Torrey Pines of Santa Rosa Island – Santa Barbara County, California - Atlas Obscura

Torrey Pines of Santa Rosa Island

Santa Barbara County, California

Windswept and remote, the island was once the home of a rare mammoth and today is home to an even rarer tree. 


Approximately 34 miles south of Point Conception, California, and 47 miles west of Ventura, lies windswept Santa Rosa Island, one of the most remote of the northern Channel Islands. 

Now part of the Channel Islands National Park, Santa Rosa was once populated by ancestors of the Chumash Indians and visited down through the centuries by Spanish explorers, Russian otter hunters, Chinese fisherman and American cattle ranchers. For a short time, the island was used as a private hunting reserve.

During the last Ice Age, Santa Rosa (along with neighboring San Miguel and Santa Cruz Islands) was home to the rare and oxymoronic pygmy mammoth. This subspecies of the mainland mammoth existed only on the Channel Islands and nowhere else in the world. The most complete skeleton of a pygmy mammoth was discovered on Santa Rosa in 1994. The mammoths seem to have gone extinct about 13,000 years ago.

Today, the island is home to another natural oddity: a grove of the rare Torrey Pine. Only two naturally occurring groves of Torrey Pines exist in the world. One is on Santa Rosa Island and the other is 175 miles away over open water on the mainland near La Jolla, California. Strange indeed that this species of pine tree took hold only in these two locations, with hundreds of miles of coastline and several other islands nearby. The grove on Santa Rosa Island is accessible by an easy hike. Other rare plants make the island their home, including six species not found anywhere else.

Travelers wanting to enjoy a wild and uncrowded corner of California and are not afraid of the challenge of getting there, would do well to pay a visit to Santa Rosa Island.

Know Before You Go

There are no accommodations available on the island, other than a campground. Travel to Santa Rosa requires a three hour boat ride via Island Packers from Ventura Harbor. Weather conditions can make the transit uncomfortable at times. Visitors must be well prepared and bring all their own food and supplies—there are no stores, goods or services. Several trails and roads offer spectacular hiking and photographic opportunities.

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