Day trip to Santa Cruz Island in Channel Island National Park is the highlight of my Socal trip in early May 2021.

about Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island is the largest island out of 8 islands in the Channel Islands archipelago and Channel Islands National Park. It is home to some endemic specials of animals and plants, including the Santa Cruz Island fox and scrub-jay.

Channel Island National Park includes five islands: San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa BarbaraThey are located off the southwestern coast of Ventura, California, and the most common way to access the islands is via park concessionaire boats (or planes).

National Park Service owns and operates 24% of Santa Cruz Island, and the rest is managed by Santa Cruz Island Reserve.

Since this is my first time visiting Channel Islands National Park, I only get to explore the Eastern side of Santa Cruz, the largest and most easily accessible island. It’s perfect as a day trip or a long overnight camping trip.

How to Plan for a Day Trip to Eastern Santa Cruz

1. Always check for current conditions, park closure, and any alerts and cautions: HERE

2. Entrance Fees: free

3. Plan ahead and book your transportation and campsites in advance

East: Scorpion Anchorage 

West: Prisoners Harbor


ISLAND PACKERS services year-round with variable schedules 5-7 days a week. Travel time from Ventura Harbor is 1 hour. I did the Eastern Santa Cruz, so I booked the boat ride to Scorpion Anchorage. My advice is to book in advance and pick the earliest departure time (8 or 83:30 am) to maximize your day.

  • Address: Island Packers 1691 Spinnaker Dr., Ventura, CA 93001

  • (805) 642-1393

  • View schedule and reserve a trip HERE

There are also planes (Channel Islands Aviation) or private boats available.

4. Service is limited including food, drink, cell, and emergency services. YOU must bring all food, drink, and supplies

Things to Do on Eastern Santa Cruz Island

HIKING: There are several trails and roads on eastern Santa Cruz Island that range from easy to strenuous. I did Smuggler’s Cove and part of Potato Harbor.

From Scorpion Beach, Smuggler’s Cove is 7.5 mi round trip, and it’s rated as strenuous. And Potato Harbor is 5 mi roundtrip and rated as moderate. More hiking recommendations: HERE.

PICNICKING: Potable water is available at the Scorpion Canyon Campground, and public toilets are available on all islands.

At Scorpion Anchorage (east side of Santa Cruz) picnic tables are available at the beach and near the ranch area. At Prisoners Harbor, tables are located near the beach.

WILDLIFE VIEWING: During a normal year of rainfall, wildflowers are best viewed in late winter and spring. I was there in early May, and the entire east side of the island was painted in yellow by the blooming mustard plants. So pretty!

KAYAKING & SNORKELING: Channel Islands Adventure Company is the authorized kayak guide and outfitting concession in the Scorpion Anchorage area, operates guided sea kayak tours, limited convenience item sales (no food items), snorkel equipment rentals, and guided snorkel tours at Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island only.

CAMPING: Camping is available year-round on all five islands in Channel Islands National Park in National Park Service-managed campgrounds. No camping is allowed on The Nature Conservancy’s western 76 percent of Santa Cruz Island.

Limited backcountry camping is available on Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands. Read HERE.

What to Wear

Weather conditions can change rapidly, so it is best to dress in layers. Bring a jacket or a sweater even in the summer months because it can get windy and cold, especially during the boat rides.

I’d highly recommend hiking boots because of the loose rocks and dirt. I wore my Keen open-toe sandals and did struggle in some areas. Shorts and tank tops are fine in warmer months. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen and pack along an extra shirt or socks to change out. I did pack a few activewear pieces and changed them out at the ranch.

What to Bring

I did pack along a small loaf of bread and ingredients to make sandwiches, some snacks, and a total of 6 water bottles. However, it was quite cool and chilly that day, so the two of us ended up drinking only 3 bottles of water.


  • Stay on trail

  • Do not feed wild animals and watch them from a safe distance

  • No pests

  • No firearms

  • Be aware of boat departure times (Arrive 30 – 45 minutes before the scheduled time)

I hope that this blog post is helpful and comment with any questions you might have. My favorite part is definitely getting to see the dolphins and the whales in person and up closed. I love the remoteness and the untouched nature aspect here. I had a great time! 

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