Explore the most popular nature trips trails in Channel Islands National Park with hand-curated trail maps and driving directions as well as detailed reviews and photos from hikers, campers and nature lovers like you.

A group of four of us got a campsite and stayed on the island over-night. The boat ride in was phenomenal, make sure to get your tickets early and follow their strict guidelines (water and gas to be boarded separately). The boat ride takes an hour with tons of scenery. The island is like something prehistoric. You dock in a cove teeming with life. You'll have to walk up about five or six flights of steep stairs, overall it's a half mile to the campsites so you can bring a small cooler. There is no fresh water on the island, so expect to carry. We had about six gallons total for an overnight so that we had plenty to cook and clean with. There were, and this is no exagerrtion, seagulls everywhere. As well as their baby chicks. They were highly aggressive, swooping in and dive bombing you. You also had to keep eyes on the trail for sleeping chicks. But mostly, they're a nuisance but not violent (kind of like what I'm sure they thought of us). The campsites are incredibly small, with the exception of two. 6 and 7 can barely fit four people, so I recommend getting your own per couple, and they are first come first serve. A downside is the campsites being so close, a party of around twelve were able to, essentially, glamp as they could bring all of their "equipment" with them. They somewhat ruined the isolationist feeling by staying up til midnight, drinking, and playing music from a speaker. I recommend ear plugs to sleep with due to the gulls, who will stay loud through the night. But the views are absolutely stunning. It is a wild and savage experience that feels like you're part of a documentary crew for Planet Earth, or something. Once the boat leaves, taking the day hikers with it, you are essentially alone. You can swim, although the water is brisk and frigid, but the snorkeling is intensely raw and amazing. The only place, the cove from which you docked, has a kelp forest teeming with life. Just be on the lookout, there were all types of fish, but as we were leaving a sting ray swooped into the cove. Just be aware. There are sharks around the island, but they're not known to venture inside, however you will see your share of sea lions. This was one of our favorite parts of the trek. You can bring kayaks, something which I wish we would have done, as there are even better places to observe sea life on the southern tip. The boat comes back the next day around 11 am, and doesn't leave (with you) until 3:45, so bring enough food for two days. I do not recommend doing this trip for more than one day, unless you have some extensive sea-activities planned. Overall, a wild experience that was very immersive that I will not soon forget.

hiking
6 days ago

The hike wasn't hard at all and you'll get plenty of picture opportunities once you get to the end.

Potato Harbor was amazing at sunset! We were camping in the upper loop and left for Potato Harbor about an hour before sundown. We took the coastal trail instead of the harbor road in both directions, and there was breathtaking scenery throughout! Be sure to stay after sunset to catch the best colors. You can read more about our trip on my blog: https://tellmeabootit.wordpress.com/2018/05/16/santa-cruz-island-channel-islands-national-park/

hiking
1 month ago

Started from the Cavern Point trailhead and added an additional mile of amazing views along the bluffs. Had plenty of time for the trail, a long break at the overlook, and a chance to relax on the beach before the boat returned to the dock.

hiking
1 month ago

On the last day of my three day camping trip with Wilderness Adventures, most people opted for a 2.5 hour kayaking trip to the sea caves around the island. However, I chose to stay on dry land and do a hike to Smuggler’s Cove, a delightful harbor on the back side of the island that got its name from the illegal sea otter trade that took place between 1769 and 1848. It was one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done. Just two hours out and an hour and a half back, this hike wove through a cypress grove, named Delphine’s Grove, grassy hills with purple clover, yellow mustard, and white and pink morning glories, Monkey Flower, Lemonade Berry, Santa Cruz Ironwood, and many other native plants on this island. The final mile of the hike was down, down, down to the sea. At the beach, we saw island foxes and lizards darting around, both of which are prevalent throughout the island. The island fox, deer mouse, and island spotted skunk are only found on the Channel Islands – and nowhere else in the world

The descent to the Cove was pretty steep and I wondered as I walked down, how I was going to feel climbing back up it. Well it was well worth it – it was such a beautiful beach and quite a dazzling vantage point in every direction. Climbing back up the hill reminded me of the Hobbit story with its rolling green hills and the light brown-red dirt on the paths. It looked like a fairytale to me.

The hike was just short of eight mikes, roundtrip, but the views from the top, coming back to Scorpion Bay were sensational. It was rejuvenating to see everything from the top of the island. This was a hike that I would like to do again.

