Prisoners Harbor – Santa Cruz Island Day Trip

Yellow Jacket Warning for Prisoner’s Harbor.

Late Summer populations of Yellow Jackets are present at Prisoner’s Harbor.

Yellow Jacket stings can be life-threatening to allergic individuals.

Click Below for more information.


Island Packers recommends passengers utilize the Channel Islands National Park App for a more complete island experience.
Download before you go so you can use it offline at the islands! The app is free and available on the App Store and on Google Play.

Painted Cave Exploration Side Trip

Photo by Doug Mangum

This trip is offered on limited dates.  You must have a Prisoners Harbor ticket/fare as well as this fare. You must call Island Packers to book the side trip.  Click the information  bar below to view all scheduled dates and additional information about this exploration.

The channel crossing is approximately 1 ½ hours (crossing may take longer depending on the drop off at Scorpion Anchorage) to Prisoners Harbor which is located midway along the North shore of Santa Cruz Island. The harbor area is the border of the National Park and the Nature Conservancy Property.

Photo by Doug Mangum

Harbor/Wetland Area – Relax in the shade of a Eucalyptus Grove while enjoying a picnic lunch. Snorkel or kayak in the calm waters of this protected harbor. Sit on the perimeter of the restored wetland to enjoy a variety of wildlife, including the endemic Island Scrub Jay and Santa Cruz Island Fox. The options are endless!

Photo by Andrea Mills
Photo by Andrea MIlls. Eagle Canyon Picnic Area View

Eagle Canyon Picnic Area – (0.4 miles one way) – Enjoy a brief walk up the Navy Road to a picnic area that has beautiful views of Prisoner’s Harbor.

Del Norte Trailhead – (1.3 miles one way) – Take a longer walk to the campground trail head, where the picnic area faces Chinese Harbor and the mainland beyond.

Photo by Andrea MIlls - Del Norte Trail Head.2

South Side Overlook – (2.5 miles one way) – For the more adventurous, this uphill climb will leave you breathless with awe at the incredible panoramic view. On a clear day, you can see San Nicholas Island, Santa Barbara Island, and Santa Catalina Island out to the south.

Photo by Dan Harding

Island visitors can take a moderate to strenuous Island Packer Naturalist guided hike along the Pelican Bay Trail.  This rocky trail travels along coast bluffs, through groves of pine and oak trees and through multiple deep canyons, offering scenic views and an occasional endemic island fox. Persons that participate in this guided hike must complete and sign a TNC Release  which Island Packers will provide. You may also download the release form.

Photo by Doug Mangum

This hike is not a destination hike to Pelican Bay, but a guided hike through this pristine area along the Pelican Bay Trail.  Hikers should not expect to reach Pelican Bay on this hike.  Group size and hiker fitness will determine how far along the trail we can go before we must head back to meet the boat.

There are vault style restrooms, food storage cupboards, and picnic tables located in multiple areas around the pier and trail heads.  There is no potable water available.  Visitors must bring their own water for the day.

Day visitors need to be back at the pier for pick up 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time.

What to bring for the best island experience.

  • Pack food and water for your time on the island.  A small cooler with a single handle or a back pack will help to protect your food from the small animals and birds that populate the island year round.  There are no shops or restaurants on the island.
  • Come prepared to hike out all your trash.
  • Santa Cruz, Prisoners Harbor has shade in the picnic area as well as some shade on trail. Sun screen and a hat will help to protect you from UV that is present even on overcast days.
  • Weather conditions can change rapidly in the Santa Barbara Channel.  It is always best to dress in layers and bring a jacket or sweatshirt along (even in the summer months).
  • Flat shoes with rubber soles are best for both the boat and the island. We recommend hiking shoes.  We suggest that you do not wear loose or leather soles sandals or flip flops on your island adventure.
  • Camera and binoculars will add to your trip and this island offers some spectacular photo opportunities.
  • Please arrive at your harbor of departure 45 minutes before your schedule mainland departure.


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