Santa Cruz Island Feature Image

The Channel Islands National Park is one of the least visited National Parks due to their remoteness off the southern coast of California. Isolation from the mainland for thousands of years has created unique flora and fauna found nowhere else on Earth. All of these reasons were enough for me to plan a day trip to Channel Islands National Park!

Where is Channel Islands National Park?

The Channel Islands National Park is located about 20 miles off the coast of California. You can access the islands from Ventura & Oxnard port.

Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park consists of 5 Islands- Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara Islands. All of these Islands are protected and preserved without modern amenities.

How to get to the Channel Islands National Park?

Transportation to the Channel Islands is available year-round, but only by ferry (Island Packers) or plane (Channel Islands Aviation ) or by private boat.

I had visited the Santa Cruz islands by Ferry and would highly recommend an Advance planning as the seats on the Ferry are limited. The Ferry ride would take around 1.5 hours to reach and cost around 60$ per head.

Once you get to the island, make sure you know what time the boat is scheduled to leave and how to get back.

Which Island Should I visit?

This is a tough question. The best Channel Island to visit depends on how long you are going to spend and what you want to see or do. If you are only visiting only for a day then I’d recommend visiting Santa Cruz Island or Anacapa Island. Santa Cruz has the best options for day hiking, although Anacapa has a shorter and flat trails with amazing views.

The other three Santa BarbaraSan Miguel, and Santa Rosa Island are equally beautiful.

Ventura port

Our boat was scheduled to depart at 9 AM for Santa Cruz Island from Ventura Port. We arrived early, signed in and used the time to apply sunscreen.

Ventura Harbor with Palm Trees in the background
Waiting for our ferry at Ventura Port

On the way to Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz is the largest island within the National Park and offers the most amount of activities and hiking options. There are two main areas of Santa Cruz Island that are accessible to the public; Scorpion Anchorage & Prisoner’s Harbor.

On the way to Santa Cruz IslandScorpion Anchorage

Within fifteen minutes in to the ride, the skipper slowed down and rotated the boat so that all on board could view the animal. It was a sea lion.

Sea Lion on the red marker

As we continued our trip, a pod of dolphins caught up with our ferry. Dozens of dolphins jumped and played and traveled with us for about five minutes. This was the best sight I have ever seen in my life. While we only paid for a day trip to Santa Cruz Island, we ended up getting a Dolphin watching tour for free!

When we reached the island, we exited the boat via a metal ladder. After crossing the bridge, we were briefed by crew about the history of the island and the trails one can take up. Whence upon, we were on our own. We kept out stuff in the lockers and used the toilets before heading off to hike since they are only found near campgrounds.

Channel Islands National Park

Near the picnic area, we came across our first island fox, an animal unique to the Channel Islands. You can also spot these cat size fox while hiking.

Small fox on Santa Cruz Island,

Cavern Point

  • Distance:  2 miles
  • Difficulty:  Easy – Moderate
  • Tip: To avoid a steep climb, hike clockwise, beginning from campground and looping back to Scorpion Anchorage.

Cavern Point is an extremely easy hike that takes you to the northern-most point on the island. It is probably the most impressive part of the trail to view the coastline stretching out in front of you.

From this part of the trail, you’ll be able to see the picture-perfect (mostly) unspoiled vision of coastal California with sparkling blue and turquoise water.

On the way to Cavern Point
Coves, Santa Cruz Island

There was a slight climb until we got higher up to see the amazing coastal views… A landscape photographer dreams of! You will have sweeping views of the California coastline stretch all the way from Point Concepcion to the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Cavern Point Trail
Coastal Area in the backdrop- Cavern point

Potato Harbor

  • Distance:  4.5 miles
  • Difficulty:  Moderate
  • Elevation gain: 600 feet

From Cavern point, you may also follow the North Bluff Trail west for 2 miles out to Potato Harbor. The trail is relatively dull in the beginning, but you do get some excellent views of the interior portion of the island.

When the trail starts to flatten out, you are about a mile from your destination. 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.

Coastline from Potato Harbor
Potato Harbor
Potato Harbor looks calm and beautiful from the end of the trail.

Scorpion Beach

After spending almost 5 hours on the island, It was time to say goodbye. We started moving towards the Scorpion Pier and on the way, stopped by this amazing beach area. You can spot people Kayaking and snorkeling in and around this area.

Scorpion beach near the Pier

It is advised to reach the Scorpion pier at least 20 before the departure of your ferry. So, plan your hikes accordingly.

Scorpion Pier, Santa Cruz Island
Ferry waiting for us

We boarded our Ferry and started our journey back to the mainland. It was really cold in the evening. So, we got ourselves packed with jackets and caps. To my surprise, even while going back, we spotted the pod of dolphin playing and chasing the ferry.

Venture Marine Park At Eve

Ventura Marina Park is a great place to watch boats cruise out of the harbor.

After getting off the Ferry, we started walking towards the parking area with beautiful memories of the day. Then, we spotted the Ventura beach just across the road and thought of giving it a quick shot. Mark my words, this is an amazing place to watch the sunset.

Ventura Marine Park
People walking on the Ventura beach in the sunset glow


  • Where do I get a map?
    • There are maps for the islands in the Island Packers Office when you check in for the boat. Also, you can print one from here
  • How much does it cost?
    • It costs about $60-$85 for a day trip boat ride (round trip) and $80 for a camping trip boat ride (round trip). The camping sites are around $15 but there is no cost to enter the park.
  • How long is the Ferry ride?
    • The Ferry ride will take 1.5 to 2 hours one way and on the way, you will get to see the Dolphins, sea lion and even Whales if you are lucky.
  • Where can I eat in the park?
    • There are no restaurants and hotels on the islands. So, you must bring your own food and water. Although, you can get limited options of snacks and drinks on the Ferry
  • How to avoid sea sickness ?
    • Sea-Bands and ginger treats, like Gin Gins, work well. Also, be sure to check the weather and bring extra layers because the boat ride can be chilly especially in the off-season.

Final Words

If visiting Channel Islands National Park is not on your bucket list, it should be! Take the time to make your way out to the islands to experience the real magic of this Nowhere else on Earth like place.

Channel Islands National Park is definitely a place I want to spend more time. Next time I will definitely opt to camp on one of the islands so I won’t be so pressed for time and rushing around.

Now it is your turn, what did I leave off this list that you love exploring in Channel Islands National Park? Be sure to leave them in the comments so that others can find them as well.

Also, don’t forget to visit the blog on my entire West coast trip.

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