the trip for you. You access the island via boat. If you're packing for this trip you need to keep your hydration bladder and your camp stove fuel separate, the boat operators will make you unpack and repack if you do not. It takes about 3 hours to get there. We saw whales and dolphins on the way out and back, but our crossing was windy and choppy and more then a few people were blowing chunks off the back of the boat.
You get to the dock and everyone pitches in to get the gear off the boat and up the stairs. Then you get to start your walk to the camp site. It's about 1.5 miles from the dock and very pretty. Some people brought a rolling cooler but I do not recommend that. The path has a lot of rocks and soft sand and pulling a cooler over that looked like a huge nightmare. We brought a yeti soft sided cooler (the smallest one) which worked out perfectly and fit inside the fox box easily. The strap around your neck makes it super easy to carry.
The campsites each have a wind shelter where you set up your tent. The wind is not a joke. When we came back from hiking more than one tent was blown over. Low profile, use your steaks and we even tied ours to the shelter to keep it stable. There is water at the campsite (and indoor flushing toilets!) but it's pretty hard to drink. I brought a few lemons to squeeze in it but they don't cover the strong mineral taste. It's fine for rehydrating your food, but you probably want to bring in drinking water.
The hiking is awesome, but steep. Most of the trails are longer than you think because the distance is from the dock not the camp ground. Lobo Canyon which is a popular hike - and worth it - is way longer than you think because the distance listed is from the dock to the trail-head. It's another 2 miles to the beach from there.
There are Torrey Pines trees, which are rare. Island foxes, which are SO CUTE and a bunch of large birds.
At certain times of the year you can camp on some parts of the beach but I wouldn't try that on your first trip out there. I also recommend against bringing out a surfboard unless you take your own boat out there and can drop anchor where you chose. It's 8 miles to the nearest surf break from the dock and the waves aren't always worth it.
The perfect backpacking trip! Everything you need for the ultimate adventure in one place.
I spent three days on Santa Rosa island in July 2015. I used one of the charter boat companies (Island Packers) to get there - they were great. Upon arrival, expect to haul your gear a 1/4 to 1/2 mile for even the closest campsites - but it's absolutely worth it. Some folks had gear carts, but we packed light enough that it wasn't a problem. It is absolutely important to understand that the Channel Islands isn't your usual campgrounds, it's an island with protected species that are all over the place. The Island Fox is the biggest wildlife challenge I've encountered. They are friggin adorable and very numerous (you will see dozens, if not hundreds if you stay for a day), but if they can't steal it or eat it, they will pee on it. Understanding that, it's very cool to hang out in the campground watching them interact with the campers trying to steal food. Use the "fox boxes" to store all of your food and stuff you don't want peed on and you're good.
The beach is nearby and offers great snorkeling in kelp beds, we saw numerous rays cruising nearby and got many great photos. Depending on your interests, sea kayaking, stand up paddle boarding and the like are all possible.
The island has numerous hiking trails that take you up the surrounding "mountains" that overlook the island for fantastic views. Part of the island is off limits as part of a wildlife refuge, but I never felt like that prevented us from having our fill of wandering around on the parts that were good to go.
Overall Santa Rosa is a fantastic place to visit and make sure you give yourself enough time to see what all the island offers. An afternoon visit would only give a small taste, it's well worth staying for a couple days.