Island Packers recommends Santa Cruz Island passengers utilize the National Park Service App for a more complete island experience.
420 + Parks all in one App. Find interactive maps, tours of park places, on-the-ground accessibility information, and more.
Download before you go so you can use it offline at the islands! The app is free and available online at App Store and on Google Play.
55 Years +
Infant (Must Reserve)
Under 3 Years
Santa Cruz Island is the largest of all the Channel Islands (and California!) At over 24 miles long and six miles at its widest, Santa Cruz has over 62,000 acres (96 square miles) and 77 miles of shoreline. Santa Cruz Island lies approximately 20 miles offshore from Ventura Harbor.
Island Packers Travels to Scorpion Anchorage Year Round.
Summer – April through October:
Seven days a week
Winter – December through March:
Tuesday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday
Closed Thanksgiving & 12/25
Santa Cruz Island offers two primary landing sites which the vast majority of guests to the island visit. Both landings are situated on the closer, northern side of the island. Scorpion Anchorage on NPS property, lies on the east end of the island, and Prisoners Harbor to the west, at the border of National Park and The Nature Conservancy property.
Travel time to Scorpion is a little over an hour and Prisoners Harbor, on direct route is about one and a half hours. Frequently, our boats land at Scorpion Anchorage to offload passengers and gear before continuing to Prisoners Harbor. On these trips travel time to Prisoners Harbor can be 2 hours or more with a beautiful cruise along the rugged shoreline of Santa Cruz Island.
Trip Options for Santa Cruz Island
Potable water is available in the campground area. Vault style restrooms are located near the beach and two in the campground area. Picnic tables are located near the beach and in the Visitors Center area. A 31-site campground area begins one mile from the pier and is an easy flat walk.
There is no potable water available at Prisoners Harbor. Vault style restrooms are located near the beach. Picnic tables are located near the pier, and 1.3 uphill miles at the Del Norte trail head. There is no Visitors Center at Prisoner’s. Four 4-man campsites are located 3.5 miles up the trail above the cove with beautiful overlooks. This is back country camping.
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 year-round.
At over 96 square miles, Santa Cruz is the largest island in the Park. Santa Cruz includes three mountain ranges; the highest peak of all the Channel Islands (Mount Diablo 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.
Flora & Fauna
These varied land forms support a wide variety of plant and animal species. More than 600 plant species have been documented in ten different plant communities from marsh and grasslands to chaparral and pine forests. There are 140 species of land birds, 11 land mammal species, three amphibian and five reptile species. Large colonies of nesting sea birds, breeding seals and sea lions, and other diverse marine plants and animals can often be seen during transit to the island and from mainland.
From millions of years of isolation, many distinctive plants and animal species have adapted to the island’s unique environments. Notably, the island scrub-jay, the Santa Cruz Island fox and eight plant species are found on Santa Cruz and nowhere else in the world (endemics).
The island is exceptionally rich in cultural history with evidence of over 13,000 years of Chumash Indian habitation and over 150 years of European exploration.
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
December – Mid February
December through mid- February, southbound 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. During the northbound direction of their journey, they frequently pass closer to the mainland.
December through Mid April many channel crossings provide the opportunity to view gray whales.
February – April
February through April, the grasslands of Santa Cruz Island are green and the native flowers 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.
Many Channel crossings this time of year include Gray Whale sightings.
May – September
Sea conditions during summer and early fall are often ideal for kayaking and snorkeling. Sea temperatures during warmer months may reach the upper 60’s. Endemic island wildflowers including island buckwheat and asters are in bloom.
During summer months, there is a chance to see Blue or Humpback Whales in the deep water, during travels to and from Santa Cruz Island.
October – November
A late “Second Summer” season is often enjoyed on the Channel Islands. Sea conditions are generally agreeable, crowds are fewer and pleasant weather is the norm. Locals often wait for October to head out to the islands.