Channel Islands Hiking.mp4

Purely Wild

Hike Channel Islands Santa Cruz Island to Potato Harbor and Cavern Point

Hiker walking along the North Bluff Trail on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park

Pristine, wild, wondrous: Channel Islands National Park lives up to its nickname as “North America’s Galapagos.” Separated from the mainland by 25 miles of open water, this less-traveled national park is an undeveloped and isolated series of five dramatic and distinct islands reached by boat. It's home to over 2,000 terrestrial plants and animals, of which 145 are found nowhere else in the world. For first-time visitors, we recommend heading to the largest of the islands, Santa Cruz.

Campground sign and Cavern Point sign at Santa Cruz Islands, Channel Islands National Park

Two hikers at Santa Cruz Island Channel Islands National Park

The magic starts from the moment you board the ferry. Island Packers is the national park’s only concessionaire. The pro guides on board will point out and share details of the diverse wildlife you’re likely to see: California sea lions, harbor seals, gray whales, bottlenose dolphins, and seabirds galore—from brown pelicans and western gulls to ospreys. You can camp on the island (plan ahead) or spend a day hiking and exploring.

Scorpion Anchorage with Island Packers boat at dock at Channel Islands National Park

Dolphins in the sea en route with Island Packers to Channel Islands National Park

A woman waves from the dock and boat ramp at Channel Islands National Park Scorpion Anchoarge

For glorious coastal views, epic wildland scenery, and whale-watching glory, combine trails to Potato Harbor and Cavern Point for a 5-mile (round-trip) hike of highlights. Starting off on the Cavern Point Trail, gently ascend to the North Bluff Trail and get swept up by the sweeping Pacific scenery.

Two hikers on the Potato Harbora and Cavern Point hike at Channel Islands National Park Santa Cruz Island

This is a prime spot for whale watching. Keep an eye out the island scrubjay, the only endemic species of bird found in the Channel Islands. Scan the grassland for the famed island fox, found nowhere else in the world. They’re super cute! And very clever. (Chonkers is the celebrity fox in these parts.) While they’ll try to snag your trail-mix if you set down your backpack too long, do not feed them any under circumstances (that’s a major party foul).

island fox on Santa Cruz Island at Channel Islands National Park of Ventura County Coast

On the return trip, continue to Cavern Point for a vista with a terrific vantage of the other islands comprising the national park. Start dreaming about the next one you’ll visit.

Book ahead for Island Packers, which makes daily trips to Santa Cruz Island, year-round. This is a popular excursion. Pack in your own food and water, enough for a full day on the island. No dogs.

Trending Stories NorCal

View all Stories
  1. Sugarloaf Ridge State Park waterfall hike in Sonoma Valley

    Sweet as Sugarloaf

    Right in the heart of wine country there’s plenty more than wine flowing right now, with an oft unheralded waterfall that has surged to an exuberant spectacle from all the recent rain.

    View
  2. Muiraculous Beauty

    Ready to make your non-California friends jealous? Have a bonfire at Muir Beach while watching the sunset. This is Northern California living at its most braggadocious.

    View
  3. From Town to Falls

    Mount Tam’s Cascade Falls is a bit under the radar, tucked back off a residential area in Mill Valley. Some people drive up to the tiny parking lot nearest to the falls. Do an easy 3-mile (round-trip) hike right from downtown Mill Valley, weaving through quiet streets and secret trails.

    View
  4. oak manor labyrinth

    Loma Alta's Hidden Labyrinth

    Oak Manor Labyrinth in Marin’s Loma Alta Open Space is a hidden gem with huge views. The 2-mile out-and-back hike to reach it is a bit steep in parts, but the payoff is a 360-degree joy to the wild (with a bit of cityscape).

    View

Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Sponsored

    Best in Snow

    There’s snow better destination for outdoor fun and events. Plumas County is a northern Sierra Nevada dreamland, with vast outdoor spaces, places, and races! Snowshoe Lassen Volcanic National Park, downhill ski at charming Coppervale Resort, and have a blast at the quirky Longboard Races.

    View
  2. Hike from Point Fermin Park to Angels Gate Park

    Park it Here

    Do a 2.5-mile scenic hike from Point Fermin Park to Angels Gate Park in Los Angeles. It’s got big trees, big ocean views, and a food and beer bonus!

    View
  3. Skull On!

    Temescal Canyon not only has epic views, it's got a waterfall right now, one that only shows after big rains. Head out on this 4.6-mile loop.

    View
  4. Two people walking towards Salt Creek Beach in Dana Point Orange County

    Getting Salty

    Long walks on the beach are great, but what about long walks to the beach? This 7.7-mile (round-trip) to the beautiful Salt Creek Beach in Dana Point is one of the best in Orange County.

    View