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One Ideal Day on Santa Cruz Island

Ventura, California



6 miles

Route Type



Added by Leigh Maneri

Meander through a canyon teeming with wildlife, traverse bright green rolling hills and loop back along the astounding cliffs of east Santa Cruz Island—the perfect day trip itinerary to experience Channel Islands National Park in just six hours.


Santa Cruz will steal your heart before you even arrive. The journey begins at the Island Packers dock (1691 Spinnaker Dr #105B, Ventura CA), a little over one hour from Los Angeles, making this arguably the closest National Park to the city. Adult tickets are $59 for a day trip and $79 for overnight round trip and boats depart seven days a week April through October and Tuesday, Friday Saturday and Sunday in the winter. Reserve a trip or show up 30 minutes to an hour before the boats depart to check availability for the 9am or 10am to Scorpion Anchorage. We had no issues showing up and buying tickets on a Sunday morning in winter.

Getting to Santa Cruz

The trip across the Santa Barbara Channel is one hour long. Stand at the front of the boat. It's here where you're likely to get a spectacular look at dolphins as they swim up and race you and where you can keep a close eye on the horizon, which helps to prevent sea sickness (think of it like being the driver in a car vs. a passenger with wandering or occupied eyes). Arriving at the island, you'll walk across a metal platform and find yourself on a small beach with kayaks for rent. 

On the Trail

Take the Scorpion Canyon Trail straight into the canyon where you'll pass the bathrooms, visitors center and a flat sizable campground. Keep an eye out for foraging Island Foxes, a species unique to the Channel Islands with a distinct subspecies for each of the six islands they occupy. Veer off down into a water bed and do some climbing up stream before returning to the trail and turning around—just before the trail hooks left up a hill. Instead of heading all the way back to shore, turn left just before the campsites, onto Potato Harbor Road. This climb offers premium views of the rolling green hills and eventually meets up with the North Bluff Trail.

Coming up over the rolling hills, you're but a few minutes from Potato Harbor. With its Big Sur-like cliffs and white beaches outlining turquoise blue water, this is a great place to grab a snack or sit and eat your lunch amongst raw, chaotic beauty. Head back along the coast and scan the water for whale tails. Eventually you'll come to Cavern Point which offers an awe-inspiring lookout of the caverns far below. Despite the more volcanic-looking earth beneath your soles, your back is still turned to rolling green hills and patches of happy yellow wild flowers.

Before you know it, you'll be heading back down hill and arriving at Scorpion anchorage just in time for the 4pm boat back to the mainland.

When to Visit

One of a handful of National Parks that offers decent weather year-round, Santa Cruz has unique offerings that change by the season. Here are a few of the highlights to help you decide when to visit.

  • Winter - Migrating Gray Whales can be seen from Cavern Point.
  • Spring - Wildflowers are abundant and the plains are a beautiful bright green.
  • Summer - Consistent weather makes snorkeling a no-brainer and both Blue and Humpback Whales can be seen in the channel.
  • Fall - Water temperatures are still ideal for snorkeling, kayaking and swimming.
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Leave No Trace

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