Southern California: Santa Cruz Island of the Channel Islands National Park

pano view
Mike and I went hiking on the Santa Cruz island of the Channel Islands with 11 other friends for his 27th birthday on Saturday (July 12, 2014)!  We woke up at 5:12AM (thank goodness I’ve been practicing waking up early) so that we can get ready and drive up to Ventura (approx. 2 hours from Orange County) to catch the Island Packers boat that left at 9:00AM for Santa Cruz.

I highly recommend arriving early because the boat will NOT wait for you, so be there at LEAST half an hour early, we got there 45 minutes early.  I was really excited about this trip and brought my DSLR camera along but since I rushed to get out of the door, I LEFT MY CAMERA BATTERY BACK IN THE CHARGER, so PRO-TIP make sure your camera has it’s batteries and memory card in before you leave the house.  It always sucks to find out way too late that you forget essentials for your camera.  So I was basically lugging 2lbs of dead weight all day in my backpack (not fun).  So if anyone is wondering all these photos were taking with my iPhone 4’s camera.  Not too shabby, I especially liked the panorama photos.

1) WATER, WATER, WATER there are no concession stands or anything on the island so whatever you bring with you from home or buy on the boat is all you have, so I HIGHLY recommend bringing enough water.  I brought along a 2 Liter Hydration pack with me and that lasted me all day.
2) Again, they do not sell any food at all on the island so you’re going to have to bring you enough to last you until 5:00PM (if you plan on just hiking for a day and not camping)

  • Sandwiches
  • Granola
  • Beef Jerky
  • Fruit (apples, nectarines, bananas, etc)
  • Trail Mix

3) SUNBLOCK, I made the mistake of not wearing any sunblock and I got REALLY sunburnt (haven’t gotten sunburnt since I was 16)
4) A pair of really good sturdy comfortable shoes with thick soles to hike in (I wore my boots that had thin soles and it was not very fun hiking in them, I was not prepared, but I WILL BE next time)
5) Bathing suit (if you plan on playing and swimming in the water)
6) Camera (to capture all your memories and the beauty you seeeeeeee whilst exploring)
7) Walkie-Talkies (If you’re going with a large group of people, these are really nice to have since there is no cellphone signal on the island. It is especially useful if you guys decide to go separate ways or one section is walking faster than the others and you guys can communicate via walkie talkie instead of shouting as loud as you could to try to communicate with the others.)

The boat ride over to the island was surprisingly VERY FUN.  I believe the boat ride was about an hour, give or take, I wasn’t really watching the time because I was having so much fun!  I initially thought it would be a dinky and slow ride over to the island but the boat ride was actually quite speedy!  I felt like a kid again, hair flying all over the place, with my hands out, feeling the ocean water splash playfully against my skin as the boat hits the waves at high speeds.  We also got to see a pack of sea lions sunbathing on a buoy, a sunfish laying on it’s side at the ocean’s surface and dolphins swimming around on the ride over to the island!  Seeing dolphins swimming in the wild has always been such a magical event for me.  They are such beautiful and majestic creatures!

bay view
Pictured above is a boat anchored near the island as we approached closer to the shores.  Something very important to take note of, this is a LEAVE NO TRACE BEHIND type of national park (as it should be) there are NO TRASH CANS on the island so whatever trash you have, you must keep with you throughout the whole time until you get back onto the boat or home.  LITTER makes anything and everything ugly, so please be considerate and keep your trash with you at all times.  I highly recommend bringing with you an extra plastic bag so that you can store all your trash in. :)

dt bay

Our plan for this trip was to hike over to see the abandoned Oil Well and then after that hike over to Smuggler’s Cove.  Both places were very much worth the hike (especially Smuggler’s Cove).  The hike from the harbor (Scorpion Anchorage) over to Smuggler’s Cove was about 3.5 miles.  The first half of the hike was mostly uphill and the second half was downhill.  On our way to Smuggler’s Cove we made a little detour that was about .25 miles to see the abandoned Oil Well and eat our lunches.

oil well
oil rig

 (Obligatory picture with the sexy birthday boy Mike)

Whilst hiking I decided to take my shirt off because I was getting WAY TOO SWEATY, I was so happy I made the decision to wear a bikini under all my clothes.  That made life much easier.


(So close yet, so farrrrrrrrr.  The views that we got when we were at high elevations were absolutely beautiful.)


(I believe this flower is called Datura, there were heaps and heaps of them on the island)

boys on hill

(Some of our friends hiked over to this bed of rocks and decided to rest for a bit, I thought it would be a great chance for a picture)

So we’re hiking and hiking and hiking and it totally feels like forever getting over to Smuggler’s Cove.  This was actually my first long hike out in the wilderness so I’m obviously not used to hiking long distances to places.

smugglers cove

( HURRAH, finally a sign that says we are close to Smuggler’s Cove, I believe it was about another 30 minutes of mostly hiking downhill from this sign post)

Let me tell you it was COMPLETELY WORTH THE HIKE OVER TO SMUGGLER’S COVE.  We reached a beach that was totally deserted, basically had the beach alllll to ourselves.  For me, one of the best things in life is being on a beach where there’s little to no people on it.  There’s just something so intimate about being out on a beach with no one else besides you, your friends and the ocean.   I quickly took off my clothes and got into the water in my bathing suit!  Oh I forgot to mention, there is a bathroom here too, so that was very nice and convenient!  LOOK AT THE VIEW I GOT TO EXPERIENCE!!

