Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park has lots of great hiking trails. However, if you are looking to see what the island has to offer on a day trip and don’t have the time/stamina to reach Smugglers Cove, then the Scorpion Canyon Loop is a great option (as is Potato Harbor). Here is all the information.
- 4.5 miles
- 750 feet of elevation
- This information was from my hike in 2017
- Read all about Santa Cruz Island here and Channel Islands National Park here
To get to the island, you must book a ride with Island Packers and take the 1 hour trip across the channel; you can read more about that here. Once you get to the island, the trail leaves from Scorpion Beach, right near where you docked.
I recommend hiking this trail clockwise, as it would be brutal to do the climb out of Scorpion Canyon since it is hard even going downhill. About a tenth of a mile from where the boat docks, you will take the trail for Smugglers Cove, which has the large windmill by the trailhead.
This trail gains elevation immediately as it climbs out of the cove and starts to head back into the island.
When you reach the top of the first main switchback, you will be looking down over Smugglers Cove, and over to the mainland, it’s a beautiful sight to behold.
When you start to head back on the next switchback, look over to the left at the Cypress Tree Grove and consider the short spur that takes you up next to them.
It’s a beautiful place for a picnic and to look down over the island.
After meeting back up with the trail again on the same spur, continue the climb into the interior of the island.
Eventually, you will reach a fork in the road, and this is where you will leave the Smugglers Cove trail and start the loop back.
From the split, head right, and the trail will bend back and start to head towards the oil well.
Eventually, the trial will make it to a split for the oil well one way and the Scorpion Canyon Loop the other. Check out the oil well first, as it is barely off track, and it is impressive.
The Oil Well
This oil well was only ever able to pump water, as it never found the oil they were searching for. It is an impressive sight to see though, and I am glad it is still well preserved.
You can walk all around it, even into the small one room building that is there.
When you are done, head back to the split and go on the Scorpion Canyon Loop.
From there, the trail is all downhill back to the camp/beach, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The downhill here is steep, and the ground is loose, so it is easy to fall if you are not paying attention.
Continue slowly down this path as you get views of the campground and Potato Harbor Road.
Eventually, you will reach the bottom of the trail and be in the canyon. The canyon is wide and not like the one in Smugglers Cove, which is narrow.
You will walk the last half mile on a path that takes you through the small canyon and to the upper campground, which has some great group sites.
Eventually, you will make it to the lower campground. This is where I camped, and you may want to as well, or you can walk back to the beach and wait for the boat ride if you came on a day trip.
All in all, this is a nice hike in a beautiful place. Be sure to check out my other recommendations on the island here and let me know what your favorite hike is on the Channel Islands below.