Channel Islands National Park: Santa Cruz Island

Ecological balance--and dozens of sweet places to hike, paddle, and camp--have been restored at California's Channel Islands.
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Ecological balance--and dozens of sweet places to hike, paddle, and camp--have been restored at California's Channel Islands.

In the June 2008 issue, Backpacker editor Shannon Davis explores the restored beaches, backcountry, and shorelines of Santa Cruz Island. Check out the details of his route here, and read more in our June 2008 issue.
Season: You'll have Santa Cruz Island to yourself (and soak up the fairest weather) from October to April.
Outfitter: Aquasports leads guided paddling trips through the island's hidden sea caves (www.islandkayaking.com).
Camping: Campsites ($15/night) are open year-round on all five islands in Channel Islands National Park. Check availability at reserveamerica.com.

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 39.4

Waypoints

WPT008

Location: 34.0414009094238, -119.570930480957

Killer views of the mainland and Anacapa Island

WPT024

Location: 34.0129508972168, -119.666648864746

Cross a small creek

WPT029

Location: 34.0299644470215, -119.69896697998

Super-bright giant coreopsis bloom a few hundred yards off-trail

WPT018

Location: 34.0160980224609, -119.603904724121

Watch for ferrel pigs in this area

WPT014

Location: 34.0238800048828, -119.584648132324

Veer left off of the ridge

WPT027

Location: 34.0192260742188, -119.684150695801

Prisoners Harbor pier

WPT031

Location: 34.0175933837891, -119.683265686035

Pelican Bay trailhead. This is a gorgeous two-mile hike. Permission is required from the Nature Conservancy.

WPT028

Location: 34.0181312561035, -119.683616638184

Creek-crossing on the way to Pelican Bay.

WPT026

Location: 34.0177803039551, -119.682373046875

Ankle-deep creek crossing, about 20-feet wide

WPT002

Location: 34.046443939209, -119.547271728516

Up-close peak at California brown pelicans hanging out on Scorpion Rocks.

WPT003

Location: 34.0534858703613, -119.558853149414

Scan the craggy coast here for a view of a sea arch dubbed "Marge Simpson" -- its silhouette looks like famous cartoon character.

Heading west, continue about a mile to Cavern Point Cave, a 300-foot deep sea cave. Keep an eye out for harbor seals, and be careful: This cave gets scary in rogue water.

WPT011

Location: 34.0313186645508, -119.582374572754

Excellent view into Smugglers Canyon (southeast) and Scorpion Canyon (northeast)

WPT012

Location: 34.0258178710938, -119.583686828613

A faint trail heads left, stay right on main trail.

WPT025

Location: 34.0119590759277, -119.67594909668

Take a right onto the dirt road to finish at Prisoners Harbor

WPT005

Location: 34.0487899780273, -119.562530517578

Head west from the Campground on the Scorpion Canyon Trail. At this point the trail junctions with Potato Harbor Trail. Continue straight on the SCT.

WPT022

Location: 34.0108337402344, -119.660636901855

Camp Del Norte: The best campsite is the first one on the left (shade in the afternoon and great sunset view).

WPT030

Location: 34.0327415466309, -119.70076751709

Pelican Bay

WPT017

Location: 34.0149345397949, -119.603286743164

Optional short side hike on China Pines Road to bald overlook with ocean views.

WPT006

Location: 34.0473175048828, -119.566291809082

Watch for island fox playing in the dry creekbed on your left.

WPT015

Location: 34.0129470825195, -119.595367431641

Veer left onto a jeep trail

WPT023

Location: 34.012378692627, -119.65958404541

Turn left a short way from camp to head to Prisoner's Harbor. A right turn loops you back toward Scorpion Harbor.

WPT013

Location: 34.0247917175293, -119.583435058594

Highest point on the Montanon Ridge Trail

WPT004

Location: 34.0488700866699, -119.562950134277

Scorpion Ranch Campground. This campsite has good afternoon sun, and is close to water.

WPT007

Location: 34.0411415100098, -119.574256896973

Make a hard left, still on Scorpion Canyon Trail, and begin climbing out of the canyon along an occasionally slick, clay trail.

WPT020

Location: 34.0036315917969, -119.656944274902

Turn right here to head to Del Norte Camp

WPT021

Location: 34.0078430175781, -119.660179138184

Turn left to Del Norte Camp

WPT009

Location: 34.0350646972656, -119.566551208496

Scorpion Canyon Trail ends here, and links to Montanon Ridge Trail (west) and an old ranch road (east) that leads to Cypress Grove or Olive Grove. Take Montanon and begin a gradual climb as the grass gives way to barren red rock.

WPT016

Location: 34.0124244689941, -119.59593963623

Junction. La Paloma Trail goes left. Stay straight, and head to Campo Del Norte and Prisoner's Harbor. A junction with Loma Pelona Road (on your left) follows shortly after. Stay on your trail.

There is a tricky trail junction here. Watch on your right for Del Norte Trail (it's often overgrown and hard if not impossible to find). See it? Take it for a short-cut to Del Norte Camp. If you miss it, you'll end up on East End Road.

WPT010

Location: 34.0313339233398, -119.580360412598

The trail becomes hard to follow. This waypoint marks a reassuring trail sign.

WPT019

Location: 33.9986534118652, -119.629783630371

Excellent shaded lunch spot

WPT001

Location: 34.0485572814941, -119.556182861328

After docking at Scorpion Anchorage, hike to the trailhead sign. Head down the dirt road to the campground, or turn to your left to walk to Aquasports' kayak storage area, where you'll gear up to kayak the island's north coast.