If you’re a hiker visiting Santa Cruz Island, this hike to Smuggler’s Cove has to be on your itinerary. This 8.2 mile hike gains a modest 1500ft of elevation, but provides some incredible ocean views in the process. Most hikers reach Smuggler’s Cove via an out-and-back route on Smuggler’s Rd, but in this guide I’ll provide directions for a more scenic lollipop loop route through Scorpion Canyon.
Getting There: Directions And GPS Track
- Visitors to Channel Islands National Park must book a boat ride to the island through Island Packers. Make sure to plan your trip well ahead of your planned departure, as weekend boats can fill up early. The boat to Santa Cruz Island leaves from Ventura, CA, and takes around 60-minutes each way.
- You can choose to visit the island for a day trip, but an overnight camping trip is much nicer in my opinion. There are a number of hikes on the island you’ll want to explore. Much like the boat ride, you’ll want to book your reservations to Scorpion Campsite early.
- Once you’ve arrived to Santa Cruz Island via Island Packers, the trailhead for this hike will begin just outside of the visitor center.
- Download GPX
- See track on Strava
- Distance: 8.20 miles
- Elevation Gain: 1526 ft
- Minimum Elevation: 41 ft
- Maximum Elevation: 800 ft
- Time: 4-6 hour
- Difficulty: (2/5)
- Dog Friendly: No
- Permit Required: No
- Weather: The weather on the Channel Islands is pleasant, but can also be very unpredictable at times. Expect wind and bring layers, as the temperature can change quickly.
- Trail Condition: Well graded single track and wide fire road
- Cell Phone Reception: Little to none
Do you have the appropriate gear for this hike? Don’t hike unprepared!
See my current hiking gear list.
Hike Map And Elevation Profile
0.0 Miles- Starting from Scorpion Bay Anchorage or the Scorpion Ranch campsite, head west and pass through the lower and upper loop camping areas.
At the end of the path on the upper loop camping area, you’ll see a trail sign for Scorpion Canyon Loop Trail. Hike east from here.
The trail begins level, but quickly begins to gain elevation out of Scorpion Canyon. There are a few washed out and rutted areas, but the trail is in great condition otherwise. Even on cool days, you can really feel the heat here, so make sure to have plenty of water with you.
As you continue to gain elevation on the trail, don’t forget to look back. The views of the Pacific Ocean begin to open up around 1.5 miles into this hike. On a clear day, you can see all the way out to the California mainland.
1.8 Miles- You’ll reach a trail junction as the grade begins to flatten out. Take a left at this junction and head east for .4 miles to reach Smuggler’s Rd.
2.2 Miles- You’ll approach a large fire road called Smuggler’s Rd just after the 2-mile mark of this hike. Take a right hand turn and head southeast towards Smuggler’s Cove. The hike from here down to the cove is almost entirely downhill.
4.1 Miles- As you approach Smuggler’s Cove, the red fire road will turn white and you’ll hear the crashing of waves up ahead. We saw a few island foxes in the nearby grove and a seal was playing out in the water. There is a park bench and a few nice places to layout and enjoy the water. Don’t leave your things unattended though, the foxes and ravens are notorious thieves.
Once you’ve enjoyed enough time down at Smuggler’s Cove, you’ll have a nice uphill climb to return back to Scorpion Ranch.
6.3 Miles- You’ll return back to the junction of Smuggler’s Rd and the Scorpion Canyon Loop Trail. Stay right on Smuggler’s Rd to complete this lollipop loop hike.
From this point on you’ll have a downhill hike with some pretty stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. As you approach the end of this loop hike, views of Scorpion Bay Anchorage will come into view. You’ll also see views of Cavern Point, which makes for another great hike.
As you arrive back to Scorpion Ranch, you can take a left on the main road and head back to the campsite, or take a right and head towards the bay and anchorage.
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