Camping in the Santa Monicas – Santa Cruz Island

Potatoharbor

In this installment of my guide to local camping, I’m going to cheat. The Channel Islands, just off the Ventura coast, are geologically part of the Santa Monicas, but not geographically. Tomorrow, me, Liz and some friends are off to Santa Cruz Island for a long weekend, so here’s the rundown.

The islands themselves are amazing. If you’ve never been, or have only visited Catalina, you really should head down to Ventura Harbor and catch a boat over, even if it’s just a day trip. Only Catalina is inhabited, the rest just have a few rangers, and it’s like going back in time. IslandPackers are the only regular boat service out there, they run daily trips out to most of the islands, and as a bonus you’ll often see dolphins and whales on the way.

Anacapa Island is the smallest, with an old lighthouse, and less than a mile of hiking trails on the top. There’s no access to the beach because it’s surrounded by steep cliffs, but you do get some great views of the sea-lions basking at their base. There’s also a massive population of very tame gulls, when I visited I was literally tripping over their chicks as they happily wandered in front of me! There’s a small campground, but I’ve never been tempted to stay, since the island itself is so tiny. It’s part of the Channel Islands National Park, so you can go to recreation.gov if you want to get a reservation.

Santa Cruz Island is my favorite. It’s the largest island, and is divided into two halves, with the east side part of the National Park, who allow unsupervised hiking. The western half is owned by the Nature Conservancy, and you need permission and a guide before hiking on their trails. The west has been public land for longer than the east, so the vegetation has had more time to recover from the sheep farming, and is a lot more typical of the chaparral, with lots of sage bushes and other shrubs.

For the eastern side, you’ll land at Scorpion Harbor, site of the old ranch house. There’s a trail you can take to Canyon Point right by the landing, and you can continue on along the cliff-top to Potato Harbor, which is where Liz took the picture at the top. The campground is half a mile up a fireroad from the beach, at the bottom of a gentle canyon, surrounded by eucalyptus trees planted by the ranchers.

It’s divided into two sections, upper and lower, which are only separated by a few hundred feet. There’s drinking water and pit toilets in both, but no showers. I prefer the upper campground, but most of the spaces there are for groups of 11 or more. During the summer, it’s heavily booked, so you’ll need to get in early, but you may have more luck with some of the group spots. One enduring memory from a previous trip is a large group of local Chinese families arriving, complete with a video karaoke system and portable generator! Luckily, the rangers preserved the tranquility by confiscating the generator for the duration. As part of the National Park, you go to recreation.gov to reserve.

Here’s another great photo Liz took showing the campground in the early morning:

Camping

On the Nature Conservancy side of the island, there’s a campground called Del Norte. It’s for hard-core backpackers only, since it’s a tough 3.5 mile hike from Prisoner’s Harbor landing to get there, and there’s no water available. The trail was in very poor shape on our last visit too, it was so overgrown the rangers actually got lost trying to mark its location so we could work on it! We spent a couple of days with weed-wackers destroying the fennel and clearing it out, but that was over a year ago. You can see some of the pictures from that trip, including the campground, here. You’ll need to reserve with recreation.gov if you do want to camp there. One option is camping at Del Norte for a day or two, and then hiking over Montagnon Ridge to Scorpion, but that’s a rugged 12 mile walk with lots of elevation gain.

There’s several other islands open to visitors with camping available, including Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara, but I’ve not made it out to any of them yet.  They’re all part of the National Park too.

Funhouse Photo User Count: 966 total, 55 active. Still creeping upwards at a slow rate.
Event Connector User Count: 7 total. My adwords campaign was just disabled by Google, because my keywords, "Facebook event promotion", included a trademarked term. This took me by surprise, but wasn’t too much of a loss since I wasn’t able to get much of a click-through or conversion rate on this attempt. Luckily, it only cost me around $2 to experiment, so I count that as a good investment. I’m waiting on the app directory listing, to see how that affects things, and I’ll be thinking about other approaches to try.

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