Channel Islands National Park

A cool experience with 6 to 10 mile hikes
Driving to and sleeping at a campground
Ideal for first-timers
Perfect for families with young kiddos

Sea cave kayaking at Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park

Sea cave kayaking at Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park

Sea cave kayaking at Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park

Sea cave kayaking at Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park

Sea cave kayaking at Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park

Designed by Yvonne Leow

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Last updated
March 8, 2022

Trip · 3-day camping trip

For · Friends and new campers

Vibe · Moderate and fun

Reservations · Yes, reserve a site at Scorpion Campground and book a ferry ride

Drive · 1 hour drive and 1 hour ferry ride from LA

Ideal dates · June to October

Pets · Not allowed on the Channel Islands

Channel Islands National Park (CINP) has five spectacular islands: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara. Visiting involves some ferry logistics, but don't let that deter you from having a once-in-a-lifetime California adventure. Kayak inside sea caves, watch a sweeping ocean sunset, and spot the infamous Channel Island fox in the wild.

Current Island Conditions

Official National Park Website

Directions To Ventura Harbor

Main image credit: Recreation.gov

Stuff to know

  • Buy an $84 round-trip ferry ticket via Island Packers Cruises, but time the arrival and departure dates with your camping reservation.
  • Reserve a sea cave kayaking tour through Santa Barbara Adventure Company before your trip.
  • Campfires or charcoal fires aren't allowed on Santa Cruz Island so bring a gas camp stove.
  • CINP doesn't have a park entrance fee!
  • The park does have deer mice though, which may carry hantavirus. The mice are actually kind of cute, but try not to accidentally feed them. Bring a rodent-proof container, like an Ursack, to store your food.
  • This is a "primitive" and rather remote camping trip so bring all the food and equipment you're going to need. There aren't any grocery stores on the island.
  • Weather can turn quick so pack warm layers!

Resources

Check the weather
Santa Cruz Island

Where to camp

Scorpion Canyon Campground

Each campsite comes with a:

  • Picnic table
  • Food storage locker (to help protect your food from island foxes!)
  • Space for six people and three tents
  • Shared toilets (on site)
  • Drinking water (on site)
  • No trash cans, so pack out whatever you pack in!

There are 25 campsites and 6 group campsites (for up to 15 people) at Scorpion Canyon. From Scorpion Anchorage, it's a flat 0.5 mile hike to reach the campground. AdorableChannel Islands foxes like to show up around camp, but please don't feed them! There are restrooms and drinking water at camp, but no sinks. Bring your own H20 for washing dishes and filling up water bottles. Campfires aren't allowed (cuz' who wants to start a wildfire on an island?), but that's a reason to enjoy the serenity and starry skies of island life.

Nightly rate: $40

Scorpion Canyon Campground
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Itinerary

Day One

Island Packers Ferry Boat
Island Packers Ferry. Credit: Doug Mangum

Drive to Island Packers Cruises in Ventura Harbor

  • Located at 1691 Spinnaker Drive #105B in Ventura
  • Free overnight parking is included with your ferry reservation
  • Protip: Book an afternoon ferry to dodge the day visitors taking the morning ferries!

Watch out for dolphins and whales during the ferry ride

  • It's about an hour-long ferry ride to Santa Cruz Island
  • Keep your eyes peeled for humpback, grey, or even blue whales!

Trek to Scorpion Canyon Campground and set up camp

  • It's an easy 0.5 mile hike from the harbor
  • Prep dinner and explore the campground

Sunset hike to Potato Harbor

  • This is a 3.2 mile out and back trail with 300 feet of elevation
  • Bring a daypack with a jacket, camp chair, and your headlamp
Sunset at Channel Islands National Park
Sunset at Channel Islands National Park. Credit: Anuja Shukla

Return to camp

  • Spend the rest of the night stargazing and swapping stories
CINP features five islands, but there are actually eight channel islands off the coast of California. Santa Cruz Island is the largest of them all.

Day Two

Sunrise at Santa Cruz Island
Sunrise at Santa Cruz Island. Credit: Yvonne Leow

Sunrise hike to Cavern Point

  • It's about a 1.7 mile out and back hike from camp to Cavern Point Overlook to watch the sunrise

Cook up brekkie and coffee

Hike to Smuggler's Cove

  • It's an 8.2 mile out and back trail with 1,447 feet of elevation gain
  • Pack a daypack with snacks, lunch to-go, a jacket, plenty of water (at least 2 liters per person), sunscreen, water shoes, swimsuit, and towel for the trek. There's no shade along the trail and very little shade at the beach so bring your sun gear!
  • Enjoy lunch, swim in the ocean, and chill by the beach.
  • If you're feeling ambitious, hike 0.4 miles round-trip to Smuggler's Ranch House from Smuggler's Cove
  • There's a steep climb back to camp so save your energy!

Return to Scorpion Anchorage and go snorkeling

  • You can rent snorkeling gear from Santa Barbara Adventure Company for $28/day, or bring your own!

Head back to camp, clean up, and prep dinner

  • Chill and recuperate from the day
  • Enjoy dinner and games at camp
  • Spend the rest of the evening relaxing, and unwinding
For thousands of years, the northern Channel Islands were home to native Chumash communities.

Day Three

Santa Barbara Adventure Company's sea cave kayaking tour
Santa Barbara Adventure Company's sea cave kayaking tour. Credit: Wen Wang

Prep brekkie and clean up around camp

  • Take down your tent, check for litter and pack a lunch to-go

Hike back to Scorpion Anchorage and go on a sea cave kayaking tour

  • Explore the island's beautiful sea caves with the Santa Barbara Adventure Company. CIMP's caves were shaped more than 20 million years ago and Cavern Point Cave, one of the highlights, is 200+ feet deep. This three-hour morning tour costs $161 per person.
  • Pack water, snacks, and a dry bag for your phone if you want to take pictures during the kayaking ride. You're definitely going to get wet!

Enjoy a quick lunch before catching the afternoon ferry back to Ventura

  • It never hurts to be early when you're trying to catch a ferry :)

Head home

The Channel Island fox lives on six out of eight Channel Islands, and can't be found anywhere else on Earth! They're the largest of the park's native mammals, but one of the smallest canid species in the world. Adorbz.

Packing List

Essential Items
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Clothing
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Personal Stuff
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Camp Kitchen
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Shared Gear
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