Smugglers Cove Hike on Santa Cruz Island: Channel Island’s Most Popular Hike
No visit to Santa Cruz Island is complete without a hike to the beautiful beach on the west side of the island known as Smugglers Cove. This is a good 4-5 hour hike, clocking in at just about 8 miles, and it shouldn’t be attempted on a day trip unless you have enough time and are a fast hiker. The hike is relatively strenuous as well, with about 1,000-1,500 feet of elevation, which comes from climbing out of Scorpions Beach in the beginning and back out of Smugglers Cove at the end. Here is all the information on this fantastic hike.
- 8 miles
- 1,200 feet of elevation
- A few big climbs and descents so may be challenging for day visitors
- Must take a boat to Santa Cruz Island for this hike
- This information was from my hike in 2017
- Read all about Santa Cruz Island here and Channel Islands National Park here
To hike to Smugglers Cove, you must take the boat on the one hour journey across the harbor from Ventura / Oxnard. You can read more about that here. When you land on Santa Cruz Island, the hike leaves from Scorpion Beach.
About a tenth of a mile from where the boat docks, the trail to Smugglers Cove begins. It heads out to the left if you are coming from the beach and immediately begins to climb the mountain on a dirt road.
As you climb, the views down towards the beach get better and better.
If it is a clear day, you can even see the mainland from here as well.
When you get to the first plateau, consider heading over to the fantastic viewpoint for Scorpion Rock, which is the single track that heads off to the left. It is a short spur with a fantastic view.
Continuing on, you will head back the direction you came on a switchback before seeing a Cypress Tree grove to the left.
There is another short spur trail that takes you to the Cypress tree grove if you are interested in going.
I like heading over to the grove because I love these trees, and it is an excellent place for a picnic if you come on a day trip.
After joining back up with the trail, you will continue to gain elevation as you weave your way into the interior of the island.
Eventually, you will reach a split in the trail which will take you to the oil well and Scorpions Canyon. The oil well, in particular, is worth the visit; read more about it on my Scorpion Canyon hike here. For this hike though, you will just continue on the nice, flat path for the next mile.
The flat road is a nice change to the trail since you have been going mostly uphill since the start.
This part of the trail will also give you amazing views of Anacapa out in the distance as well.
When you make it around the next hill, you will be looking down on the other side of the island and towards Smugglers Cove. This portion is a steep downhill for the next mile, and just remember that a steep downhill is a steep uphill on the way back.
The trail has incredible views as you head down, just watch your footing as the rocks can be loose. Eventually, you will reach the last tenth of a mile that takes you past what looked like olive trees as you make your way down to the beach.
Smugglers Cove is a beautiful area that is easily worth the hike you took to get here.
The vast beach stretches out in front of you in both directions, and if you are here in the afternoon, after the day hikers have left, then there is a good chance you will be basically alone. We saw less than four people the entire time we were here, which is not something I can often say in a national park. The beach has a pit toilet and a couple of benches, so it is easily a place you can spend a half-day or so at.
There is even a sign welcoming you to the Channel Islands; I guess for people that came from a boat and landed here?
About .2 of a mile from the beach, there is an old ranch that you can visit as well.
It is completely fenced off, but it is unique to see the way the buildings looked on this remote island when people lived here.
After exploring Smugglers Cove, you will want to go back the way you came. Remember that it is uphill out of the cove on the way back, and it is pretty tiring, so leave yourself enough time.
If you want to take the spur and go to the oil well and Scorpions Canyon, read about that here, and you can read more about Santa Cruz Island here. Let me know what you think about this hike in the comments.