Channel Islands National Park is made up of five islands just off of the California Coast. These islands provide an abundance of recreational opportunities like hiking, camping, kayaking, snorkeling, and more. The islands are highly protected and the National Park Service does a great job of limiting human impact on the land. Due to this protection, you’ll need to plan ahead if you want to enjoy this National Park. In this guide, I’ll provide all of the information you need to go camping and hiking on Santa Cruz Island, the largest island in Channel Islands National Park.
Getting To Santa Cruz Island
If you want to visit Santa Cruz Island you will need to book a boat transfer through Island Packers. The port station for Island Packers is located within Ventura Harbor at 1691 Spinnaker Dr #105B, Ventura, CA 93001. There is a large parking area just outside of Island Packers, but it tends to fill up later in the day. To to optimize your travel, I suggest taking their earliest available boat ride to the island.
The information provided in this guide is for boat landing at Scorpion Anchorage. You can also take a boat to the more remote Del Norte (Prisoner’s Habor) area, but that landing has no water and only a few campsites.
Make sure to plan your trip well ahead of your planned departure dates, as weekend boats can fill up quickly. The boat ride to Santa Cruz Island takes around 60-minutes each way. You can plan a day trip, or book an overnight camping trip. I will provide camping information later in this post.
Adults cost $59 for a day trip or $79 for overnight
Seniors (55+) cost $54 for a day trip or $74 for overnight
Children (3-12) cost $41 for a day trip or $57 for overnight
Infants (0-3) ride for free
When you arrive at the Channel Islands office you will check in at least an hour before your departure to receive your ticket. From there, you can store your bags below deck. Make sure to have your water and gas canisters out of your bags. You will have to store these in a separate area on deck.
If you’re prone to sea sickness, make sure to have your Dramamine ready to go. This boat ride can get choppy. You’ll also want to call Island Packers at (805) 642-1393 prior to your boat ride to ensure your trip has not been cancelled due to rough seas.
The boat ride to Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island is gorgeous and often passes by whales and pods of dolphins. Keep your eyes open and your camera ready.
Once you arrive at Scorpion Anchorage, you will pick up your bags on deck and climb a ladder to meet a National Park ranger. The ranger will first speak to the day trippers and then address the campers and backpackers.
After speaking with the ranger, you will take the walkway past Scorpion Bay and inland towards the Santa Cruz Island Visitor Center. If you’re just planning a day trip, you can skip down to the hiking section of this post. For those looking to camp, continue reading from here.
Camping on Santa Cruz Island
You can choose to visit the island for a day trip, but an overnight camping trip is much nicer in my opinion. To really enjoy the trails and scenery of Santa Cruz Island, a minimum of 24-hours is required. Much like the boat ride, you’ll want to book your campsites for Scorpion Campsite very early early. The Scorpion Canyon campsite has 25 individual sites that allow up to 6 people to camp. There are also 6 group sites that allow up to 15 people. Each site has a picnic table and bear box. Sites share access to pit toilets and water spigots. The campsites are shaded and fairly close together.
Check-in for the campsites is 11:00 AM. If you arrive before this time, check your campsite to see if it is free. If it is not, you can place your bags in a bear box and come back at a later time.
Santa Cruz Island was inhabited by Native Americans for 10,000 and recently inhabited by European settlers for 150 years. The flora and fauna of Santa Cruz is amazing. There are over 600 plant species on the island, 140 birds, and 11 land mammals. The most famous is the island fox! I heard numerous stories of these crafty little foxes before I first traveled to Santa Cruz. I figured I might see one or two…I ended up seeing more like 30-40! These foxes are everywhere and have no hesitations about taking whatever you don’t have secured away.
Hiking on Santa Cruz Island
So once you’ve taken a boat to Santa Cruz Island and pitched a tent at your campsite, it’s time to explore the island on some amazing hikes! There are three main hikes from Scorpion Anchorage that I found to be really amazing. Make sure to see the full in-depth guides for each hike. I will provide links to the guides as well as hike highlights below.
Scorpion Bay to Cavern Point Hike (Full Hiking Guide)
The first hike I recommend for visitors to Santa Cruz Island is a loop around Scorpion Bay and Cavern Point. This 2-mile hike gains a modest 361ft of elevation to provide spectacular views of Scorpion Bay, Cavern Point, and the Pacific Ocean.
Smuggler’s Cove Loop Hike (Full Hiking Guide)
If you have enough time, and you’re feeling a little more ambitious, I recommend the 8-mile hike out to Smuggler’s Cove. This hike gains 1500ft of elevation and takes hikers to a beautiful and secluded beach.
El Montañon Peak Hike (Full Hiking Guide)
The final hike on Santa Cruz Island that I would recommend is a jaunt up to the 1808ft summit of El Montañon Peak. This isn’t the highest peak on Santa Cruz, that honor goes to 2434ft Devil’s Peak on the western side of the island. El Montañon is the highest accessible peak to the general public though, as the western side of the island is a restricted Nature Conservancy area. If you’re looking for a tough 8-mile hike and want to bag a peak in the process, this is the hike for you.
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6 thoughts on “A Guide To Hiking Santa Cruz Island: Channel Islands National Park”
Great guide. Your photos are great and really make we want to visit (especially seeing the dolphins)!
Thanks, Caroline! It’s a special place for sure. We always forget that we have these great island locations just off of the SoCal coast.
Do you know if dogs are allowed on the island/in the shuttle boat?
No dogs are allowed. This is done to protect the island fox and other island wildlife.
Thank you for the wonderful information on Santa Cruz . I have been to Anacapa but now want to explore SC. I got disoriented on your map with direction and distance. Is all starting points from camp ground? How long will I have to stay on island to do all 3 hikes? Is the fox the dominant predator on the island? I have hiked half dome and Havapui falls – what other hikes would you recommend on west coast for pure beauty and nature? Vic
I hope to visit Anacapa soon. Most of these hikes started from the campground. I just spent one night on the island and did all of these hikes in two days. It depends on how fast you hike and how much you enjoy hiking 🙂
There are too many nice hikes on the west coast for me to only recommend a few. It really depends on what you like. With mountains, deserts, and beaches, we have no shortage of variety.