Photo Credit Tom Gomes
Sea Cave Exploring, Hiking, Camping and Kayaking
Santa Cruz Island, Channel Island National Park
Santa Cruz Island offers a great escape from bustling city life and access to a variety of recreational opportunities for outdoor lovers, as well as a number of coastal sea caves that can be explored, including Painted Cave, one of the largest and deepest sea caves in the world. Painted Cave is on the northwest coastline of Santa Cruz. It is a quarter-mile long and 100 feet wide, with an entrance ceiling of 160 feet. Its unique rock formation was created by the constant sea wave action of the sea eroding the land. Many other large caves are found in the Channel Islands but they can be a challenge to reach and many of them can only be explored by kayak, so it can be an adventure in itself just getting to them.
Santa Cruz Island features 77 miles of picturesque coastline to explore, ranging from steep, craggy cliffs to beautiful beaches, and expansive sea caves on its perimeter, while its interior is defined by several mountain ranges, rolling hills and valleys, along with plenty of scenic plateaus. It's one of the five islands that make up the Channel Islands National Park.
This 62,000 acre island was once cattle and sheep ranches. At 22 miles long and six miles at its widest point, Channel Islands National Park owns and operates around 24% of Santa Cruz Island. The remaining land is managed by the Santa Cruz Island Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, and the University of California Natural Reserve System.
For those who want to do more than lounge on the beach, kayaking is an enjoyable activity, as well as camping, hiking, and kayak fishing at this pristine paddling getaway. Several beaches offer fishing, hand launching access. The crystal clear waters of the sheltered north shore offer fantastic opportunities for kayaking, snorkeling and swimming. Whether kayaking around the island or sunbathing on the beach, keep a look out for whales, sea lions, and dolphins frolicking in the water, including great white sharks. Humpback whales, dolphins, and a plethora of marine mammals can be seen from shore, and while paddling around the island’s 77 miles of shoreline.
Kayak anglers can enjoy catching a variety of saltwater game fish year-round including calico bass, white sea bass, and halibut. Seasonally, migrating yellowtail, barracuda, and bonito may also be caught in the waters around the Island. Rock fishing around the reefs in the spring and summer are the best times to fish, although rockfish are caught year-round except during the closure from January to March. Due to the prevalence of foxes on the island, anglers are required to clean their fish away from the campground. No fishing in state marine reserves (Scorpion Anchorage is in a marine reserve.) A California fishing license with an ocean enhancement sticker is required.
After a day out on the water, you can explore the area’s majestic scenery on trails that meander around the island. Hiking opportunities are unlimited. While hiking, nature and wildlife enthusiasts will take pleasure in the wealth of remarkable plants and trees on the island which is home to thousands of species of various animals including island fox and spotted skunk and a handful of amphibians and reptiles. Fantastic panoramic views of the ocean from atop the bluffs will provide superb photography opportunities. The topography is fairly steep with elevations from sea level to 2400 ft. at its highest peak near the center of the island. There are many other peaks reaching a height of over 1,700 feet.
One of the best hikes in Channel Islands National Park traverses Santa Cruz Island, offering panoramic vistas and leading to a secluded cove. There is no potable water in a majority of the island, so be sure to bring plenty of water with you. It can get quite hot during the summer months, and even into the fall. Free trail maps are available from Island Packers Marina, so pick one up before you head over to the island. Also, there is no means of transportation available on any of the islands. All areas must be accessed by foot, private boat, or kayak.
Getting to Santa Cruz Island
Access to the island is by Island Packers Cruises or by private boat. Island Packers is the longtime transportation company between the mainland and the five Channel Islands that comprise the national park. The main office for Island Packers is in the Ventura Harbor, located 70 miles north of Los Angeles and 30 miles south of Santa Barbara. The Island Packers Cruise ride takes about an hour to reach Scorpion Anchorage at Santa Cruz Island. Be sure to arrive an hour before departure in order to have your gear loaded. If transporting a kayak to Santa Cruz Island you’ll need to reserve a space far ahead of time. There are only eight kayak spots available, which books up quickly.