The Channel Islands are a national park comprised of five moderately sized islands off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. Santa Cruz Island is both the largest island in the park, and also the largest island in California.
Hiking on Santa Cruz Island is an experience unlike anything else in California—with rolling golden hills, dramatic beach cliffs, and wide-open vistas. The hike from Scorpion Anchorage to Smugglers Cove allows visitors to appreciate the various ecosystems on Channel Islands National Park’s most diverse island.
What Makes It Great
From out on the water, visitors are treated to a stunning view of Santa Cruz’s coastline, scalloped with numerous bays and caves. Upon departing the boat hikers should head toward the campground—Scorpion Ranch—fill their water bottles and take a break in the shade. Once on the hike, both shade and water, will be non-existent.
The trail climbs up and out of Scorpion Ranch, giving hikers views of Ventura and Santa Barbara on the mainland, as well as views of interior of Santa Cruz Island as it expands to the west. Climb until you intersect with Smugglers Road, then bear left and begin the descent on a well graded fire road toward Smugglers Cove. The last few hundred meters of the hike are through a shaded tree grove, so that the cove unveils itself slowly, and then all at once, it’s rocky shore giving way to sand and bright blue water. Smugglers Cove is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic lunch in the shade, and a swim in the calm waters. You’ll return to the ferry via the trail you took on the way out.
Who is Going to Love It
The hike to Smugglers Cove is great for those looking for a day hike which offers both a moderate challenge, and a stunning and quiet beach for a secluded picnic lunch. Hikers planning to take on this hike should also be knowledgeable on how much water they need for the 7.5 miles round trip as there is no water along the trail, or at Smugglers Cove.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
If you’re just planning to visit the island for the day, you won’t need to obtain a permit from the National Parks Service. However, you will need to book round trip passage to Scorpion Anchorage with one of the ferry companies leaving from Ventura, Calif. Most of these companies will allow you to leave your car in their lot for the day.