Channel Islands National Park, one of the most remote national parks in the United States, is just a 2-hour drive and 1-hour boat trip from Orange County. It is an excellent place to visit for an adventurous but relaxing day trip to get away from it all. Out of the 5 islands included in the national park, Santa Cruz Island is the largest and most popular island.
Check out this itinerary for a day trip to Santa Cruz Island on Channel Islands National Park!
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When to Visit Channel Islands National Park
Although you can visit the Channel Islands all year round, the most popular times are June through September. For the best time to snorkel, swim, dive or kayak at Channel Islands National Park, try visiting in the fall for the best ocean temps and visibility. See more information about when to visit here.
What to Pack for a Channel Islands Day Trip
There are a few things you want to make sure you have when heading out for the day. Santa Cruz Island does not have any restaurants or stores, so if you forget something you’re out of luck.
- Water shoes
- Water outfit (no cotton)
- Small towel
- Waterproof phone pouch
- Sun hat for under helmet
- Hiking shoes
- Hiking outfit
- Small cooler bag
- Lunch & Snacks
- Water bottle
- Extra Ziploc bag for garbage
Channel Islands Adventure Company does provide free gear for the kayak tours, including a helmet, life jacket, wind jacket, wetsuits, and water shoes. They also have a small selection of items for sale such as sunglasses, sunscreen, waterproof phone holder, etc.
They also have storage boxes at their base, so you can keep your bags there while you are out exploring. Don’t bring valuables with you since there are no locks. Bathrooms and changing rooms are also available!
How to Get to Channel Islands National Park
You’ll have to take a boat ferry from Ventura Harbor to get over to Santa Cruz Island. It takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes to drive to Ventura from Irvine, CA, and about an hour or so boat ride across to the island. The end destination on the island is called Scorpion Anchorage.
Island Packers Cruises is the official boat concessionaire for Channel Islands National Park. They make it easy to get to the island, and your boat trip might include some extra surprises too! Be on the lookout for whales and dolphins during your 1-1 ½ hour trip.
Tickets can sell out quickly during the summer months, so try to book your tickets well in advance. Try to book the first boat ride out for the day and one of the last trips back so you have plenty of time to explore the island. Make sure you are booking for Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island.
Itinerary for a Channel Islands Day Trip
Stop 1: Channel Islands Kayaking Tour
The most popular thing to do at Channel Islands National Park is taking a sea kayaking tour with Channel Islands Adventure Company. They are the only company authorized to operate guided snorkel and kayak tours on Santa Cruz Island. They have several tour options available, and if possible, try to book the first tour available for the day.
If you’re not an experienced kayaker, try the Discovery Sea Cave Kayak Tour, which gives you a great overview of what the island has to offer. Your tour will be about 1 ½ hours and if conditions permit, you’ll be able to kayak through about 4-5 sea caves. The Adventure Sea Cave Kayak Tour is another great option and it’s about double the length and you’ll be able to see up to 10 sea caves.
Whatever you do, do not miss kayaking at Channel Islands NP. It is such an awesome experience and the highlight of the day!
Tip: Dress already prepared for the kayak tour in non-cotton clothes that can get wet so you are ready to go when you arrive.
Stop 2: Picnic
Head back to the base and change out of your wet clothes and into your hiking gear. Grab your cooler and find a spot to set up for a picnic before heading out on a hike. There are several picnic tables around the base area, some in the shade and some not.
Follow the rules of the island and don’t feed the wildlife and pack out everything you brought in. There are no garbage bins on the island, so put all your garbage in a Ziploc bag to throw away when you return to Ventura.
Tip: Bring your wet clothes with you to dry out in the sun while you enjoy your picnic.
Stop 3: Hiking
Hiking Santa Cruz Island is pretty awesome, especially if you visit in the Spring after a heavy rainy season. One popular hike for first-timers on the island is Cavern Point Loop. It’s an easy 2-mile hike that will bring you to some nice ocean views. For additional hikes, check out this guide.
Tip: Bring your sunhat, there is no shade available.
Stop 4: Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center
After your hike, make a quick stop at the island’s only visitor center to learn a little bit about the island’s history, including its ranching history that dates back to the 1800s.
Additional Things to Do on Santa Cruz Island
You can find many different types of seabirds on the island, some that can only be found on Santa Cruz Island and nowhere else in the world.
Swimming & Snorkeling
Swimming is available near the pier at Scorpion Cove, where you’ll have access to kelp forests, clear waters, and sea caves. Lifeguards are not available, so swim at your own risk.
If you want to stay on Santa Cruz Island for longer than a day, look into primitive camping options at Scorpion Canyon Campground.
Safety & Tips for Visiting Santa Cruz Island
- Emergency services are limited, so make sure you bring all medications, EpiPen, etc.
- There is no food on the island, so bring your own. Potable water is available at Santa Cruz Scorpion campground – be sure to bring a refillable water bottle.
- Everything that comes in with you must go out. Bring additional baggies for trash.
- Keep all of your bags zipped and stored in the appropriate storage bins provided by Channel Islands Adventure Company. Birds have been known to unzip bags for access to food.
- You’ll see small island fox roaming around. Please don’t feed or pet them.
- Deer mice could carry the hantavirus. Avoid all wildlife and keep your food in rodent-proof containers.
- Wear long pants when hiking and check yourself for ticks.
- The beach at Scorpion Cove is rocky so you’ll need water shoes.
- Fires and/or smoking are not allowed.
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about visiting Channel Islands National Park. Enjoy!
*Thank you to Santa Barbara Adventure Company for hosting my Channel Islands kayak tour, which is how I am able to provide you with this guide. As always, all opinions are my own.
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