Beautiful views

walking
1 month ago

Trail was busy with other daytrippers. Great views. Caterpillars, birds, and some friendly bees. Good hike for kids as it is quite level with minimal elevation gain.

Steep and gravely first miles levels out but steep about 3/4 mile from smugglers cove.

There are picnic tables at the cove

Nice hike can be windy

Great trail, beautiful views and lots of interesting plants in the spring

hiking
1 month ago

This is the prettiest family hike if you are in the Scorpion Beach area. It is an easy hike and the views are spectacular. Definitely worth your time, especially if you area a daytripper and only have time to do one quick hike. Our group seen an island fox in hunting action.

We added the Cavern Point Loop hike for an extra 1 1/2 to 2 miles.

Beautiful short trip. We actually started at our campsite and hiked to Potato Harbor. Once there, we hiked over to Cavern Point and made it a longer loop.

This was my first time on the island and will most likely be back on a 2-3 overnight stay. The camping on the island is fantastic; however, campfires are not allowed.

hiking
2 months ago

We had a lot of fun on Santa Cruz. The hike is steep at the beginning but levels off for most of the hike. We brought sandwiches with us and had lunch at smugglers cove. Beware the ravens and foxes looking for food. To switch it up we came back by the oil well.

This was an easy hike with spectacular views of the coastline. We saw the island foxes, a bush sunflower, lizards, and heard the seals barking as we peered down the steep cliffs of Potato Harbor.

Great hike. Complete solitude. Exposed ridges were, very windy. I repeat. Very windy. Recommend trekking poles to help anchor or provide added stability against strong wind gusts.Have your camera ready, the views are breathtaking. We combined with trip to Smugglers cove. All day hike. One of my favorites.

hiking
8 months ago

Bring a ton of water, calculate and then add the 100oz you don't think you need. Beautiful hike and back country beach camping.

9 months ago

Did a variation of this
Went to High Mount only
Also combined with Scorpion Loop Trail

Well maintained trail that is easy for kids and adults. The final decent with switchbacks is the only reason for a moderate trail difficulty. Views are stunning and the Island Fox are fun to watch. Take your lunch and enjoy the views at Cavern Point.

This was the first hike I've ever done. Not only did I challenge myself but reaching potato harbor made it totally worth it. I love the California mountains and to have hiked starting from the second camp ground area made my entire trip spectacular! One of the coolest and most memorable things I've done next to walking on a glacier in Alaska ! WOW!!!!! Channel Islands are not to be missed - will definitely go again

hiking
10 months ago

Hiking through the remnants of a Pleistocene forest is in and of itself pretty cool. Add in a beautiful and mostly deserted island and this is a hike to get done. You have to do a lot of work to hike here. At minimum catch the charter boat out of Ventura to do this as a quick day hike. If you can afford the time, camp for a few days and better explore the island. While the map shows this hike as a quick mile and a half loop... it is about three miles from the pier to the trail head... so plan on at least 7 miles.

hiking
10 months ago

Someone should really try to get the Easy label updated. In no way is this hike easy. I only tracked from the beach back up to the trail head, saving the batteries on all the devices for what was a long day. This section of trail is only three miles round trip. It is occasionally a narrow single track with a drop off on one side, most of the path was easily navigated.

The real difficulty comes in getting to the trail head. From the dock the total hike is 9 miles round trip. 12 from the campground. It is beautiful and well worth the effort. Take lots of water, the return trip is likely to be warm.

on Potato Harbor Trail

11 months ago

We went to Potato Harbor, it was so foggy, we couldn't see the cove below. It was time for a snack, we sat and within 10 minutes, the turquoise water appeared before us. Only to disappear again quickly. It was spectacular. We returned by the north bluffs and down to the Scorpion cove.

hiking
Saturday, June 10, 2017

Day Trip to Anacapa Island on Island Packers. 4 hours on the island hiking the main trail. Seagulls and their chicks were everyone on the island as it was nesting season for the seagulls. Trying to protect their chicks, walking on the trails made us targets for the seagulls. It was hard to enjoy the hike due to the huge amount of seagulls. Their poop was everywhere and because of this, there wasn't very many places to sit down without sitting in bird poop. 5 hours here today was definitely too much time as all the seagulls made it hard to enjoy

hiking
Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Easily one of the most beautiful hikes Southern California has to offer. Its uniqueness especially contributes to its beauty; hills, canyons, and the Pacific Ocean are all visible throughout numerous portions of the hike. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to go in April after a year of steady rainfall, so there were plentiful wildflowers just off the trail as well.

