Channel Islands National Park: Santa Cruz

Channel Islands Travel Blog

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Dock at Prisoner's Harbor
The Channel Islands are located only a few dozen miles off the coast of California and the crowded suburbia of Los Angeles, but they feel like they are worlds away. They are called the "Galapagos of North America" because of the wide diversity of plant and animal life there, and include many species that are only found among the islands and nowhere else. Despite the relative proximity to so many people, Channel Islands National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the USA, which is a shame given their relative privacy and beauty.

We went to the Channel Islands through Island Packers, a group that has been running boats and ferries to the islands from Ventura and Oxnard since 1968.
View of the coast from Nature Conservancy trail, Santa Cruz island.
Booking was easy over the phone, and the staff was helpful. There are actually 5 different islands in the national park, and Island Packers has trips to all of them, but we decided on Santa Cruz island. Santa Cruz is one of the biggest islands (with a greater area than Manhattan) and most easily accessible. Fares were around $50 a person, round trip.

We showed up in Ventura at 8AM in the morning and boarded the boat. There was thick morning fog, but that didn't stop us from seeing some fantastic wildlife along the way. Halfway through the boat ride we came across a giant pod of dolphins. I'm used to seeing a few dolphins here and there while surfing, but there are rarely more than 4-5 dolphins at once. There must have been hundreds of dolphins surrounding the boat, jumping in and out of the water. There were even a few baby dolphins, barely the size of large footballs, hopping in and out of the water.
Lisa and path down.
It was quite an amazing sight to see and one of the highlights of the trip.

There are two options when landing at Santa Cruz: Scorpion Bay or Prisoner's Harbor. Out of the 100 or so people on the boat, 95 of them got off at Scorpion Bay, which was the first stop. We got off with the remaining few at Prisoner's Harbor. The main difference, as far as I could tell, between Scorpion Bay and Prisoner's Harbor was that Prisoner's Harbor was far more isolated, lush, and beautiful. Santa Cruz used to be used for ranching, which cleared away a lot of the native plants and wildlife, but is now on the path to rehabilitation. The side of the island that Prisoner's Harbor is on is further on the path to rehabilitation than Scorpion Bay, which was evident from the vegetation: whereas Scorpion Bay seemed to just be flat hills and grasses, Prisoner's Harbor actually had trees and a wider variety of plant life.
Trees and shrubs.
Scorpion Bay does seem to have more accessible hiking trails, though, which might explain why so many people got off there, so there is a tradeoff in the isolation you get at Prisoner's Harbor.

We took a guided hike from Prisoner's Harbor to Pelican Bay with one of the Island Packer's staff members. The hike was about a mile each way and the trail got pretty steep and narrow at certain parts. It was definitely beautiful, and there were people of all ages who completed the hike, but you might want to avoid it or take it very slowly if you are worried about the uneven footing.

Eric says:
Oh, very cool! Thanks for the tip. Yea, would like to go back (for maybe a surf/camping) trip sometime.
Posted on: Oct 07, 2009
hirondellenhi says:
if you ever have a chance you should go out further to St. Miguel and etc... it's a great location for camp and to truly appreciate the wilderness.
Posted on: Oct 06, 2009
Eric says:
Oh, cool! Yea, it's pretty neat -- but similar to the rest of the terrain in southern California (kind of dry, brushy)
Posted on: Sep 24, 2009
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Dock at Prisoners Harbor
Dock at Prisoner's Harbor
View of the coast from Nature Cons…
View of the coast from Nature Con…
Lisa and path down.
Lisa and path down.
Trees and shrubs.
Trees and shrubs.
Pelican Harbor.
Pelican Harbor.
Hike to Pelican Harbor
Hike to Pelican Harbor
Pelican Harbor boats.
Pelican Harbor boats.
Lisa, me, and my pale arm.
Lisa, me, and my pale arm.
Skipping along a grassy path.
Skipping along a grassy path.
Prisoners Harbor dock from above.
Prisoner's Harbor dock from above.
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photo by: royv1