Alright, PRO-TIP:  The shores of this beach were reallllly rocky so it kind of hurt to walk over the rocks.  I basically just kinda sat down on a rock and crab walked my over towards the ocean.  I was really sad at first at how rocky the shore was because I thought it was going to be rocky all way through but our courageous friend Joel decided to walk farther and farther into the ocean and about 20 feet or so from the shore he discovered SAND!! SOFT, SOFT SAND!!!!  He yelled and jumped for joy when he discovered that and so did the rest of us.  I got so damn excited I was crab crawling as fast as I could over and man was the sand sooooo soft.  For the next half hour or so, we spent it playing around in the water and catching waves with our bodies.  It was TOTALLY, TOTALLY WORTH IT.  It felt soooo very refreshing to be in the water after such a long hike under the sun!!!  I wish we could stay longer at Smuggler’s Cove but we needed to hike back over to Scorpion Anchorage to catch our boat that left at 5:00PM.

swimming in beach

Another tip, remember to re-apply SUNBLOCK if you decide to go into the water.  Most of us all got badly sunburnt because we forgot to re-apply.  I on the other hand didn’t even apply sunblock (because I usually don’t burn in the sun and I hate the feeling of sunblock) this whole time we’ve been hiking so I was heavily sun burnt by the end of the day!  Lesson learned.  NEVER AGAIN WILL I HIKE WITHOUT A HAT AND SUNBLOCK.

hike back

Alright so for the first half of the 3.5 mile hike back to the harbor, it was seriously one of the most brutal hikes.  The uphills were very steep and it just felt very difficult especially with the sun so high in the sky.  BUT WE MUST TRUDGE ON AND NOT GIVE UP!!!!! This was where many of our friends realized how important water was.  Most of them didn’t bring enough water so I gladly shared my water with them too!  I HIGHLLLLY recommend buying a hydration backpack, they are very VERY handy, a complete lifesaver! I was sipping on water throughout the whole hike so I never felt dehydrated.  It’s got to be one of the most uncomfortable and dangerous feelings to be out under the sun walking long distances whilst feeling dehydrated.  I am now obsessed with it and want to bring it with me whenever I need to walk long distances.

Mike was really worried we wouldn’t make it in time for the boat so he sent two of our strongest and fastest hiking friends Joel and Timothy to go ahead of us in case we needed to alert the boat that we had a large group that was still hiking over to the boat.  I on the other hand believed that we could make it, I think it’s better to stay positive and to keep group morale high because most of our friends at this point were feeling very very tired.  But it was definitely a good move to send out two of our strongest to move ahead of us, just in case!

Yep!! And so we made it back and had about 3o minutes to spare (I knew we would make it in time). :)  I was really disappointed because I was looking forward to seeing some wild foxes!  Mike told me there were a lot of fox on the island and since the fox is my spirit animal, I was really excited to see wild ones for the very first time.  The whole time on the hike we didn’t spot any, but in the end we decided to go over to the campgrounds where we found this cute but sad little fox.  It was limping and looked kind of delirious but it was still a wild fox nonetheless.  It didn’t seem to be afraid of humans at all, I guess they’re used to it but I got to stand pretty close to it!  Poor thing, I wish I could help it but we are not allowed to feed any of the wild animals because human food can really harm them and also, the park rangers want to keep the animals wild!)  But anywho, spotting the fox was a great way to end this trip!

All in all, I’m really glad I got to explore this island and went on this crazy hike!  Although it was a difficult hike (especially since most of us aren’t experienced hikers) it was totally worth it.  All of it.  The sore legs and sunburn and everything.  It was totally worth everything we experienced that day.  I’m really excited to see and explore more places this beautiful world has to offer us!!! Thank you Mike for choosing to go hiking here for your birthday!  This was an amazing experience and I hope we get to do more things like this often!


2 thoughts on “Southern California: Santa Cruz Island of the Channel Islands National Park”

  1. Sounds like an awesome trip DTP! I kayaked around East Anacapa Island last summer – amazing experience! The “channel side” has a lot of caves which are very fun to go through. The “ocean side” has amazing Hawaii-like blue waters and a zillion sea lions. Really fantastic. Must go back! :)

    1. Yeah!!! That sounds reallllly awesome! I wanna go kayaking and snorkeling over at Anacapa too!!!! You’re making it sound so amazing!! It’s definitely on my to-do list! I think I will enjoy kayaking a lot more than hiking! I absolutely loooooove the water!!!

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