Things To Do: Santa Cruz Island

©Tim Hauf,

Santa Cruz Island is the perfect place for a one-day trip and short or long overnight camping trips. This is the easiest island to get to, has the best weather, and offers the most recreational activities. As with all the Channel Islands, visiting Santa Cruz Island is an exercise in preparation and self-reliance. Since there are no services on the islands, there are no remedies for poor planning once you have arrived.

Boat Transportation
Island Packers offers trips year round. Travel time is one hour. Trips are either to Scorpion Anchorage or Prisoners Harbor. Landing is via a pier at both locations. More...

Goods and Services
Channel Islands Adventure Company, the authorized kayak guide and outfitting concession in the Scorpion Anchorage area, operates guided sea kayak tours (there are NO kayak rentals on the island), limited convenience item sales (no food items), snorkel equipment rentals, and guided snorkel tours at Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island only. There are no other goods, services, or accommodations (lodging) available on the island. Visitors must bring all their own food and supplies. Public phones are not available.

There is water available at Scorpion Anchorage. However, there is no water at Prisoners Harbor so visitors must bring all their water with them.

At Scorpion Anchorage, picnic tables are available at the beach and near the ranch area. At Prisoners Harbor, tables are located near the beach.

Visitor Center
A visitor center is located in the historic Scorpion ranch house. There are no other visitor centers on the island. The visitor center includes an orientation area that helps visitors plan a safe trip on the island and a variety of interactive exhibits that describe the island's tremendous biodiversity, rich cultural history, and current resource issues.

Interpretive Programs
On days that the concessionaire boats run to Scorpion Anchorage and Prisoners Harbor, guided hikes may be offered by national park volunteers or concessionaire naturalists. If they are not available to lead hikes, self-guided interpretive trail booklets are available. Hikes generally begin 30 minutes after the Island Packers boats arrive on the island. More...

Several trails and roads traverse eastern Santa Cruz Island, providing visitors with spectacular hiking opportunities. These trails and roads range from the maintained, relatively flat, signed trails of Scorpion Valley to the unmaintained, rugged, mountainous paths of the Montañon area. While visitors may explore the national park property on Santa Cruz Island, no hiking is allowed beyond the national park boundary onto The Nature Conservancy property. The boundary is the property line (marked by a fence line) between Prisoners Harbor and Valley Anchorage. More...

Primitive camping is available at the Scorpion Canyon Campground (31 sites; $15 per night per site; reservations required). Water, picnic table, food storage box, and pit toilet are provided. Shade is available. Distance from landing is a flat one-half mile. This is the most family friendly campground on the islands. Backcountry camping is available year round at the Del Norte campsite near Prisoners Harbor. This is currently the only backcountry campground on the island..More...

The mixed sand and cobblestone Scorpion Beach is a world-class destination for swimming, diving, snorkeling, and kayaking because of easy beach access, clear ocean waters, nearby camping, year-round Island Packers boat transportation, extensive kelp forests, and a spectacular shoreline with sea caves to explore. However, there are no lifeguards on the island. For snorkeling and diving, the easiest kelp beds to access are the ones near the pier and those to the eastern end of of the bay. Beach access is also available at Prisoners Harbor and by hiking over to Smugglers Cove, but the snorkeling is not as good at these locations. Kayaking east towards Scorpion Rock or west towards Cavern Point provides great wildlife viewing and sea caves. Kayaking from Prisoners Harbor is also very scenic.

For the authorized kayak guide and outfitting concession in the Scorpion Anchorage area on Santa Cruz Island visit: Channel Islands Adventure Company. For kayak guide and outfitting services in other areas of Santa Cruz Island (excluding Scorpion area), visit the Visitor Services List.

Several locations on Santa Cruz Island offer good surfing. Generally, the north shore is best during the northwest swells of winter/spring and the south shore is best during the south swells of summer/fall. However, all surf spots are remote and are best accessed by private boat due to the island's rugged terrain and the hiking distance from the designated landing areas.More...

No fishing is allowed at Scorpion Anchorage since it is within a marine reserve. Fishing is allowed on Santa Cruz Island outside of the marine reserves. Possession of a valid California state fishing license with an ocean enhancement stamp is required and all California Department of Fish and Game regulations apply.More...

Wildlife/Wildflower Viewing
A variety of seabirds can be seen throughout the year (especially around Scorpion Rock), but most birders go to the island to see the endemic island scrub-jay-only found on Santa Cruz Island and no other place in the world. Best viewing is at Prisoners Harbor, but they are also spotted around the Scorpion area as well. Island foxes are often seen around the ranch and campground at Scorpion Anchorage. Remember that it is illegal to directly or indirectly feed animals in the park. During a normal year of rainfall, wildflowers are best viewed in late winter and spring. In addition, some plants like gumplant, buckwheat, poppies, and verbena continue to bloom during the summer. Tidepooling at Scorpion Anchorage and Prisoners Harbor is limited. Better tidepools can be found at Smugglers Cove.More...

Last updated: September 20, 2022

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