• Activities:

    Camping, Photography, Kayaking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Year Round

Family Friendly

This pristine nature reserve is one of So. Cal’s best kept secrets. and is only a one hour boat ride away from Ventura Harbor in Southern California. Enjoy easy hikes with rewarding coastal views and diverse scenery and kayak through the huge, awe-inspiring sea caves alongside the sea lions who make them their home. .

As California’s largest island, Santa Cruz Island of the Channel Islands is the perfect little getaway from Los Angeles. Getting to the island is possible only by a one hour boat ride through Island Packers, click here to find out more about them. Be sure to pack light since you’ll be carrying everything onto the boat and to your campsite on your own. It is also highly recommended to call and reserve a kayak with one of the companies at the harbor prior to your departure date.

Santa Cruz Island offers several campsites depending on the type of excursion you’re looking for. For easy access to both day hikes and kayaking, Scorpion campsite is the best choice for only $15.00 a night, click here for reservations and more. Potable water which is very cold and clean is available at the campsite so there’s no need to bring your own water. No campfires are allowed so bring your own camp stove or plan to bring food that doesn’t require heat.

The most rewarding hikes on the island also happen to be the easiest. Potato Harbor Trail to Potato Harbor Overlook is 4.5 miles roundtrip with very easy terrain and only 600 feet of elevation gain. The well-marked trail starts at Scorpion Campground. Head west and follow the signs towards Potato Harbor. Once you reach the Overlook, take your time to peer over the cliffside and soak in the stunning sight of the crystal clear harbor below. Other worthwhile hikes are Cavern Point and Smuggler’s Cove. Cavern Point is an extremely easy 2 mile loop hike that takes you to the northern-most point on the island featuring sweeping coastal vistas. Smuggler’s Cove is a strenuous 7.5 mile roundtrip out and back hike taking you to the southern side of the island. At the very least, start the trail that begins directly to the east of Scorpion Anchorage to the top of the first hill to enjoy the striking view of Scorpion Rock.

One of the most essential activities on the island is kayaking through the numerous sea caves carved out of the northern face of the island’s cliff sides. Kayak companies on the island offer guided tours or you can venture out and explore the caves on your own. We decided to explore on our own. The diverse caves are very exciting to explore and you’re sure to run into some sea lions along the way. You can dock at one of the private beaches when your arms need a rest to have lunch and enjoy the scenery. To check out the Painted Cave though you will need to take a guided tour. When deciding on the length of your stay, overnight is the better choice since the last boat back to the mainland leaves at 4pm, leaving very little time for hiking and kayaking.

Pack List

  • Camera
  • GoPro
  • Tent
  • Kayak
  • Paddle
  • Life jacket
  • Helmet
  • Hiking shoes
  • Waterproof shoes
  • Sun protection
  • Food
  • Backpack
  • Towel
  • Lanterns and flashlights
  • Canteen
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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Santa Cruz is the first of the Channel Islands I visited, very remote and beautiful. Very different from the landscape you find in California, lush rolling hills. The boat ride was a great experience too, watching dolphins and even a whale playing in front of our boat. I would definitely recommend spending a night here and strolling around on the recommended hikes!

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

If you're visiting SoCal, just skip LA and come here. You pull up to the island feeling like you're visiting Jurassic Park.. Absolutely amazing. At any given point the island has no more than 150 people or so, which isn't much looking at the massive size. Top 5 favorite parks in the US

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

Tiffany Nguyen Storyteller

Email: tiffpenguinphoto@gmail.com

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