Posted by: James Wapotich | February 18, 2011

Trail Quest: Santa Cruz Island

If you haven’t been to the Channel Islands, you may want to add it to your list of New Year’s resolutions. Because of their relative isolation from the mainland, they represent a unique world unto themselves with over a hundred and forty plants and animals found nowhere else. Of these eight islands, the largest is Santa Cruz Island, which offers year round opportunities for hiking and exploring.

Santa Cruz Island Scorpion Anchorage Hike Channel Islands National Park

Anacapa Island from the Cavern Point Trail

A great introductory hike on Santa Cruz is along the Cavern Point and North Bluff trails. This hike is about 5 miles round trip and can easily be done as part of a day trip, and because there is so much to see and explore on the island you may want to consider camping there as well. 

There are several ways to get to Eastern Santa Cruz Island. Probably the easiest is with Island Packers out of Ventura as they offer regularly scheduled boat trips to all five of the islands within the Channel Islands National Park. The boat ride to Scorpion Anchorage is about an hour and often includes whale and dolphin sightings along the way.

From landing dock at Scorpion Anchorage, continue inland to the old Ranch House, which is now the Visitors’ Center. The Cavern Point Loop trail begins just between the Visitors’ Center and the old Blacksmith’s Shop.

Santa Cruz Island Channel Island National Park Scorpion Canyon

Scorpion Canyon from the Cavern Point Trail

The trail climbs away from the valley and then levels out. From the trail there are some great views of Scorpion Anchorage, Anacapa Island and on a clear day the California coast. At the 1-mile mark the trail branches with the Cavern Point Trail retuning to the valley and back to the harbor through the lower campground for a quick 2-mile hike. From here the North Bluff trail continues on to Potato Harbor, so named because of its shape.
Santa Cruz Island Channel Island National Park Cavern Point Trail Potato Harbor

Potato Harbor

At the 1.75-mile mark, the access road that leads to the upper campground joins up with the trail; from here it’s another .75 miles to Potato Harbor. The access road makes for a nice alternate route as on the way back as it passes through the upper and lower campgrounds. Water is available for all visitors at both campgrounds.

Back at the harbor you may want to stop at the Visitors’ Center, which includes information on both the ranch history of Santa Cruz and the Island Chumash heritage. Regardless of how far you hike, you’ll have the opportunity to visit one of the treasures along our California coast and if you’re lucky you may even get to see one of the Santa Cruz Island foxes.

Santa Cruz Island Fox Channel Island National Park Scorpion Anchorage

Santa Cruz Island Fox

This article originally appeared in section A of the February 18th, 2011, edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press

Addenda: My first day on Santa Cruz Island, after setting up camp, I hiked back down to Scorpion Anchorage to catch the Cavern Point Trail, just before I arrived at the Ranch House I spotted a Santa Cruz Island Fox and ended up following him for about 20 minutes as visited every single picnic table between the Ranch House and the pier. It was especially entertaining to watch him inspect the gear that someone has stowed near the landing.

Santa Cruz Island Fox Channel Islands National Park Scorpion Anchorage

Inspecting your gear

Santa Cruz Island Fox Channel Islands National Park Scorpion Anchorage

Anything for me?

From there, I hiked the Cavern Point trail as described to Potato Harbor. Just short of Potato Harbor the trail branches with the trail to the left curving back towards Scorpion Anchorage. The trail continues and then begins to climb the hill towards the interior of Santa Cruz Island. On my National Geographic map the trail is shown as continuing for another mile. At the half way mark it joins up with a ridge, it was at this point that I began to wonder if there wasn’t maybe a path that followed the ridge and somehow looped back around and connect up to the Montanon Trail and so I started to trace out a route on the map that such a trail might take.

Sure enough when I arrived at the “end of the trail” I could see that the trail did continue up the ridge just as I had imagined. It was at this point that I knew I would be hiking back to camp in the dark. Since I now knew that some kind of trail could be found and lead me eventually back to camp, it was inevitable that I would hike it even though I had gotten a late start. And so laughing at my own obsessive tendencies I followed the trail as it climbed and followed the ridgeline. The trail was in good shape, narrow in places but “readable”. About a mile later I arrived at the summit, along the way I was treated to some spectacular views of the island. A half mile past summit I reached the Montanon Trail just in time to see the sunset.

Santa Cruz Island Channel Islands National Park Montanon Trail Sunset Anacapa

Anacapa Island at Sunset from the Montanon Trail

It had been a good day on the trails and I was content to hike the last 2 miles in the dark having hiked the Montanon Trail 4 years earlier on a backpacking trip from Prisoner’s Harbor.This hike from Scorpion Anchorage along the Cavern Point Trail past Potato Harbor to the Montanon Trail and back through Scorpion Canyon is about 9 miles.
Santa Cruz Island Fox Channel Island National Park Scorpion Anchorage

If you have a trail report, I’d love to hear it.

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