Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island

Recently, we took a trip out to Santa Cruz island for the weekend. We took the Island Packers boat from Ventura Harbor on a Saturday morning. It left around 9:00am and took about an hour to get to the island. We opted to head to Prisoners Harbor, instead of the crowded Scorpion Anchorage, so we could camp in a more secluded spot with a view. There is a backcountry campsite about 4 miles from Prisoners Harbor. There are only 4 campsites at Del Norte Campground for $15/night and reservations are required prior to arrival. We snagged the last available campsite when we made our reservations online.

Arriving at Prisoners Harbor

The day we left, there was a heavy drizzle. We started to second guess the clothes we packed but both of us had a windbreaker, in addition to a warm jacket, to keep us dry. There is no potable water at Prisoners Harbor or along the trail to Del Norte so we brought about 2.5 gallons of water. When we docked at Prisoners Harbor, the ranger remarked that we may see a bald eagle while we’re there. As if on cue, a bald eagle soared above and swooped down to catch a fish. Unfortunately, he did not catch the fish but it was still a cool sight to see.

The ranger offered a guided hike to Pelican Harbor through the land owned by the Nature Conservancy. This area is not open to the public so we decided to tag along. The Nature Conservancy owns about 75% of the island while the National Park Service owns the remaining 25%. The hike was fairly easy, with a few muddy areas and narrow portions of the trail along the way.

Since the group we hiked with included all ages, it took about an hour and a half to go 1 mile. The ranger pointed out some plants that were native to the island, along with some wildlife, such as the island scrub-jay. At the halfway point, the ranger mentioned that if anyone wanted to head back down, they could do so on their own. We chose this option, since the hike was taking longer than anticipated, and made it down in 15 minutes.


The hike to Del Norte Campground starts along the Navy road and begins with a steady ascent. I’d say the first half of the hike was mostly uphill, with a few flat areas. The second half of the hike was a mixture of switchbacks and up/down hills. It took us approximately two hours to get to camp. Once there, we were rewarded with an awesome view.

There was only one campsite occupied when we arrived so we had a few choices. We went for the campsite under an oak tree. Each campsite had at least one food saver box to keep food and other scented items safe from the island foxes and ravens. The campsites also had a picnic table and tent pad. Since it was Super Bowl weekend, it was requested that I find a way to make some backpacking nachos for dinner. I was able to make this happen thanks to finding some instant refried beans and queso blanco individual packets at my local neighborhood store. They were a hit and will definitely be repeated on another backpacking adventure.

The next morning, there was heavy fog and mist. We set off on the trail around 10am and planned to be back at Prisoners Harbor in time for lunch. We decided to take the Navy road all the way back, instead of the Del Norte trail. We knew that the Navy road would be mostly downhill, which was definitely appreciated after the hike to camp. It was so foggy, we were barely able to see the tops of hills around us and couldn’t see the ocean at all. There was a heavy mist the majority of the hike back and included some very muddy areas along the dirt road. All in all, it was a great hike and we made it back to Prisoners with plenty of time to relax before the boat arrived at 3.

The Island Packers boat arrived early, which gave us some extra time to try and see some whales. We were lucky enough to see a gray whale mother with her baby and a few adult whales as well. One of the Island Packers people told us that the mother must have had her baby too soon, before she could reach the lagoon in Mexico. This caused her to have to travel with the baby in colder waters, which is not very common. The whales gave us a treat by showing off their tails and spouting quite a bit. What a special end to a great weekend!

Gray whale spout!

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