Backpack to Del Norte Campground on Santa Cruz Island

Los Angeles Island Packers Cruises

Added by Henry Kittredge

Experience Santa Cruz Island away from the crowds of day travelers and kayakers. Hike through remote mountain ranges, deep canyons, and rugged coastlines. 

Del Norte Backcountry Campground is located on Santa Cruz Island, one of the islands that makes up Channel Islands National Park. It is California's largest island and is almost three times the size of Manhattan. 

The easiest way to get to the island is to take Island Packers, a ferry service that has been serving the islands for over 40 years. They run trips to and from Santa Cruz daily. Tickets run $79 round trip. 

Before booking your trip make sure to reserve a spot at the campsite by calling (877) 444-6777 or going to Recreation.gov

Take an early morning boat from Ventura to Prisoners Harbor. Prisoners is the second stop Island Packers makes after Scorpion Anchorage, a popular stop for kayakers and day hikers. The boat should arrive at Prisoners Harbor around noon depending on the amount of people and gear they need to unload at each stop. Island Packers asks that you remove your compressed gas and water from your pack before the trip. They keep it up on deck for safety reasons. There is no water at Prisoners Harbor or at the campsite so make sure to bring a sufficient amount for your weekend trip. It is also smart to keep an eye on it to make sure it isn't accidentally unloaded at Scorpion. You don't want to arrive at Prisoners just to realize you need to hike 12 miles back to Scorpion to retrieve it.

Once you have arrived and your gear is unloaded, Island Packers will give you a short briefing about the island. There can be anywhere from 200-300 people camping at Scorpion Anchorage any given weekend, but only up to 16 people can camp at Del Norte campground so you will most likely have the area to yourself. There is no NPS ranger on the Prisoners side of the island and there is only spotty cell service, so in case of an emergency hike up to the Navy Base. There is always someone stationed there. 

After orientation, follow the Navy Road out of Prisoners Harbor. This is a strenuous hike up a 1.5 mile dirt road and you will climb about 600 ft. in elevation. Eventually, you will hit the signed turn-off for Del Norte Trail. Continue along Del Norte Trail for 1.8 miles. The trail is very well maintained and it weaves between several canyons. Keep an eye out for yellow jackets as you go. They are prevalent, and you don't want to accidentally step on one. It is best to check the Island Packers website before you leave for an update on the current conditions of the island. After a while, you will hit another sign directing you up to the campground. It is another 0.2 miles to Del Norte campground.

At the campground there are four sites that can accommodate 4 people per site. Each site has a gravel tent platform, picnic table, and bear box. There is also one pit toilet up the road. Make sure to keep all of your food and water in the bear box at all times. The endemic island foxes are not afraid of people and will quickly steal things while you aren’t looking. This goes for your backpack and other belongings as well. Keep everything in your tent and have it zipped up tight. When I first arrived, a fox almost ran away with my camera. The yellow jackets can also swarm your food and trash so keep it all in the bear box.

There are a number of hikes accessible from Del Norte campsite including Chinese Harbor, China Pines, and the Navy Base. All are terrific hikes and virtually no one will be on the trail. The solitude is incredible. 

The following day, you can either hike back the way you came in or take the longer 5 mile route. For the longer route, head up Del Norte road for 1 mile until it connects with the Navy Base road. Take a right at the junction and it is another 4 miles down to Prisoners Harbor. This route provides views of the south side of the island. Make sure you arrive back at Prisoners Harbor at least 1 hour before your scheduled time of departure. You don't want to be left behind.

Pack List

  • Backpack
  • Tent with rainfly
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Stove + fuel (fires are prohibited)
  • Food
  • Water (no water on this side of the island)
  • Hiking boots
  • Headlamp
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • First aid kit (closest person on island is at the Navy Base)
  • Map
  • Toilet paper
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Activities:

Backpacking, Camping, Hiking

Skill Level:

Intermediate

Season:

Year Round

Trail Type:

Out-and-Back

Distance:

7 Miles

Elev. Gain:

700 Feet

Rating:

Features:

Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife

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How to Get There

3 months ago

Best Weekend So Far

One of my favorite weekends in Southern California was spent here

3 months ago

Added by Henry Kittredge

Grew up in Austin TX and living in Los Angeles. I drove 1500 miles out to LA and never stopped driving. This is where I plan and record what I do.

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