Santa Cruz Island

Potato Harbor

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We are back from a great long weekend in the Santa Barbara area and our trip to the Channel Island, Santa Cruz Island, was a definite highlight. You can check out my earlier post to see why we chose Santa Cruz Island, but primarily it was the shortest boat ride!

Santa Cruz Island

We started the morning running late to catch our boat. Island Packers ask you to arrive 45 minutes early and we rolled into the parking lot 15 minutes before departure. Chris and HJ hopped out and got our tickets while K and I parked. We all managed to board at the last possible minute.

Once we were all aboard we settled in for a 1-hour ride with calm seas. Unfortunately, we don’t have the strongest stomachs and about 45 minutes in K took the opportunity to puke all over Chris. Oops.

Seals on buoy
Wildlife sighting! Seals on a buoy.

K and HJ on the boat

Chris and I were really impressed with the staff and fellow passengers who all stepped in to help. Some strangers held HJ while we cleaned up and a staff member held our wet bag open while I slowly peeled clothes off K and Chris. K got a whole new change of clothes, but Chris ended up having to wear his windbreaker all day since we didn’t have an extra shirt for him.

Stomachs settled down quickly once we reached Scorpion Anchorage and lined up for island orientation. The park ranger filled us in on the rules (everything is protected and trash has to be packed out) and on the wildlife we might see on the island. He guaranteed sightings of the island fox and we had our first sighting only minutes later!

Cavern Point Campground

Island Fox
These little guys were so cute and not shy at all! They have no natural predators on the island so they strut around like they own the place, which they do!

We joined a guided hike to Cavern Point which took us through the campground where we saw 5 more foxes! The guide started with a historic ranch where ranchers raised sheep from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. The kids were hungry at this point so we started to lag behind the group, but we tried to catch up at each stop. The guide was full of information on the flora, fauna, and history of the island.

The Santa Cruz Island foxes are thought to have originally floated to the island on debris and then developed into the small modern fox we saw. Due to the isolation of the islands, each Channel Island has its own variation of the fox.

The views at Cavern Point were incredible and we sat down for a picnic after the tour was complete. The ranger had warned us to be careful of food around the foxes and crows, so HJ and K took turns chasing the crows away.

Chris and K at Cavern Point Family Photo at Cavern Point

We still had several hours to fill so we set off hiking to Potato Harbor. We didn’t have time to spare so we loaded the kids in the carriers. The path was tightly squeezed by wildflowers at points and the views along the ridge were terrific.

Wildflowers North Bluff Trail Cliff views Trail sign

Sea Cave on Santa Cruz Island

There weren’t many other people on the path but we did see another fox walking along the path.

Island Fox on the trail

Island Fox in the grass

I thought Potato Harbor couldn’t be better than the views on the way there, but it was something special! We did not see any sea lions, but they were down there somewhere barking loudly.

Potato Harbor

We returned via Potato Harbor road back and passed both the upper and lower campgrounds. The views of the island interior were different but still beautiful. A rescue helicopter landed on the island on our trip back. We were able to watch the descent but couldn’t see the actual landing from where we were.

Island Lizard
We saw tons of these little guys on Potato Harbor Road.

North Bluff Trail Campground

All in all, we hiked 5 miles and arrived back at Scorpion Anchorage just in time for a short rest. For the kids, rest means climbing on rocks!

K on the beach at Scorpion Anchorage HJ at Scorpion Anchorage

The return trip was smoother and Chris and K even got a brief glimpse of a whale!

All in all in was a great trip! I asked Chris when was the last time he had a wonderful day and got puked on. He thinks it was a first.

If you want to visit Santa Cruz Island you can take a day trip with Island Packers or camp for a few days. If you plan to camp, make sure you make reservations with the National Park Service and Island Packers.

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12 responses to “Santa Cruz Island”

  1. I’m pretty much like K. I puke easily >< (Yes I've been known to puke on a pedalo boat) 😀 Regardless, the view at Cavern Point looks brilliant and wow, the view at Potato Harbor is amazing! Glad your return trip was a little smoother!


  2. Reading through your article, and seeing those beautiful photographs, make me dream away to a place like this… Though I haven’t been there, it looks like a perfect spot to spend a few days away from the every day life!


  3. Awww, always love to read about California! 🙂 I actually haven’t been to Santa Cruz island but the pictures look amazing! Even more amazing that you got to see a whale! This island is definitely on my bucket list for my next trip there 🙂


  4. The World in a Weekend Avatar
    The World in a Weekend

    Sorry to hear about the rough time you had on the way over. It looks like the views from Cavern Point were well worth it though! The foxes look so cute, and I can just imagine them strutting around owning the place. Such beautiful scenery all around and the fact that you saw a whale makes me want to book a trip there now!


  5. I’ve never visited any of the islands of California’s coast but am adding Santa Cruz Island to my list for a future visit. I love being able to enjoy natural environments and wildlife viewing is a huge bonus. The views look utterly stunning, and lots of great walking!


  6. I have never associated this kind of landscape with California, but now, thanks to your post, my sphere of knowledge has broadened. Santa Cruz Island sounds lovely. A whale too, wow!


    1. magnetsfromeverywhere Avatar

      California has an incredible diversity of landscapes! We moved here earlier this year and I’ve been stunned at all the different options.


  7. I have been to Santa Cruz, but never got around to visiting the Channel Islands when I lived in the state. Would love to do it in the future though. Looks like a really great day trip and a fun place for hiking!


    1. magnetsfromeverywhere Avatar

      Santa Cruz is great, but Santa Cruz Island is not particularly close by! It’s off the coast of Santa Barbara, so maybe a 4.5ish hour drive.


  8. What rugged wilderness, amazing hikes and beautiful view points! Are the island foxes not dangerous at all? Sounds like you had a great day at the island, I love to explore such small, off beat places where you can just go, explore, hike, enjoy a nice picnic.


    1. magnetsfromeverywhere Avatar

      The foxes will eat your lunch but they aren’t dangerous! They haven’t had natural predators in thousands (millions?) of years so they are not shy and will come right up to you!


  9. I’ve always wanted to visit the Channel Islands…especially for camping! Now that I’m living fairly close to Southern California, maybe I’ll finally make the trip!


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