Central Coast Hikes Kid Friendly Hikes National Parks

Hiking To Smuggler’s Cove – Santa Cruz Island

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 gain, 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 loop route through Scorpion Canyon.

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.

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island


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

Hike Profile

  • 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

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island


Hike Description:

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.

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island
Stay left after passing the lower loop

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.

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island

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.

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island

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.

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island

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.

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island
Take a left at this junction

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island

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.

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island

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.

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island

Once you’ve enjoyed enough time down at Smuggler’s Cove, you’ll have a nice uphill climb to return back to Scorpion Ranch.

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island

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.

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island
Stay right at this junction

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.

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island

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.

Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island


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Hiking To Smuggler's Cove Loop – Santa Cruz Island

I'm Drew, creator of Trail to Peak. Trail to Peak brings content to life on the web through breath-taking photography and captivating video. I launched Trail to Peak in 2014 with a goal to inspire readers to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. I have traveled to 19 countries, walked Camino de Santiago, hiked the John Muir Trail, trekked through the Andes of Peru, and am constantly seeking new adventures in my home state of California. Joining me on my weekly adventures is my partner, Julia, our son, Owen, and our two goldendoodles, Isla and Lilly.

6 comments on “Hiking To Smuggler’s Cove – Santa Cruz Island

  1. Very nice Drew!

  2. Thanks for the detailed description Drew 🙂

  3. So sweet

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