Given that there's a limited amount of people on Santa Cruz island at any given time (due to its isolation), the El Montanon Trail is the perfect place to hike in complete solitude. The time constraints- if not staying overnight, the boat arrives at 11 AM and leaves at 4 PM- many opt to hike to Smuggler's Cove or Potato Harbor, for an 8-mile trek up one of the highest peaks on the island seems daunting. While there are sections that are strenuous, the hike is quite tranquil and easily completed within the time frame.

Depending on which route you take, the trail eventually narrows from a fire road through campsites to a narrow, single-track trail that is overgrown with tall grass and wildflowers. After the trail crosses a wide creek (dry during my hike), the 1,900 ft. elevation gain begins. It plateaus temporarily at the junction between Smuggler's Road and El Montanon ridge. As you continue on El Montanon ridge, it's not especially likely that you'll run into crowds of people.

The trail up the ridge has endured plentiful rainfall and is therefore washed out and somewhat difficult to follow. However, the rock is stained red (presumably by iron?) so it's impossible to venture too far off the trail. The views begin to become more spectacular as you gain elevation, starting with a quick overlook of the Pacific Ocean, subsequently followed by a view of the other side of the island.

High Mount is an easy summit to bag along the way, and the views from the top are nearly as extraordinary as El Montanon's. The other side of the island, along with Prisoner's Cove (if I'm not mistaken) can be seen on a clear day.

The trail gets a bit rockier and narrower post High Mount, though the views become more memorable. Both sides of the path offer extraordinary views, with Anacapa Island seen to the left (heading upwards to the mountain) and the other side of Santa Cruz Island seen to the right. I was fortunate enough to witness the phenomenon called "fire clouds," where a rainbow-like color forms in cirrus clouds. Certainly a sight I'll never forget.

The true summit of El Montanon is further than the solar panels/building where this AllTrails map has the trail end. The views from the summit are panoramic with nothing (trees, shrubs, etc.) obstructing the spectacular views of the island and ocean. It's definitely worth the journey, regardless of the short timespan you may have to complete it in. Take a lot of water- there aren't many resources on this island.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Easy and quite trail..

Friday, March 24, 2017

This shorter trail is a staple and must do for Santa Cruz.

We went in early February both for the wild flowers and to catch the tail end of the season when whales pass the island. Of which we saw both :)

There was maybe 6 other people on the trail, two of which were rangers.

We did the loop in the direction from the lower campgrounds towards the cove. The beginning and end have a shorter rocky incline, but it's not that bad. It then follows along the coast to give you lovely vistas. It was so green when we went and cloudy that it reminded me of Ireland! Downside was parts of the trail were very muddy.

While end route not only did we see a whale and wild flowers, but we also saw a lot of caterpillars, island foxes, and crows. I am guessing soon there would be equally as many butterflies. We also saw that special bluebird, whose name escapes me now.

As an aside, the warnings you get on the island about the crows and foxes are legit. They are quick and very smart. We watched a fox almost immediately unzip and try to break into the a rangers backpack he'd set down about 10 yards away. Also when we got back to our packs on the cove (which we tarped per their directions), we saw obvious animal footprints all over as well as zippers moved in attempts to get in.

Hiking poles would help as well as (depending on when you go) boots you don't mind getting very muddy.

This trail was wonderful. I loved it more than I expected!

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Terrific hike. I'm wasn't so much a fan of the actual cove as I was the hike there, which consisted of beautiful rolling green hills, several Santa Cruz Island endemic species of animals and flowers, and incredible views of Mount Montañon.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

A strenuous hike, especially if you are hiking from North to South from the Prisoners/Del Norte portion of the island, but well worth it. Beautiful views of Santa Cruz island that offer ocean, rolling hill, canyon, and mountain scenery. Bring plenty of water.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Not much of a hike, but it's a truly beautiful view!

hiking
Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Incredible wildlife! The trail is a bit washed out, but that's just the nature of the beast. Smugglers Cove is full of life. We explored the tide pools filled with bright purple urchins, little crustaceans, and magnificent looking shells. The ocean leaves its mark on the sand and it's simply stunning. The hike was pretty strenuous due to the humidity. We quite literally hiked through a cloud. We chose the day hike option and we're able to complete the out and back with well over 2 hours to spare. We saw multiple island foxes and they seriously are living, breathing stuffed animals. It's truly a magical experience! Next time, we'll definitely be staying over night and kayaking. Those caves beg to be explored!

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