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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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.
- Distance: 39.4
Location: 34.0414009094238, -119.570930480957
Killer views of the mainland and Anacapa Island
Location: 34.0129508972168, -119.666648864746
Cross a small creek
Location: 34.0299644470215, -119.69896697998
Super-bright giant coreopsis bloom a few hundred yards off-trail
Location: 34.0160980224609, -119.603904724121
Watch for ferrel pigs in this area
Location: 34.0238800048828, -119.584648132324
Veer left off of the ridge
Location: 34.0192260742188, -119.684150695801
Prisoners Harbor pier
Location: 34.0175933837891, -119.683265686035
Pelican Bay trailhead. This is a gorgeous two-mile hike. Permission is required from the Nature Conservancy.
Location: 34.0181312561035, -119.683616638184
Creek-crossing on the way to Pelican Bay.
Location: 34.0177803039551, -119.682373046875
Ankle-deep creek crossing, about 20-feet wide
Location: 34.046443939209, -119.547271728516
Up-close peak at California brown pelicans hanging out on Scorpion Rocks.
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.
Location: 34.0313186645508, -119.582374572754
Excellent view into Smugglers Canyon (southeast) and Scorpion Canyon (northeast)
Location: 34.0258178710938, -119.583686828613
A faint trail heads left, stay right on main trail.
Location: 34.0119590759277, -119.67594909668
Take a right onto the dirt road to finish at Prisoners Harbor
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.
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).
Location: 34.0327415466309, -119.70076751709
Location: 34.0149345397949, -119.603286743164
Optional short side hike on China Pines Road to bald overlook with ocean views.
Location: 34.0473175048828, -119.566291809082
Watch for island fox playing in the dry creekbed on your left.
Location: 34.0129470825195, -119.595367431641
Veer left onto a jeep trail
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.
Location: 34.0247917175293, -119.583435058594
Highest point on the Montanon Ridge Trail
Location: 34.0488700866699, -119.562950134277
Scorpion Ranch Campground. This campsite has good afternoon sun, and is close to water.
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.
Location: 34.0036315917969, -119.656944274902
Turn right here to head to Del Norte Camp
Location: 34.0078430175781, -119.660179138184
Turn left to Del Norte Camp
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.
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.
Location: 34.0313339233398, -119.580360412598
The trail becomes hard to follow. This waypoint marks a reassuring trail sign.
Location: 33.9986534118652, -119.629783630371
Excellent shaded lunch spot
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.