Santa Cruz Island

Photo by Michele Wassell - The View from Cavern Point Trail
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At over 96 square miles in size and the largest island in California, Santa Cruz contains three mountain ranges; the highest peak on the island (rising above 2000 feet); a large central valley/fault system; deep canyons with year round springs and streams; and 77 miles of craggy coastline cliffs, giant sea caves, pristine tide pools and expansive beaches.

Photo by Diane Edmonds - Scorpion Canyon, Santa Cruz Island

These varied land forms support more than 600 plant species in ten different plant communities from marsh and grasslands to chaparral and pine forests.  There are 140 land birds and 11 land mammal species; three amphibian and five reptile species; a large colony of nesting sea birds, breeding seals and sea lions and other diverse marine animals and plants.

The island is also rich in cultural history with over 10,000 years of Chumash Indian habitation and over 150 years of European exploration.

Visitors Center at Scorpion on Santa Cruz Island

Owing to millions of years of isolation many distinctive plants and animal species have adapted to the island’s unique environment, including the island scrub-jay and eight plant species found only on Santa Cruz Island and nowhere else in the world.

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Remnants of the ranching era also can be seen throughout the landscape of the island.  Adobe ranch houses, barns, blacksmith and saddle shops, wineries and a chapel all attest to the many uses of Santa Cruz in the 1800 and 1900s.

Seasonal Highlights

December through mid- February, migrating Gray Whales can often be observed from Cavern point on East Santa Cruz or the bluffs of Mid Santa Cruz as the whales pass near the island.

Photo by Doug Mangum - Gray Whale Group

From about February through April the grasslands of Santa Cruz Island are green and native flowers are in bloom. Scorpion Canyon and the Potato Harbor trail are excellent places to see wildflowers. The Prisoners Harbor to Pelican Bay trail has some of the best wildflower displays on the island. Intensity and duration of the bloom differs a bit each year due to varied rainfall and temperature.

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You can view the endemic Santa Cruz Island Scrub Jay year round: an easy stroll up the dirt road to the old stream bed at Prisoners Harbor or a rugged hike up Scorpion Canyon should provide a viewing opportunity.

Photo by Doug Mangum -  Kayakers at Scorpion

In summer through fall, the ocean conditions are usually ideal for kayaking and snorkeling. Endemic island wildflowers including island buckwheat and asters are in bloom.

During summer there is also a chance to see Blue or Humpback Whales in the deep water, during travels to and from Santa Cruz Island.

Photo by Michele Wassell - Humpback Whale breaching

Slide Show

  • Photo by Michele Wassell - Approaching Scorpion Anchorage
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  • Photo by Doug Mangum - Prisoners Harbor
  • Photo by Tim Hauf - Del Norte Campground
  • Photot by Tim Hauf - Prisoners Harbor Sign Posts, Santa Crus Island
  • Photo by Tim Hauf - Del Norte Camp Site
  • Photo by Tim Hauf - Smuggler Cove from the Olive Grove
  • Photo by Andrea Mills - The Wetlands at Prisoners Harbor