The Channel Islands sit 20 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara County. The national park is comprised of five islands, with Santa Cruz being the largest and most visited of the islands. Santa Cruz Island is a completely unique experience for backpackers willing to take on the physical and logistical challenges of this trip.
What Makes It Great
Waking early in the morning in order to catch a ferry ride isn’t standard for most California backpacking trips. For Santa Cruz Island, however, it’s your only choice. Book a two-day ticket with drop off at Scorpion Anchorage and pick up at Prisoners Harbor through one of the ferry companies running out of Ventura, Calif. Assuming you book a morning departure, you should arrive on the island around mid-day. Take this day to get familiar with the campsite, and take a short hike to one of the other points of interest on the island such as Smugglers Cove or Potato Harbor.
Day two will have you waking up early and setting out north-bound across the island. Climbing 1,800 feet in eight miles towards Montanon Ridge, the land will drop away behind you and you’ll be treated to sweeping vistas, an endless ocean view, and on clear days a view of downtown Ventura. Once at the ridge take a break, knowing that it is literally all downhill from here. If you’re feeling up to it, take the half mile detour to the summit of Montanon Ridge, the highest point on the eastern side of the island.
Upon leaving the ridge backpackers will descend towards Prisoners Harbor. At this point in the hike you’ll have views of the bay in which Santa Barbara sits, as well as the western end of the island, which houses a marine reserve. Once back at Prisoners Harbor, wait for your ferry to arrive and shuttle you back to Ventura.
Who is Going to Love It
This high is best for advanced backpackers, who are confident in the backcountry and adept at knowing how much water and supplies they need for the distances required. Furthermore this hike is great for those who are looking for an adventure a little further off the beaten path, and are willing to work to get there.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
This one requires a little more forethought than your average backpacking trip. Be sure to visit Recreation.gov well in advanced in order to book your campground at Scorpion Anchorage. Most ferry services suggest confirming your campsite reservation before booking passage with them. Island Packers offers round trip passage to Santa Cruz Island for about $70 and allows backpackers to leave their cars overnight in their parking lot. Be sure to confirm with your ferry service that you plan to depart via Scorpion Anchorage and wish to be picked up at Prisoners Harbor.