Postcards & Passports

Santa Cruz Island Day Trip

A Santa Cruz Island day trip makes a perfect adventure, easily adaptable to your abilities. For that reason, my husband and I recently visited Channel Islands National Park in southern California. Our aim was to hike one of the most popular trails on Santa Cruz Island: the Smuggler’s Cove trail.

Actually, there are a lot of reasons why you might want to take a Santa Cruz Island day trip, too. Let me share a few…

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1. Santa Cruz Island is part of a National Park

I have yet to visit a US National Park that I didn’t enjoy. Each has unique visit-worthy sights to see and Channel Islands National Park is no exception. We don’t create national parks in the US without a good reason! The Channel Islands NP consists of five channel islands. Santa Cruz Island is the largest and fairly easy to access via Island Packers Cruises, the official boat concessionaire for the Channel Islands.

If you are like me and you’ve bought an America the Beautiful pass, you may be trying to visit several national parks within a year to make the most of your pass. This is a great one to include!

2. Santa Cruz Island is very unique

Because of the remoteness and isolation of this national park, it has very unique features. This isolation has allowed the islands to develop their own unique ecosystems, The islands are certainly off the beaten path, and have over 60 plants and animals you won’t find anywhere else. These islands are also protected. Items that can be carried onto the islands are strictly regulated so there will be no exposure to anything harmful. Everything is kept in its natural pristine state.

Santa Cruz Island was originally called Limuw by the Chumash people. It means “in the sea.”  It does seem to rise up out of the sea to an imposing size and height. On the way there, you will see an abundance of marine wildlife. We spotted a few whale spouts as well as many dolphins. Once you arrive on Santa Cruz Island, you may be lucky enough to spot the endangered Island Fox that makes its home there. It is about the size of a housecat and oh so cute!

Channel Islands National Park is also home to the California Sea Lion and the northern Elephant Seal. You could see see bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and brown pelicans. And the giant sea kelp is like a rainforest beneath the sea.

3. Santa Cruz Island is very beautiful

Santa Cruz has a wildness to it, and there is beauty to its barrenness. A Santa Cruz Island day trip will introduce you to sweeping views of island cliffs and the sea. Sometimes it is difficult to see the line between sky and water! In the distance you can see Anacapa Island, with its lighthouse. As you hike over the ridge of Santa Cruz, new harbors and hidden coves will open up before you. If you visit in the spring, you may see an abundance of wildflowers blooming. But in August when I went, such a blossom is rare.

Because of its beauty, Santa Cruz Island is a popular destination for hiking, camping, and kayaking. It is an adventure beckoning all who would like to participate. Our Santa Cruz Island day trip only allowed us a glimpse of all we could have done or seen. I’d love to return to do some kayaking and snorkeling. There are even sea caves to explore!

Getting to Santa Cruz Island

  • Book your transportation with Island Packers Cruises from Ventura first. You can’t count on just showing up and having seats available! Fare is currently RT $63 adults, $58 seniors, $45 children for day trips. If you wish to camp overnight, there is an additional $21 fee per person. Prices are the same for visiting Anacapa Island. You can also call (805) 642-1393 to make reservations.
  • The boat ride from Ventura to Santa Cruz Island takes about 1.5+ hours. If you are prone to being seasick, you will want to take dramamine or other seasick prevention medication before you depart. The Channel waters can be rough. There is a tiny restroom and a snack bar on the boat.
  • We departed at 8:00 am and didn’t start hiking on the island till about 9:45 am. That gave us six hours before our boat departed at 4:00 pm.
  • Check and double-check when your return trip leaves for Ventura. If you miss your ride, you’ll be spending the night on the island. Plan your day’s activities accordingly, and be sure you are up to hiking the distance you have planned for in the time allotted, with a bit of wiggle room for resting, snacking, and taking photos.
  • Appreciate your boat ride; it is one of the highlights of the day, expeciallly if you get to see whales or dolphins!

Tips for your island day trip

  • Our six hours on Santa Cruz Island allowed us to hike 7.6 miles RT to Smugglers Cove. It took us about 2 hours to hike each direction. We spent an hour at Smuggler’s Cove, eating lunch, wading in the water, and photographing. That’s also where we saw an Island Fox. Smugglers Cove is the only place we found restrooms besides where the boat docked. Upon returning to Scorpion Anchorage, we did have some time to explore a museum there and relax on the beach before departing.
  • Bring lots of water with you as there is no way to replenish it once you are on the island. When I say a lot, I mean much more than a single 16-oz bottle of water! This is an adventure requiring a hydration backpack with at least two liters of water. If iti’s going to be warm, add ice to your water. This hike has a strenuous uphill section in both directions as you are crossing over a ridge of the island. You will want water!
  • Wear a hat as there isn’t much shade.
  • Likewise, slather on the sunscreen, even if it is overcast. Apply it at least once more halfway through your day, so you don’t get sunburned like I did!
  • Pack a lunch and plenty of snacks. There is no place to buy food on the island. Do not feed any animals on the island and clean up after yourself. Pack out what you bring in.
  • Water shoes are a must if you want to swim or snorkel. The beaches are very rocky.

One more thing about a Santa Cruz Island day trip

When you check in at Island Packers Cruises in the morning, there is a station where you can stamp your National Park Passport book. But if there’s any way you can work it out in your schedule, I suggest you also plan a time to visit one of the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Centers. There is one in Ventura at 1901 Spinnaker Drive and is open from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. Another visitor center is located in Santa Barbara at 113 Harbor Way 4th Floor, open from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm. There are also small visitor centers on Santa Barbara and Anacapa Islands, and at Scorpion Ranch on Santa Cruz Island.

Where we stayed

We drove up from San Diego on a Friday evening. We enjoyed eating dinner out, photographing the sunset at Oxnard State Beach, and a comfortable stay at the Motel 6 Ventura South. Our charge for a queen room was only $100 plus tax, a rate we found to be very reasonable, especially for the location. We appreciated the opportunity to be well-rested before our Santa Cruz Island day trip adventure.

If you’ve never been, I highly recommend visiting Santa Cruz Island. Here’s our video recap of our day trip adventure…

If you are interested in visiting other California national parks, please see these posts:

Sequoia National Park in One Day

Our Death Valley Anniversary

Where to Stay in Death Valley

A Virtual Journey Through Joshua Tree National Park

Pinnacles National Park in a Day

Santa Cruz Island day trip

Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island pin 2

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