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Last Updated: June 9, 2022

Santa Cruz Island Backpacking Trip

Let me start by apologizing for a technical error in the last newsletter in which the weekly updates did not appear.

This week, I would like to share my trip to Santa Cruz Island with you. By way of background, I went to college in Santa Barbara. Every day I could see Santa Cruz Island from the beach, 23 miles away. I always said to myself that one day I would go there and maybe the other Channel Islands too. The fact that the dormitories at U.C. Santa Barbara, where I lived for two years, were named after five of the Channel Islands probably reinforced this goal.

Before going further, let me give a quick geography lesson of the eight California Channel Islands. Fair warning you will get quizzed on the names should we meet in person.


All eight of the Channel Islands are known as the Galapagos Islands of North America. Due to their geographic isolation, they contain many plants and animals found nowhere else on earth. The north four islands and Santa Barbara Island form the Channel Islands National Park (except for western Santa Cruz Island, which is owned by the Nature Conservancy).

My journey began at the Island Packers terminal in Ventura. There I boarded a boat to take me to Smuggler’s Cove on Santa Cruz Island. When Mexico owned California they abandoned prisoners there, some of whom made boats and got back to the mainland. This is how the harbor got its name. It would seem Australia is not the only prisoner dumping ground.

Once at Prisoners Harbor, we had the whole day ahead of us and only about three miles to travel to the campground, so we did a hike west, in the opposite direction, to Pelican Bay.

Pelican Bay

After getting back to Prisoner’s Harbor, my group and I put on our heavy packs and headed 3.5 miles east to the Del Norte campground. With only four camping spots, each with a picnic table, and one of the nicest outhouses I have ever seen, this is easily one of the nicest campgrounds I have ever stayed at.

Here is my traveling companion Bill and I at the Del Norte campground.

The next day we continued west for 11.5 miles to the Scorpion Ranch. This was a scenic, quiet and lonely trail into the clouds.

Here I am at one of many trail markers. I give the Channel Islands National Park many points for good signage, much better than those on the Trans Catalina Trail.
Botany is not my strong suit, so I can’t tell you the name of this flower, but it was found all over the island.
Here I am at High Mountain. I wish I could say this was the highest point of Santa Cruz Island, but it’s not. The more protected west side has an even higher summit, Mount Diablo.
This is the Santa Cruz Island fox, found only here, or so I’m told. I have also seen small foxes on Catalina, but don’t know if they are the same type of fox. These foxes had an annoying habit of being found only in areas that are partially in the sun and partially in the shade, making for lousy pictures.

After much time hiking in the clouds, we finally descended into Scorpion Harbor. Here was a much larger campground that the previous one, a quarter mile from another pier with boat service. Activities available here were more hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, and scuba diving. I was supposed to go kayaking the next day, but it was very windy, making for big waves, so I did more hiking instead.

The lower campground at Scorpion Harbor. Given the choice between the lower and upper campgrounds, the lower ones have more shade and are not as hot.
On the last day, I slack-packed around Scorpion Harbor. In the picture above you can see Anacapa Island, which is actually three islands, in the distance.
This picture is of Potato Harbor, a five-mile round-trip hike from Scorpion Harbor. Note the clear color of the water.

All things considered, I highly enjoyed my adventure to Santa Cruz Island. The backpacking was enjoyable and not that difficult. It was strange to be so close to Los Angeles, with ten million people, while enjoying peace and quiet and beautiful starry skies. It has inspired me to visit the other Channel Islands in the future.